“We have to find that balance,” said chief health officer Bonnie Henry, describing how the province was starting to look at which restrictions can be loosened while still containing the virus absent a vaccine or herd immunity.
The B.C. government believes that if the number of people with COVID-19 continues to decrease, some restricted activities could be allowed as early as a month from now.
But that doesn’t mean things will return to “normal.”
“We have to find that balance,” said chief health officer Bonnie Henry, describing how the province is examining which restrictions can be loosened while still containing the virus absent a vaccine or herd immunity.
“I can’t tell you exactly what it looks like, but we’re looking at every specific part of society,” she said.
On Friday, officials released a model of how they project the fight against the virus could go, showing contacts between people in B.C. are currently about 30 per cent of regular levels.
It showed that an increase to around 60 per cent could be done without a major resurgence of COVID-19 in the province, but any more than that could be damaging.
Here are the early hints by Henry and Health Minister Dix about what that 30 to 60 per cent zone could look like.
Health and education
The two sectors of life the province brings up most often when discussing the loosening of restrictions health and education are also the two biggest sectors of government.
All non-elective surgeries in the province have been postponed for over a month, and Dix said he’s looking at how they can be resumed while keeping people safe and ensuring B.C.’s acute care bed and ventilator capacity remain strong in case of a sudden surge in cases.
“It’ll be a very challenging plan, one that will require working with surgeons and many others in the system,” said Dix.
Partially opening up classrooms is also being looked at, in part because it will allow more health care and other essential workers to return to their jobs.
“It may mean smaller classes only, some children going to schools at certain times, none of the mingling,” said Henry. “Some hybrid, perhaps, of some children doing remote learning while others are in a classroom situation.”
And they’re particularly focused on teenagers who hope to graduate this June.
“This is an important transition year. We are going to make sure they can make that transition out of high school, and will be done in a way that’s different,” said Henry.
The government hasn’t hinted that its ban on gatherings larger than 50 people is easing anytime soon, which means some businesses will have to remain closed and others will continue to live with certain restrictions.
“I don’t think we’re going to be getting away from smaller numbers in our groceries and lining up and having the patience to do that in the coming months,” said Henry.
However, it could mean many other businesses could restart this spring and summer, albeit with a larger virtual element.
And work requirements that involve international travel are perhaps the last thing governments will allow.
“Meetings where we used to come together, conferences, those are not going to happen this year. Those are not going to happen anywhere in the world,” said Henry.
However, Dix and Henry made clear on Friday that they’re just as concerned about safely restoring social connections as they are economic ones.
“We need to find a way forward that allows us to socialize, and to be what we are as human beings,” said Dix, while Henry emphasized that allowing increased contact with people dear to one another was a question of mental health as well.
It means the province’s warnings about hanging out with anyone outside your immediate family could be relaxed in the coming weeks. So could the current bans on certain outdoor activities, and even some forms of travel.
“We will be increasing our connection with our family, close connections in B.C and across Canada. We’ll have to do that in a measured way.”
Henry warned repeatedly that would only come with increased serology testing, with people “staying away from others if [they’re] the least bit ill,” and with the knowledge that restrictions may need to increase again if there’s another outbreak.
But with hospitalizations continuing to decline, the province feels confident saying that the most restrictive measures to fight the virus may soon no longer be needed.
“I believe this summer, we will have the opportunity to have way more social opportunities but we’re not quite there yet,” said Henry.
“So I’m asking for patience.”