As health officials work to sort out the particulars around what specific industries and sectors will need to do in order to re-open safely, British Columbians have been given a high-level road map as to what will relaunch, and when.
Led by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the multi-phase plan which has been dubbed “the new normal” will rely on whether B.C. sees a required decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases.
As long as British Columbians don’t let up on the basics – frequently washing hands, practising physical distancing, avoiding any non-essential trips, staying home when sick, and taking a careful approach to broadening social circles beyond those currently in their household – there has been much hope voiced by health officials that there could be overnight camping, movie theatres and other social activities returning in coming months.
“We need to have a slow and thoughtful reset, we do not want to undo all that we have done,” Henry said on Thursday (May 7).
The plan to re-open parts of B.C., curated by Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, will meet its first test in a few weeks, as the province moves to “Phase Two” with the re-opening of libraries, in-person counselling, restaurants and more.
Henry has made it clear that bans will be reintroduced if she sees a resurgence in cases.
Here’s a timeline of how the province plans to phase in various services.
Phase Two, mid-May:
Re-scheduling elective surgeries and other health services
Dix announced this week that health authorities have already started calling patients who were forced to reschedule an elective surgery due to hospital restrictions and so bed space remained open in case of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, other medical services such as dentistry, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy and chiropractors will also be able to safely re-open. This includes physical therapy, speech therapy and similar services.
In-person counselling will also be able to resume under physical distancing protocols.
Hair salons and personal services
Welcome news for most: Salons, barber shops and other personal service establishments will be able to accept clients. The decision by health officials comes despite a growing petition signed by some stylists and barbers asking the province not to “single them out” by opening first.
Restaurants, cafes and pubs
In late April, a group of restaurateurs were asked to create a proposed plan on how the industry could re-open safely. Since mid-March, restaurants and pubs of all sizes have been operating only as take-out and delivery services due to concerns of physical distancing.
A possible blueprint, created by the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, on how businesses will have to adjust floor plans, seating arrangements and even the handling of cash, is currently before WorkSafeBC, which will be the final green light before dine-in options can return.
Henry has said that ensuring public trust is a second piece in the puzzle. The proposed plan includes a course that business owners and employees will have to undergo, and if passed, get to place a sticker on their front window.
Recreation and community spaces
Phase Two is also set to include the re-opening of museums, art galleries and libraries, as well as recreation spaces.
Parks, beaches and outdoor sites can also open. As with all other sites, physical distancing must be possible, as well as places to properly wash hands. In some cases, this could mean a cap on the number of visitors at any given time.
Health officials have OK’d some non-contact sports, such as soccer and lacrosse.
B.C. Parks has announced some trails will re-open to day use on May 14, with camping reservations to relaunch on May 25 through the Discover Camping online portal.
Office work spaces
Returning to the office will be likely for many British Columbians, but will have to be under measures that reduce the density of employees within certain areas.
Health officials have suggested that employers may stagger shifts, place physical barriers in between desks and space, and ensure hand sanitizer is available for staff.
All employers should have sick-day policies in place so employees don’t attend work when ill, and consider providing work from home options when possible, to reduce contact intensity.
Child care and education
As parents and caregivers prepare to return to work, the province is anticipating an increased need in child care support.
Child care has been considered an essential service, meaning that was not forced to close down like other businesses. Officials have said that in-classroom education will involve its own set of phases – yet to be released – that will allow kids back in the classroom before others.
“With weeks left in the school year, we anticipate many kids will not return to the classroom until September,” the province confirmed.
Phase Three, June to September
If transmission rates of COVID-19 remain low or in decline, Henry has said that further restrictions will be eased under enhanced measures.
While large-scale events, such as parades or mass gatherings will remain off the table through the summer and possibly into next year, the province is hopeful that British Columbians will be able to go to the movies again, starting in July.
Hotels and resorts
The hotel industry has been hard-hit due to a decrease in overall travel both inter-provincially and internationally, forcing many to shutter.
In Victoria and Vancouver, some have entered agreements with the province to serve as temporary housing for hundreds of homeless people currently living in three large encampments.
Exactly what protocols will be put in place in order for hotels and resorts to open safely have not been released, but will likely involve enhanced cleaning and limited guests. The World Health Organization and Henry have suggested that the bacterium does not live on surfaces for longer than hours to days, but specifics have not been confirmed by researchers.
Overnight camping will be available across B.C.’s parks beginning June 1. Meanwhile, some private campgrounds have remained open through the pandemic.
It’s no surprise that Hollywood North has suffered due to border closures and physical distancing measures. Filming across B.C. tends to pick up in the spring and summer, specifically for Hallmark Christmas movies.
Health officials hope that in June or July that domestic productions will be able to resume.
In July, British Columbians may be allowed to head to the movies or attend a symphony, so long as transmission rates stay low.
While large concerts and festivals are off the table, movie theatres and smaller venues will have to follow current bans on gatherings being less than 50 people. Physical distancing also calls for at least two metres between individuals or strangers.
The next school year will still be feeling the impacts of COVID-19, according to B.C.’s plan.
In September, Kindergarten to Grade 12 students will see a “partial return” to school. It’s too soon to say exactly what that will look like.
Post-secondary students could see a mix of online and in-class lectures, with a likely cap on attendance in larger-sized classrooms.
Phase Four, to be determined
It’s unclear when B.C. will enter Phase Four of the provincial plan, because it relies on the development of a widely available vaccine – which has yet to be created – the province reaching herd immunity, or a broad successful treatment that can manage COVID-19 symptoms.
Henry has said that B.C.’s goal is not to reach herd immunity because too many people, particularly seniors, run the risk of seeing adverse impacts of the virus and high numbers of cases would place too much pressure on the health care system.
The BC Centre for Disease Control has warned it could take years for a vaccine to be developed, tested and widely implemented.
However, when that does come, B.C. health officials will look to allowing conventions, live audiences at professional sports, concerts, night clubs and casinos and international tourism. Those sectors will also have to create individually tailored plans that meet the necessary health requirements.
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