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Top doctor urges 'pause' over long weekend before businesses reopen Tuesday

VICTORIA — British Columbia's top doctor is urging residents to stay close to home over the long weekend in order to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 before some businesses reopen on Tuesday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said much of the virus's spread has occurred because symptoms are often mild, especially in the early stages of illness, and people may not recognize it could be COVID-19 making them sick.

"This means we must continue to stay alert and stay vigilant, and this May long weekend, we need to pause," she said. "We need to stay close to home and think through how all of us in B.C. will put into place our new safe social interaction rules for the coming days and weeks."

B.C. reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the province's total to 2,428 — an increase of 0.87 per cent.

Henry said 355 of those cases are active, with 49 people in hospital, including 11 in critical or intensive care.

One more person has died after contracting the novel coronavirus, raising the province's death toll to 141.

Guidelines for businesses that are allowed to reopen during the second phase of the province's restart plan were updated Friday.

Starting Tuesday, restaurants, cafes and pubs, retail and personal service establishments, libraries, museums and galleries, office spaces and child care facilities may reopen, as well as parks, beaches and recreational facilities.

B.C. is also set to allow the restoration of health services, including the rescheduling of elective surgeries, as well as dentistry, registered massage and physiotherapy, chiropractors, in-person counselling and speech therapy.

Henry said each business must have a COVID-19 safety plan in place that customers, employees and public health officials may access, and WorkSafeBC is available to help develop the plans.

Some of the same rules that apply to social interactions apply to businesses, including physical distancing and "fewer faces, less time together (and) bigger spaces," said Henry.

As well, no one with symptoms should be allowed to enter a place of business, including employers, employees and customers, she said.

"You need to have the appropriate processes in place to identify anybody who's feeling unwell and ensure that they have the ability to remain away from work or school. There can be no flexibility on this piece."

At times when physical distancing is not possible, Henry said there are other options, including plastic barriers and one-way aisles in stores.  

She said non-medical masks can also be helpful for short periods of time in areas such as public transit.

"My wearing a mask and somebody else wearing a non-medical mask keeps our droplets to ourselves."

However, Henry emphasized that masks do not replace other measures aimed at maintaining distance and separation between people.

Schools are also set to reopen on an optional, part-time basis in June. Henry said there's no reason to keep kids out of school if someone in their household is sick unless they're the contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19.

But the health officer urged caution, noting processes must be in place to assess people on a daily basis.

There are no new community outbreaks in B.C., Henry said Saturday, but there are ongoing outbreaks in 15 long-term care facilities and five acute care units, as well as a fruit and vegetable processing facility in Coquitlam.

Public health officials will be watching and responding to a variety of indicators as B.C. begins to reopen, she said.

They include the number of new cases, particularly those that aren't easily linked to known chains of transmission, as well as hospitalizations and the province's capacity for COVID-19 testing, case management and contact tracing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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