Fraser Health urges residents to restrict household gatherings

If you live in New Westminster or Burnaby, you shouldn't be inviting friends over. Period.

The rising rate of positive COVID-19 cases is one of the reasons Fraser Health wants residents to limit their social gatherings.

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“It’s stronger than a suggestion,” Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, chief medical health officer and vice-president, population health. “It is not an order at this time, but it is a recommendation and request that people not hold social events, parties and other celebrations in private residences.”

Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO of Fraser Health, said there’s been a “rapid and concerning increase” in COVID- 19 cases in the health region. During a media briefing on Tuesday, she noted there were 665 new cases reported over a three-day period.

“The majority of the new cases are still linked to known cases and clusters – community-related clusters and outbreaks connected to households, weddings and social gatherings. Transmission from these events can spread to workplaces, schools and high-risk settings, such as health-care facilities,” she said. “So even small gatherings are risky right now.”

To keep the community safe, to keep local businesses open and to keep children in school, Fraser Health is urging the public to restrict private gatherings.  The appeal came a day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a new order barring households from having more than six guests (the same six the household routinely socializes with) at one time.

“In Fraser Health, given the rapid increase in the number of cases that we have seen over the last couple of weeks, we are going one step further than that and recommending that gatherings in households or private residences are limited to people from that household,” Brodkin said. “In other words, no parties, no large celebrations, no weddings, etc. in private residences.”

Brodkin said it’s safe for residents to gather with the “same six” they normally socialize with, provided it’s done in public venues, such as restaurants and licensed businesses, that have COVID safety plans in place.

“We are emphasizing this point because we know Halloween is coming up this weekend, on Saturday night, and it’s tempting to have gatherings or parties. We are urging our communities not to do this at this time,” Lee said. “Please follow public health guidelines and measures and stay home with your household.”

While residents should not be having parties or gatherings at home, Fraser Health said they’re still able to celebrate Halloween.

“Halloween celebrations within households are fine. It is possible to take children trick or treating, and do that in a safe way – stay within your family group, stay away from other family groups, and practise good hygiene and social distancing when collecting your candy,” Brodkin said. “We have no plans to cancel Halloween. However, we do not want to see Halloween parties and celebrations in private residences. These sorts of events are one of the things that are driving our current high case count, and we are asking people not to hold those sorts of parties in their private residences this weekend.”

According to Brodkin, a rising case count and a rising “percent positivity” among those being tested for COVID-19 could trigger the need for additional measures.

“It also puts our schools, our businesses and our long-term care facilities at risk. And we don’t want to have to go back to where we were in Wave 1, where all of these venues were closed down,” she said. “It’s the case count that would trigger us to take additional action. What actions those would be would depend entirely on where we see the cases happening. Right now, one of our big problem areas is celebrations taking place in private homes and private residences, and we are asking Fraser Health residents to refrain from those at present.”

In addition to the growing number of cases of COVID-19 in the health region, Fraser Health officials are also concerned about the high percentage of tests administered that are coming back positive. Fraser Health recalculates that percent positivity rate every day.

“Today it is 4.3%. Yes, this is something that we are watching very carefully and are concerned about,” Brodkin said Tuesday. “Ideally, the percent positivity is down around 1%, and when it starts to climb, as ours has climbed, it becomes a source of concern.”

Lee noted that citizens united to bend the curve earlier this year and also came to appreciate some of the “small and foundational things in life” that they used to take for granted, such as visiting loved ones in long-term care, getting their hair done, going to restaurants and sending children to school.

“We made many sacrifices during our Wave 1 to safeguard our families, businesses, schools and communities,” she said. “I urge you to re-examine your bubbles, how you are socializing, as well as minimize risk for both yourself and those you care for in order to flatten the curve.”

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