On Wednesday afternoon, the provincial government unveiled its “made-in-BC” plan for expanding social and physical interaction, as well as opening up different sectors of the economy.
The provincial government explains that the COVID-19 pandemic will end when enough of the population is immune so that transmission between people is no longer sustained. This can happen in two ways: when enough people have been infected and have recovered or when enough people have been immunized with a vaccine.
BC’s strategy moving forward, or “restart plan,” focuses on continuing to slow the spread of coronavirus, while protecting vulnerable citizens and managing the demand of healthcare systems. Health authorities stress that there’s no formula for this, rather these decisions are being made based on judgement and balancing the needs of British Columbians.
In terms of a timeline, elective surgeries, dentistry, and other health services are scheduled to reopen in mid-May, alongside areas of the retail sector, such as hair salons, counselling, and restaurants.
A partial return for schools, hotels and resorts, the film industry, and select entertainment is tentatively scheduled between June and September.
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Three key areas of focus to reduce transmission
There are three main areas of focus that have been outlined to reduce transmission: personal self-care, managing social interaction with extended family and friends, and implementing safe practices in organizations and public institutions.
In addition to practicing physical distancing, the most important rule, which applies to all three areas of focus, is to stay at home and away from others if you show symptoms of cold, flu, or coronavirus. This will be especially important in the fall and winter when influenza season restarts.
The guidelines for personal self-care are similar to those which were shared at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, such as frequently washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding physical contact such as shaking hands.
In addition, during times when physical distancing can not be maintained, people are being suggested to use a non-medical mask or face covering.
Those who are at greater risk of becoming sick, such as those over the age of 60, those with a compromised immune system, or those with chronic medical conditions are asked to assess their own risk tolerance and practice extra caution.
Extending social interaction to extended family and friends
Health authorities say that they are encouraging extending social contact to extended family and a small group of friends. They stress, however, that these should only be in limited groups between two to six people.
Social contact includes activities such as meals, barbeques, and small functions. It’s also being emphasized that meeting outside, when possible, is better as to allow for optimal social distancing.
Guidelines for public institutions, organizations, and workplaces
Organizations and public institutions, including the workplace, are being watched much more closely.
Officials explain that the risk of transmission is based on two main variables: contact intensity and the number of contacts. Contact intensity describes how close you are to someone and for how long; the number of contacts is how many people are in the same setting at the same time.
Workplaces will need clear screening and policies to ensure that anyone who is sick remains at home and doesn’t enter the workplace. In addition, they should be encouraging employees against gathering in large areas, such as staff rooms, kitchens, and shared public spaces.
Other tactics such as staggered shifts, working virtually, smaller teams, and forgoing group meetings have also been suggested as guidelines.
Basic protocols such as frequently cleaning high touch areas and using physical barriers, when possible will also need to continue.
Additionally, employers are being asked to support and accommodate higher-risk populations, including employees and customers. For employees, this may mean being flexible with where their workspace, working remotely, and flexible work hours.
Reopening personal services such as hair salons and barbers
Personal establishments such as hair salons, barbers, and nail salons are tentatively scheduled to open in mid-May. In addition to active screening and verbal messaging, these businesses are being asked to use plexiglass and barriers when possible.
They’re also being asked to manage physical distancing by getting rid of communal waiting areas and optimizing booking times to reduce the frequency of customers. Employees will also need to use non-medical masks and maintain distance between customers while being served.
Early childhood care, K-12, and post-secondary schools
Routine daily symptom screening will be required for all staff and students, whether they belong to early childhood care, elementary and secondary schools, and post-secondary schools. Frequent cleaning will also be necessary.
Elementary and secondary schools will look at smaller class sizes, larger space in between desks, and alternating attendance. In addition, non-medical face masks will be needed for group activities and sports, especially for younger children.
Online studies will continue to some extent as well, especially for secondary and post-secondary students.
Also, any international students that return from their homes to study in British Columbia will need to return early and self-isolate for 14 days.
Sports, recreation, and camps
While many British Columbians are looking to return to sports and increase physical activity, the province is leaning towards low-contact, outdoor sports because they’re considered safer. As it stands, high-contact sports are still not recommended.
Staff and participants that are at higher risk of experiencing severe illness are being asked to avoid recreational, sporting, and camp activities until further notice.
Continuing BC’s coronavirus testing strategy
British Columbia’s coronavirus testing strategy will continue as planned and will be an important strategy.
In addition to maintaining fast testing for anyone that shows symptoms, health authorities are looking to add additional resources on top of the existing ones. This will allow for healthcare workers and providers to better manage and limit the spread of the outbreak.
The government says that they continue to look at the development of an app and other technologies to support contact tracing.
New investments are also being made in the Provincial Health Services Authority and the BC Centre for Disease Control to expand lab capacity, data analytics, modelling, and reporting.
This will ensure that there is adequate data available, allowing for health authorities to determine future modelling, to ensure that hospital rates can be dealt with in the fall and winter and that the healthcare system can manage a surge or increase in transmission.