High COVID-19 cases among kids bring more restrictions for B.C. region
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VICTORIA — British Columbia’s provincial health officer announced regional restrictions Tuesday in an area that has seen a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among children as more adults have also become infected due to lower vaccination rates.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said her order pertains to the eastern Fraser Valley towns of Hope, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Agassiz-Harrison where to 10 per cent of children between the ages of five and 11 have been testing positive for the virus since the start of the school year.
Over 500 children a day are being tested for the virus, up from about 100, Henry said.
“The rates that we’re seeing right now, of COVID-19 per 100,000 population, is going up quite dramatically, particularly in those younger school-aged children who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” she said.
Two children aged four and under have been hospitalized, and another has needed critical care while one child in each of the older age groups, between five and 11 and 12 and 17, has been in hospital, Henry said.
Private gatherings must now be limited to five additional people or one extra household and 10 people outdoors, unless everyone is vaccinated. Organized events like weddings or conferences must be capped at 10 people, or 50 people outside unless everyone is fully vaccinated.
While the province’s vaccine passport requires people to have both doses of a vaccine by Oct. 24 in order to Henry said businesses in the eastern Fraser Valley must immediately start asking for proof of full vaccination.
Other measures include limiting outdoor adult sports to 50 per cent of participants, unless all participants are vaccinated. Event organizers must also keep a contact list of guests in addition to having COVID-19 safety plans in place.
Case rates in children were increasing before classes started in both the northern and Interior health authorities, where vaccination rates are also lower compared with other regions including Vancouver coastal and Vancouver Island, she said.
However, Henry acknowledged there have been long waits for COVID-19 tests in the Northern Health region, especially in Prince George, since cases started taking off a few weeks ago.
She said public health officials are trying to address that challenge.
The province reported 652 cases of the virus on Tuesday, along with two more deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities since the pandemic began to 1,942.
It says people who were not vaccinated accounted for 82 per cent of hospitalizations between Sept. 13 and 26.
Many among the 500 children being tested daily actually have cold viruses, but anyone with symptoms should be kept at home as the seasonal flu season arrives, Henry said.
She said the best way to prevent COVID-19 is for those around the children who are eligible for vaccination to get their shots.
However, Henry did not mandate masks for kindergarten-to-Grade 3 children after Vancouver School Board trustees became the first in the province to vote unanimously Monday in favour of requiring face coverings to be worn by younger children.
School board chair Carmen Cho said concerns from parents prompted the decision and that staff were meeting Tuesday to discuss when the policy could be implemented.
“The fact is we are still very much in a pandemic and those that are most impacted are the unvaccinated, so trustees felt it was important to add an additional layer of protection as we continue to look at different ways to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Cho said. “Since the start of the school year trustees have been receiving emails from parents in the district, letting us know that this was a concern.”
Nadine Kelln, who has daughters in grades 3 and 7, said she was hoping for a provincewide mask mandate to protect children at least until parents can make a choice to get their kids vaccinated whenever that is possible.
The Delta, B.C., mother said her children had been learning at home until this month to protect the health of an immunocompromised family member, but her daughter in Grade 3 hasn’t had any issues with wearing a mask at school.
“Going to school full time wearing a mask all day, it’s been no problem at all for her. I think she feels more comfortable wearing it because she feels she’s safe.”
Premier John Horgan said Tuesday that the current “pandemic of the unvaccinated” includes those under 12 and one way to protect them and communities is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated.
“If you have a friend who’s not vaccinated, encourage them to do so. If you have a family member who’s waiting for more data, tell them to look at those who are pleading with their family members to get vaccinated from ICU beds, not just here in British Columbia but indeed around the world.”