The Okanagan could face tighter restrictions as it becomes a COVID-19 hotbed in B.C., provincial health officials say.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that health officials are considering more restrictions in the Central Okanagan on gatherings that are slightly different from the rest of the province to address the current outbreak.
“There are people in every health authority that are in isolation right now because they were exposed at an event somewhere in the Okanagan, or exposed to somebody who got sick when they came home from an event in the Okanagan,” she said.
In the latest 24-hour reporting period, there have been 13 new cases of COVID-19 in the Interior Health region, for a total of 304 cases.
Province-wide, there have been 34 new cases; however, that figure does not tell the whole story. Throughout B.C., close to 1,000 people are self-isolating because they’ve been exposed to somebody that’s tested positive, meaning more people are likely infected.
“We do know that it is absolutely going to be higher,” said Henry.
As for increased restrictions here, Henry said she’s been in conversation with Interior Health about tighter orders in the Okanagan.
“It may be prudent, given that that is an area where people are going to travel and visit. It happens every summer in the South Okanagan and Central Okanagan – through the Interior – we know it’s a popular place to go,” said Henry.
New cases have pressed the province to amend the current health order to add more restrictions for bars and nightclubs, including banning dance floors and requiring all patrons to stay seated. These rules are particularly important after people have had a few drinks and it’s late at night, said Henry.
“We need everybody to be aware that these are risky times,” she said.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged extra efforts by staff in Interior Health.
Dix had particular praise for those in the Okanagan who have been doing “extraordinary work.”
The pandemic has been centred in different places in the province in different times, he said.
“Over the last week there has been a very significant mobilization of effort in Interior Health in response to the cases both in Interior Health and those linked to travel to Interior Health,” he said.
“There have been five times the number of tests than before as required in Kelowna and twice as many in Penticton a significant increase in testing hours.”
Dix said health officials hope to see more resources applied to testing.
About a dozen specific locations — and counting — in the Okanagan have recently reported either confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19.
“Physical distancing saves lives. Wearing a mask is the right thing to do when we can’t maintain physical distance. We keep our number of contacts small,” said Dix.
Locations where a growing number of confirmed and potential cases have been identified in the Okanagan include, but are not limited to, Brown’s Social House, Vernon Starbucks on Anderson Way, Kelowna General Hospital, EK’s Grill, Quail’s Gate Winery, Poplar Grove Winery, Tower Ranch Golf Course, Kelowna World Gym, Pace Spin Studio, Cactus Club downtown, Rustic Reel Brewing Company, Train Station Pub, Discovery Bay Resort, Boyce Gyro Beach Lodge, and Krazy Good Cherries.