Public protests are risky during pandemic

There were 24 new COVID-19 cases over the last two days, one death

Bonnie Henry late May
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry. | BC Government

While new COVID-19 cases continue to decline in B.C., people who turned out to a public demonstration Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery may have put themselves and others at risk of infection, said provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

In her update on the pandemic Monday June 1, Henry reported 24 new COVID-19 cases since the last 48-hour reporting period, one death, and no new community outbreaks. Of the total 2,597 COVID-19 cases reported in B.C., 85% of those infected are now recovered.

One outbreak at the Clayton Heights long-term care facility has been declared over. There are currently active outbreaks in 12 long-term care or assisted living facilities and one acute care centre. There have been no new community outbreaks over the last 48 hours.

Henry said large gatherings still pose a risk of spreading the virus, and commented on a large demonstration held in Vancouver Sunday.

The demonstration was held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests held in the U.S. over the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, who has been charged with third-degree murder. Unlike protests held elsewhere, the Vancouver protest reportedly had no incidents of violence or vandalism.

But the demonstration drew an estimated 1,000 people in close proximity. And while many of those attending worse face masks, Henry said those who attended the demonstration put themselves and others at risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

"Peaceful demonstration is our right -- one that is important to all of us," Henry said. "But we cannot forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic."

Under a provincial state of emergency, gatherings of more than 50 people are supposed to be prohibited, though it appears Vancouver police did not enforce those prohibitions Sunday.

As a result, those who attended may have put themselves at risk of contracting the virus, and should therefore be carefully self-monitoring over the next week or two for symptoms, Henry said.

“Those who were there yesterday, you may have put yourself at risk, and you may bring that back to your home," Henry said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver witnessed several large protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline that shut down car and railway traffic. Asked if she feared there could be more large public protests, and whether there was anything her office could do to prevent them, Henry conceded she didn't have the authority to prevent such mass gatherings.

"I cannot control people's activities," she said. "What I can do is provide you with the necessary advice and tools that you need to have a peaceful demonstration in a way that is not going to imperil your family, your loved ones, your community."

Here are the COVID-19 numbers for Monday June 1, with numbers from May 30 (a 48-hour period) in brackets:

New cases:  24 (11)

Total: 2,597 (2,573)

Active cases: 224 (228)

Recovered: 2,207 (2,181)

Hospitalized: 32 (35)

Intensive care: 5 (5)

Deaths: 165 (164)

Confirmed cases by region:

Vancouver Coastal Health: 904

Fraser Health: 1,307

Island Health: 127

Interior Health: 195

Northern Health: 64

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv