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COVID-19 in Canada: Practice 'safe six', B.C. says as it announces new limits on social gatherings; Ontario reveals reasons why case numbers likely spiked

Elisabetta Bianchini
·10-min read

For more on today’s top stories and the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, please refer to our live updates below throughout the day, as well as our COVID-19 news hub.

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B.C.’s top doctor announces new order on social gatherings

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's provincial health officer, announced a new order on Monday to limit gatherings in private homes to no more than one household plus their “safe six.”

“If you come from a large family that’s living in a home together, six additional guests may be too many and you may need to consider, for the coming months, to focus on your own immediate family,” Dr. Henry warned.

She added that she is hoping that additional enforcement will not be necessary but the order is enforceable by bylaw officers, police officers and environmental health officers.

“When you come together with others, you bring your risks with you and when you leave, others take their risks home,” Dr. Henry said. “Many of the cases that we’ve seen in the last few weeks have been related to these important celebrations where people are getting together with larger numbers of people than can’t be accommodated safely within in their homes.”

From Friday to Monday, B.C. reported 817 new COVID-19 cases, including 11 epi-linked cases. Three additional deaths were reported, all associated with long-term care homes.

Dr. Henry said that when the province saw a significant rise in cases last week, cases were “clearly” associated with events over Thanksgiving.

Stronger language on wearing a mask

B.C.’s provincial health officer is also “stepping up” recommendations around wearing masks.

“It is now the expectation that people will wear a non-medical mask in public [indoor] spaces,” Dr. Henry said. “It’s not an order because this is something that I know we support as part of our mutual responsibilities to protect ourselves and to protect each others.”

She is also asking businesses to review their COVID-19 safety plans with this in mind.

As the province moves through this pandemic, Dr. Henry continues to stress that COVID-19 will have to be managed for “some months” in B.C.

“I am hopeful that we will have things like a vaccine early next year but it’s not going to be for everybody all at once,” she said. “We need to do our bit now to focus on our priorities.”

Alberta puts limits on social gathering in Edmonton, Calgary

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, announced a new public health measure for Edmonton and Calgary, after the province reported 1,440 case this weekend, peaking at 572 on Saturday.

“Effective immediately, we are implementing a mandatory 15 person limit on all social gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary,” Dr. Hinshaw announced. “This limit applies to gatherings where people are mixing and mingling, such as dinner parties, birthday parties, social events, and wedding and funeral receptions.”

This measure can be lifted after a month if the growth rate, or R value, declines below one and new cases are consistently between 100 in each city.

“We are in a crucial phase right now and need to take steps to reduce the rate of growth that we are seeing not only in Edmonton but in Calgary as well,” she said.

Dr. Hinshaw identified that in the last two weeks, in Edmonton and Calgary, social gatherings made up just 15 per cent of all outbreaks but almost a third of all outbreak related cases.

Workplaces outbreaks made up about 15 per cent of outbreaks and outbreak cases, while there has been only been one outbreak linked to a restaurant in the past two weeks. Less than one per cent of active cases in Edmonton and Calgary are linked to exposures in restaurants.

Dr. Hinshaw is also recommending that individuals belong to no more than three cohorts, or four cohorts for young children in child care.

New COVID-19 exposure notifications for event organizers

Alberta's chief medical officer of health also announced a new notification process through Alberta Health Services (AHS) for events.

“Effective today, if a positive case attended an event while infectious, AHS will now notify the organizer and provide them with written notification that can be directly emailed to all event attendees,” Dr. Hinshaw explained. “We will be asking event organizers to send these emails within 24 hours of being contacted by AHS.”

“AHS will also continue to directly notify close contacts of cases who were exposed outside of any public or private event.”

She added that Alberta is at a “tipping point” in the pandemic where it is “losing the balance” between managing COVID-19 and ensure the health care system can support all the health needs of Albertans.

‘We have a challenge and it’s not just our COVD-19 numbers’

Alberta's chief medical officer of health also presented a stern message urging Albertans to have “respectful” discussions about COVID-19.

“Alberta, we have a challenge and it’s not just our COVD-19 numbers,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “We are increasingly challenging by polarizing narratives that on the one hand, say we need to drive to zero cases at all costs and on the either hand, say that COVID is a mild illness for most, so we should let it spread freely and pursue herd immunity.”

“We are not well served by false dichotomies or by any positions that make it harder to have the respectful dialogue that a complex, wicked problem like COVID-19 presents.”

Cases three times more likely to have eaten at a restaurant in the previous two weeks

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, revealed Monday the province’s health officials have been getting questions from “local politicians” about where the outbreaks are in their areas.

She said studies have shown that people who count as a case have “about a three-times increased risk of having been eating in a restaurant in the previous two weeks.”

“The big outbreak with SpinCo in Hamilton, it began with someone who probably got infected at a bar in Toronto,” Dr. Yaffe said. “That bar doesn’t have an outbreak that we’re aware of however, it caused a huge outbreak in a gym.”

Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health said a number of outbreaks in the province have been linked to sports teams, particularly in Ottawa where 50 cases are linked to seven sports and recreation outbreaks. There have also been clusters related to family gatherings, including from the Thanksgiving holiday.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, clarified on Monday that he has not made any recommendations to add restrictions in the Halton region.

“In my mind Halton was on the borderline edge,” Dr. Williams said, saying that it is not in the same situation as the four regions currently in the modified Stage 2.

‘I can’t keep playing the pitcher and the catcher’

After stating last week that Ontario officials will have answer about whether Halton will move into the modified Stage 2 on Monday, the change was not made by provincial officials.

This comes after four Halton mayors wrote a letter indicating they do not want to see the modified Stage 2 restrictions added to the region.

Ford said on that he had a phone call with Oakville Mayor Rob Burton and the premier suggested a letter be written to the local chief medical officer and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.

When asked if this letter changed the course of the COVID-19 restriction for Halton, Ford said elected officials “always had a say” in the rules in their area and he is concerned when there isn’t consensus on what needs to be done.

“I can’t keep playing the pitcher and the catcher,” Ford said.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, outlined that provincial health officials evaluate the number of cases, the public health system’s ability to test and contact trace, and hospital capacity when determining if additional restrictions are needed in a certain area. She added that Ontario is still seeing “impacts” from the Thanksgiving holiday.

Elliott said Halton has been “on the edge” for “a period of time” and the province will continue to speak with the local medical officers on any additional restrictions coming into the area.

‘I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam’

Premier Ford also responded to backlash Niagara West MPP and parliamentary secretary to the minister of education, Sam Oosterhoff, is facing after now-deleted images posted on social media showed him in close contact with a group of people, all without masks on.

“I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam,” Ford said. “He came out and apologized...I accept that. I’m proud to have him on the team.

A photo of people gathered at a Niagara region banquet hall was posted by Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff over the weekend. (Facebook: Sam Oosterhoff)
A photo of people gathered at a Niagara region banquet hall was posted by Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff over the weekend. (Facebook: Sam Oosterhoff)

New COVID-19 cases dips in Ontario, less than 30,000 tests conducted

Ontario reported 851 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, after more than 1,000 new cases were reported on Sunday.

Toronto accounts for 281 new cases, 215 in Peel, 90 in York Region and 76 in Ottawa.

The province completed 28,652 tests in the past day and there are 17,603 tests currently under investigation.

Six more deaths were reported on Monday, bringing the total in Ontario to 3,099.

There are currently 86 long-term care facilities outbreaks with 381 active cases in residents and 295 in staff.

The province also reported 72 new school-related COVID-19 cases on Monday, 39 student cases, four staff cases and 29 individuals who have no been identified. There aren’t any closed school in Ontario at the moment.

Quebec continues to see dip in COVID-19 cases

Quebec reported 808 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, less than the 879 cases reported on Sunday. Of the new cases there are 207 in Montreal, 127 in Montérégie and 91 in the Quebec City region.

The province confirmed 10 more deaths, two of which occurred in the last 24 hours.

There are now 543 people in hospitals in the province, with 93 in intensive care.

‘We’re definitely seeing the trend in the wrong direction’

Manitoba reported 100 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, with 73 cases in the Winnipeg region, bringing the provincial total to 4,349. One new death was reported, a female in her 80s related to an outbreak at Parkview Place long-term care home in Winnipeg.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health, said people in the province need to reduce the number of contacts they have outside their household.

“On this trajectory, we expect to have more than 5,000 cases by the end of this week,” Dr. Roussin warned.

He added that many of the latest cases are from social gatherings.

“We’re seeing people who are socializing with many different contacts and many different large groups,” Dr. Roussin said. “We’ve had people attend medical procedures without disclosing that they have been in contact with a close case.”

“This has left dozens of healthcare providers off work.”

He added that there were also individuals who had COVID-19 symptoms, got tested but didn’t self-isolate and instead, went to a large gathering or held a gathering at their own home.

“We need to change how we’re acting now,” Dr. Roussin said. “We’re definitely seeing the trend in the wrong direction.”

Check out our COVID-19 in Canada topic page for latest news, tips, health updates, cases and more.