VANCOUVER -- After months of severe COVID-19 restrictions limiting social gatherings in B.C., the province's top doctor announced Thursday that the rules are relaxing slightly.

Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement during a COVID-19 modelling update, where she reflected on the past year of the pandemic in the province. Henry said even though daily case counts have increased slightly in recent days, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing.

"We know where the riskiest settings are. We know that it is when we're indoors, when we're (in) crowded situations, when we're close to others," Henry said. "That has been the focus of … the measures we have in place in many indoor settings."

Under the updated restrictions, which were announced just two days before spring break begins for most B.C. schools, small outdoor gatherings are permitted, but with no more than 10 people and people should still keep their distance.

Henry said those 10 people must remain the same and that gatherings have to be outside, adding "smaller is better."

"I recognize the transmissibility decreases, we're hoping that that continues through the spring," Henry said.

"Outdoors is where we need to focus right now. So being able to have those important connections that we need, but do them in a way that's not going to put people at risk."

Earlier this week, CTV News Vancouver spoke with a Canadian epidemiologist who said researchers have found it "very hard" to find even a single case of outbreaks starting from outdoor exposure. 

But in spite of these relaxed rules, Henry also announced Thursday that temporary measures will be in place to curb transmission St. Patrick's Day festivities. Those include stopping liquor sales as of 8 p.m. on March 17 until 9 a.m. on March 18. Henry said there will be some caveats around full meal provision, similar to the rules introduced around New Year's Eve.

Henry said besides on St. Patrick's Day, rules at restaurants and pubs will stay the same.

"I'd like to be clear, there are no changes to the current restrictions on indoor gatherings, those are the things we need to pay most attention to," she said.

"The restrictions that we have in bars and restaurants and pubs remain in effect. All of the restrictions that we need and we know work in our retail settings in all of the businesses that are open, those we need to adhere to, more than ever right now." 

On Monday, Henry said the resumption of sports and certain religious events could also happen in the coming weeks. Though she did not provide a firm timeline then or on Thursday, she'd previously suggested people could be sitting in pews for Easter.

"We have a number of important celebrations coming up and how can we, given where we are right now and the situation we have with this pandemic, how can we have safe remembrances or celebrations of these important events," Henry said.

With spring break ahead, Henry encouraged families to enjoy their community and stay local, adding there are some rare circumstances where families could visit their cabins if they stay self-contained and don't travel from a high-risk area to a low-risk area.

"Find ways to go explore in your neighbourhood. Find ways to go to a park with some friends, to connect in ways that aren't going to make things difficult," Henry said.

"But then focus again when you're back indoors on the things we know will prevent spread … remember, if we're not feeling well, stay home."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Penny Daflos