British Columbia's provincial health officer announced a record number of COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row Thursday, and she marked the occasion by highlighting several "areas of concern" for health officials in B.C.
Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 274 additional cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous record of 203 set on Wednesday.
Henry mentioned three areas of concern in her live update on B.C.'s coronavirus response Thursday. Those areas are: B.C.'s first school outbreak, social gatherings and businesses.
While British Columbia has seen hundreds of cases associated with schools across the province since September, health officials had not declared an outbreak of the coronavirus at any school until Wednesday.
The outbreak at École de l’Anse-au-sable in Kelowna now involves five confirmed cases of COVID-19, Henry said Thursday.
"Public health teams in Interior Health identified that there was unlinked transmission (at the school)," she said.
Widespread transmission is the key element that had been missing from previous school incidents, which prevented them from being considered outbreaks.
When it comes to schools, the term "outbreak" is used when multiple people have lab-confirmed COVID-19 infections and transmission is likely widespread within a school.
"Exposure" is a term used when a single person known to have coronavirus attended school while they were infectious. A "cluster" means two or more people were at school while infectious. These cases may or may not be linked to school-based transmission, according to public health officials.
Henry said Thursday that the outbreak in Kelowna is concerning, but that health officials have been monitoring all exposures and clusters in schools around B.C., and there has been very little transmission of the virus overall.
"I think that helps us put it in perspective that we are not seeing return to school causing amplification in our communities, but it does, as we've been expecting, reflect what is going on in our communities," Henry said.
Henry said social gatherings, especially weddings and other celebrations, are more concerning to her than the school outbreak.
Events of this type have been responsible for much of the recent surge in cases in the province, and the effects of such gatherings have "spilled over" into the health-care system, schools and workplaces.
"Social gatherings are where we are seeing significant transmission of COVID-19 in our province, and the impact is far-reaching," Henry said.
She said the province's contact tracers have found that people are not sticking with their COVID-19 safety plans during social gatherings like weddings and funerals. People are mingling with others from outside of their household groups and bringing the virus home with them to other provinces and other parts of B.C., Henry said.
"We saw this same phenomenon occur with house parties and vacation rentals this summer, particularly in the Interior, and now we're seeing it with these celebrations at people's homes and elsewhere," she said.
In response to those incidents over the summer, the provincial health officer introduced new rules for vacation rentals. While she didn't announce any new public health orders or restrictions on Thursday, Henry said such measures could be coming.
"As much as I am hesitant to do so - and we've seen this before - if there is a major source of transmission, additional measures can and will be put in place if they're needed," she said. "We will use all the tools that are available, whether that is conditions tied to wedding licences, restrictions on numbers and indoor gatherings, or other measures that we know will be effective."
Henry said transmission of the coronavirus has also been seen recently in workplaces around B.C., and announced that WorkSafeBC and environmental health teams would be increasing inspections around the province in the coming weeks.
"We have seen transmission in lunchrooms, in carpools, with workplace social interactions and in the workplace itself," the provincial health officer said.
She encouraged business owners and managers to review their COVID-19 safety plans and ensure that they're being followed.
Henry concluded her remarks by appealing to all British Columbians to redouble their efforts to limit the size of their gatherings and "break the chains of transmission" in the province.
"What you do impacts everyone around you, and what you do makes a difference," Henry said.