VANCOUVER -- Whether people didn’t get the message or are outright flaunting public health orders dramatically limiting the number of people in private homes and businesses, Metro Vancouver’s two biggest cities are ready to crack down on Halloween partiers.

Vancouver police are urging anyone who sees a large gathering to call 311 for bylaw officers to respond and leave 911 free for emergencies, while the Surrey RCMP is being more proactive.

"We will have our COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Team out and about,” said spokesperson Cpl. Elenore Sturko. “We're not proactively going to look at private residences unless we're seeing obvious signs of a mass gathering, such as tents, large numbers of parked cars and usually when we have those things happening they usually coincide with a large number of complaints from the public."

B.C.’s provincial health officer issued a public health order earlier this week limiting gatherings to household residents plus no more than six visitors, noting that the number of cases in the province has surged in the two weeks since Thanksgiving, when many people got together around the dinner table. 

"It's those indoor settings where we're close, when we're talking to somebody, when we're sharing food, when we're in an environment where we let our guard down that (the virus) can be transmitted – and it's transmitted to those we are closest to," said Dr. Bonnie Henry. "We remind everyone that a province-wide order is now in place limiting the number of people who can visit in our homes: that means no Halloween parties this weekend.”

Meanwhile, the top doctor in the Fraser Health Authority urged people to forego visitors altogether as that region sees explosive growth in COVID-19 cases – so much so it’s driving up the provincial infection rate. 

Sturko says the Surrey RCMP’s enforcement team has conducted 70,000 checks since it was formed in the spring and there were only 220 incidents of non-compliance found. In Vancouver in the past month alone, the city logged 246 reports of parties, gatherings of more than 50 people and inadequate social distancing.

"There's some very large families in Surrey,” Sturko said. “You may have 12 people in your immediate family, so we don't want to jump to any conclusions, but we will look into any reports.”

Cities across the Lower Mainland have been reluctant to issue fines for violating COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and physical distancing. This week, bylaw officers and police alike face a dual challenge: respond to Halloween partiers who don’t care about public health orders, while also educating those who are simply unaware of the six-visitor limit.

“We have a strategy of education first, we have members that speak a variety of different languages, including Punjabi, so that if there’s people that didn't quite understand their obligations, we can make sure they're properly educated – that has actually been a very successful way to go so far,” said Sturko, who emphasized that no one should feel pressured to go to a party and should, in fact, turn that coercion back onto aspiring party hosts.

"Peer pressure can also work positively, so if you hear about someone who's planning a gathering that's not compliant with public health orders, you can remind them of what their obligations are and maybe save them a $2,300 fine,” she said.