COVID-19 in B.C.: Six new deaths, enforcement guidelines, non-essential travel within province discouraged, and more

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      As the worldwide total of COVID-19 cases soared above the one million mark, B.C. reported a number of deaths today, along with the first case in a correctional facility.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stated today (April 2) that the number of confirmed cases in the province has risen by 55 individuals to a total of 1,121 confirmed cases.

      There are now 525 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 386 in Fraser Health, 121 in Interior Health, 72 on Vancouver Island, and 17 in Northern Health.

      Among the new cases is an inmate (now in isolation) at the high-security Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, B.C., which has 11 living units and 378 cells. It is the first such case in a correctional facility in B.C.

      Dr. Henry said that they had been concerned about and planning for outbreaks in correctional facilities, and measures—including visitor restrictions, health checks, and the isolation of any new individuals at facilities—had been previously implemented to prevent the introduction of the coronavirus.

      Regarding the question of whether or not non-violent offenders would be released during the pandemic, Dr. Henry explained that is an issue that would be decided upon by the minister of public safety and solicitor general.

      There are now 149 patients in hospitals, with 69 of those in intensive care units, and a total of 21 longterm care centres are now affected with confirmed cases.

      An additional six deaths have raised the total fatalities to 31 in the province. Dr. Henry stated that three of those deaths were in Vancouver Coastal Health longterm care homes, one in the Fraser Health region, and two on Vancouver Island.

      On a positive note, there are now 641 recoveries, or 57 percent of all confirmed cases.

      In the wake of several provinces raising concerns about residents from urban centres traveling to seasonal rural homes, Dr. Henry emphasized that all non-essential travel to small communities within B.C., including to vacation homes or fishing lodges, should be cancelled.

      She pointed out how these small communities may not have adequate healthcare resources to handle an outbreak.

      In light of several forthcoming religious celebrations, such as Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, Dr. Henry also emphasized the importance of helping people to continue their faith-based practices in a safe manner other than in person.

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

      Meanwhile, the B.C. government announced a series of additional measures over the past few days to address the pandemic.

      On March 31, B.C. Premier John Horgan extended the state of emergency to April 14. The original provincial state of emergency, which lasts 14 days and can be extended or cancelled as needed, was announced on March 18.

      On April 1, Dr. Henry issued guidelines about business closures and social gatherings for municipal bylaw officers and compliance officers to issue public education, warnings, and fines to ensure and enforce compliance with B.C. public health orders.

      Staff from other ministries—including liquor and cannabis control and licensing inspectors, gambling enforcement and investigation officers, and community safety personnel—will be redeployed to boost compliance and enforcement measures.

      Bylaw enforcement officers aren’t able to detain, or issue a fine or penalty to, an individual who is contravening a public health order.

      However, bylaw and compliance officers can monitor facilities and areas closed to the public; provide information, advice, and warnings to individuals or businesses about public health orders; and provide information to health authorities about any contraventions of a public health order and whether or not further action is needed.

      Enforcement will be directed by the provincial health officer or local medical health officer.

      Any public concerns about compliance should be directed to local governments for bylaw officers to follow up on.

      Today (April 2), the B.C. government announced that it will provide $3.5 million in emergency financial assistance to students experiencing emergency financial pressures while attending the province’s 25 postsecondary institutions. This funding will supplement existing emergency financial assistance.

      In addition, a new economic recovery task force commenced work today on a longterm economic recovery plan for the province.

      The task force will include members of the B.C. government and business organizations, including the Business Council of B.C., the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Surrey Board of Trade, the B.C. Federation of Labour, First Nations organizations, and the non-profit sector.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.