Your questions about B.C.'s new rules on social gatherings, answered

·3 min read
Two friends speak to each other while physical distancing in Vancouver in April 2020. A physically distanced outdoor chat with a few friends is once again allowed under B.C.'s pandemic health orders. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Two friends speak to each other while physical distancing in Vancouver in April 2020. A physically distanced outdoor chat with a few friends is once again allowed under B.C.'s pandemic health orders. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

After four months of strict restrictions on social gatherings of all kinds, B.C. is gradually starting to lift restrictions, allowing British Columbians to gather outside in groups of up to 10 people.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the long-awaited order in a Thursday press conference, recommending that people gather outdoors and stick to the same group of 10 people, while maintaining physical distancing.

"Let's find some opportunities to have games outside, to get together and kick a soccer ball around with some of your friends in the park — those are the types of things we can do now, safely," she said, specifying outdoor events should not include any indoor component.

Henry hinted that restrictions could lift further if case numbers decrease and vaccination efforts ramp up.

For now, here are answers to commonly asked questions about what you can and cannot safely do over the next few weeks.

Why 10 people?

Henry said on Thursday that the limit of 10 people was not decided based on research or epidemiological modelling, but a matter of what is considered reasonable.

"That was the number that we talked about — there's nothing scientific about it except that it's small enough and it's kind of two families worth," said Henry.

"Go out and play a game in the park, have a picnic, have a barbecue in the backyard, but keep your distance, like we used to do last summer."

Can I have a drink with a friend (outside of my household) on a patio?

Not yet.

While a patio may be outdoors, there is currently no change to public health orders regarding bars and restaurants.

That means that you cannot go to a bar or pub with someone outside of your household, even if you're sitting on a patio.

People sit in a field at a distance in Vancouver last March.
People sit in a field at a distance in Vancouver last March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Can I travel over spring break?

No.

Henry said the order around non-essential travel has not been changed. However, she recommends that people take day trips with their own households and said households could travel to a vacation property.

"I do think over March break, if you are a family and you're going to your cabin and you're self contained, then that's okay but we really need to stick to our households," she said.

Guidelines posted on the provincial website specify not to invite friends or extended family members into your residence or vacation accommodation.

Henry said it's crucial that people not travel from health authorities with high transmission rates to areas where transmission is currently low, and vice versa.

Can my child have a sleepover?

No.

When asked specifically about sleepovers over March break, Henry said that sleepovers, along with all indoor hangouts, still must wait until a later period in the pandemic.

Children can have outdoor play dates, but they should be planned with friends in their same learning cohort at school.

Why are restrictions being lifted if case numbers are not decreasing?

When asked about why B.C. is easing restrictions, even gradually, despite B.C.'s case numbers stagnating at over 500 a day, Henry said it's a combination of rising temperatures and risk management.

While there is ongoing transmission in the province, she said, it's not occurring in low-risk settings like the outdoors. Rising temperatures make the virus less transmissible — a lesson learned in 2020 that experts hope to see repeated this spring.

Henry also recognized that after months of being cooped up inside, B.C. residents should begin to resume some level of social interaction, saying "we need this."

"We need to focus on some of the things that we can do. So being able to have those important connections that we need but do ... in a way that's not going to put people at risk. We need those opportunities, particularly for young people during March break," she said.

"Part of what we do around the orders is try to have as few as possible."