COVID-19 in B.C.: Questions raised again about non-essential travel and case numbers

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      During today’s COVID-19 briefing, British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix faced further questions about issues of concern that have been raised in the past, including coronavirus case numbers and how much unnecessary travel has been taking place in the province.

      Daily update

      Dr. Henry stated today (April 14) that 27 new cases have raised the provincial total to 1,517 cases. She said that there have been 658 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 601 in Fraser Health, 141 in Interior Health, 89 on Vancouver Island, and 28 in Northern Health.

      There is one new affected longterm care facility—the South Granville Park Lodge in Vancouver—which increases the total number of facilities with current outbreaks to 21. There are 289 cases in these facilities, including 165 residents and 124 staff.

      Meanwhile, there are three new cases at the previously mentioned outbreak among foreign temporary workers in the B.C. Interior.

      While there remains one case at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, the number of cases at the Mission Institution has grown from 37 to 41 (including seven people who have been hospitalized).

      Dr. Henry said that a mobile medical unit, which includes critical care, that was set up at the Vancouver Convention Centre is being redeployed to the Abbotsford area to provide additional support for the Mission correctional facility outbreak. 

      “Once an outbreak starts in a closed facility, it’s a very difficult thing to get ahead of it, particularly when people are living in close quarters like they are at Mission, for example,” she said, adding that outbreak protocols are in place at both facilities.

      Currently, there are 134 people hospitalized in B.C. with 58 of those patients in intensive care units.

      Unfortunately, there have been three more deaths (two in Vancouver Coastal Health and one in Fraser Health, and all from longterm care homes), which have raised the total fatalities to 72.

      Meanwhile, a total of 942 people have now recovered.

      Case counts

      After Dr. Henry stated on March 23 that B.C. had shifted its testing criteria to focus on more severe cases or cases within specific populations (healthcare workers, longterm care, clusters not linked to travel), there have been several concerns raised that the province isn't doing enough testing and needs to do more.

      When asked if the hospitalization numbers reflect the broader picture of the pandemic in the province, Dr. Henry said that hospital numbers help to provide reliable statistics.

      “Yes, I do believe that hospitalization is a much more stable number that tells us how many people are in that more severe group and it is representative of how many people may be infected in the population,” she said, adding that they do use those numbers to project somewhat. “It is a more stable number because even if we didn’t know that somebody had COVID-19, if they have a severe enough illness that requires them to seek medical attention and be hospitalized, we will be able to detect and find them so it is a good representative number of what’s happening with our pandemic…in B.C. so it is something we’re monitoring carefully.”

      She pointed out that testing numbers have also not increased dramatically.

      “That tells us about how many people are not getting sick right now and we know a lot of that has to do with the influenza season fading away, which is good news because we now have less chaff to find the wheat in when we’re looking for people who have this disease,” she explained.

      She said that these numbers are also affirming that what everyone is doing—from washing hands to staying home—is helping to make a difference.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix (with Dr. Bonnie Henry)
      Province of British Columbia


      The question of travel into B.C. communities over the long weekend arose again, after anecdotes or reports have continued to surface of tourists, long vehicle lineups, or Alberta license plates being seen throughout the province.

      Dr. Henry responded by emphasizing that it's important to avoid jumping to conclusions about why people are there and “not just assume because you see a license plate or you see someone you don’t recognize that they don’t have a valid reason for doing what they’re doing”.

      She cited the example of students who finished university this past weekend and returned home.

      “There are legitimate reasons why people need to check up with family and friends,” she said. “There is no benefit—and we’ve seen that around the world—from trying to block people from coming into an area,” she said. “It’s not going to prevent the transmission of this virus necessarily. Having said that, what we want is everybody to lay low and stay home. But you do need essential services.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix opined that examples of people not following safety guidelines may be magnified.

      “I think what’s happening in B.C. is that people have overwhelmingly heard the message from Dr. Henry and following both the orders and the advice that have been provided, and like everything else when that happens, when people don’t do it, it amplifies its significance because everyone’s doing it and many people are sacrificing to do it,” he said.

      In yesterday’s daily update, Dix had cited statistics provided by B.C. Ferries, which had already reduced or cancelled sailings as of April 4 due to decreases in travellers.

      “There was a feeling, I know, in some places that was much stronger than the data from B.C. Ferries supported on the coast during the Easter weekend where we saw on the main route a 92 percent decline over the previous Easter weekend in travel,” he said.

      Prior to the long weekend, Dix and Alberta Health Minster Tyler Shandro had issued a joint statement on April 9 to discourage non-essential travel between provinces.

      While Dix said he doesn’t doubt that people may have seen Albertan license plates, he added that it’s important to “follow the evidence”, to follow Dr. Henry’s advice, and “to be kind, to understand that sometimes don’t know other peoples’ circumstances and we have to be, in these times I think, extra vigilant about being generous in times that are difficult for everybody”.

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