The fact that Kelowna General Hospital has only four empty beds is one reason 50% capacity limits remain at indoor venues, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.
The Interior’s relatively low COVID-19 vaccination rate compared to the provincial average and the region’s higher-than-average transmission rates are also factors in limiting the number of people who can attend hockey games, concerts, and other indoor events, Dix says.
But he notes that new cases of COVID-19 are trending down, as is the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, and he suggests the need for the 50% capacity limit is continuously reviewed.
“Every day, this value of capacity limits in the Interior Health Authority is assessed based on their need and effectiveness,” Dix wrote in a letter to Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick who had wondered why the 50% restriction was still in place in IH more than a month after it has been lifted in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
Organizers of many indoor events have expressed concern about the 50% limit on attendance, saying the restriction is imperilling their financial viability.
“Due to the current restrictions on events in our region, and cancellation of financial assistance by the national government, we face the potential of irreparable damage to our financial situation and potential permanent closure,” says Nathan Flavel, owner of Kelowna Actors Studio, which has presented popular dinner theatre programs for 18 years in a downtown venue with capacity for 110 people.
The business can’t survive with 50% attendance, Flavel says, and its hope of resuming shows with 100% capacity in February is looking unlikely given the current restrictions.
Flavel notes the vaccination levels in most Kelowna areas are comparable to the provincial average and, in any event, he notes there is nothing to prevent people from around B.C. going to the Lower Mainland to attend events like Vancouver Canucks’ games, which draw close-contact crowds of almost 20,000.
“Is it safer for 20,000 vaccinated patrons from around the entire province to gather in Rogers Arena than it is for 110 vaccinated patrons from Kelowna to gather at a small theatre in their hometown?” Flavel asks.
In response to such questions, Dix said he understands that "voters and businesses” in the Kelowna area have concerns about the continuing 50% capacity limit given the lifting of the restrictions elsewhere.
“While regional measures naturally draw comparisons between regions, the purpose is to help the people in communities deal with the impact of COVID-19 in their communities,” Dix says.
Some key data that Dix says warrant the continuation of the 50% capacity limit at indoor venues in Kelowna and the IH region include:
- Kelowna General Hospital has a total of 511 beds; as of this week, Dix says, 507 of them are occupied, leaving little room to accommodate new COVID-19 patients
- Dix also quotes IH chief medical health officer Dr. Sue Pollock who has said the Interior has lower immunization rates than the provincial average as well as some areas with much faster-than-average spread of the disease
- the COVID-19 full vaccination rate in the Interior has risen from 68% in late August to 81.3% currently, but that’s still more than five percent below the provincial average
- But Dix also acknowledges the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the IH region has dropped from an average of 246 a day in late August to 88 a day currently. Over the same period, the number of COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive has also dropped, from almost 15% to less than six percent.
For her part, Pollock says the vaccination and transmission rates are “trending in the right direction and once I am satisfied that the risk has diminished, I will lift or adjust these (50% capacity limit) orders accordingly.”