VANCOUVER -- As B.C.’s provincial heath officer called on people to slow down social interactions heading into the fall, a university professor studying the growth in COVID-19 cases said the province should consider more restrictions to reduce the risk for back to school.

With kids and teachers set to return to class over the next two weeks, Simon Fraser University professor Caroline Colijn, who holds a Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Evolution, Infection and Public Health, is forecasting about five per cent of elementary schools and 20 to 40 per cent of high schools in Metro Vancouver would have an average of at least one case on the first day.

“We would forecast that there would be around a few thousand cases of COVID in the Lower Mainland by the time school opens on Sept. 10,” Colijn said, and added the projection is based on the growth rate of cases, the number of active cases, and serology research indicating only a fraction of existing cases are being identified. “There will be some people who don’t know they have COVID, who are not showing symptoms and don’t feel sick, and that’s a risk for introductions into schools.”

Colijn says the province should look to reduce community transmission in places people gather indoors as much as possible, and as quickly as possible.

“If that means closing bars, closing clubs, closing venues, saying no indoor parties, if that means closing them after 10 p.m., if that means moving every single one of those venues outside, pop-up nightclubs,” she said. “It’s not the anti-fun virus. We can do those activities. We just need to do them outside.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said community transmission rates are still low.

“When we look at where transmissions are happening, they’re happening in many different areas in our community,” Henry said. “And we can’t always put in orders to change those.”

For now, the province is now asking people to voluntarily scale back on social activities and contacts while heading into the fall, and cold and flu season.

“Now we need all of us to take a step back and refocus,” Henry said.