COVID-19 in B.C.: Conditions necessary for reopening and preparing for a second wave

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      During today’s daily COVID-19 update, B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix talked about preventing further outbreaks if restrictions are to be lifted and preparing for a potential second wave in the autumn.

      Also during the update, Dr. Henry, who called Nova Scotia “a place that’s very dear to me”, acknowledged the tragedy that took place in Portapique, Nova Scotia, where 22 people were killed by a gunman.

      “To my Nova Scotia family, wherever you are, and to my RCMP family, know that I am heaving a sigh and wish for thee, and we’ll mourn with you from afar,” she said.

      Daily update

      Today (April 22), Dr. Henry confirmed there are 71 new cases, bringing the cumulative provincial total to 1,795 cases. That includes 745 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 747 in Fraser Health, 110 on Vancouver Island, 153 in Interior Health, and 40 in Northern Health.

      While four outbreaks at longterm care facilities have been resolved, there are three new affected facilities in the Fraser Health region, for a provincial total of 20 locations with ongoing outbreaks.

      The number of cases at the Mission Institution correctional facility has increased to 77 cases, with five inmates in hospital.

      The outbreak at the United Poultry Company in the Downtown Eastside that was announced yesterday remains at 28 cases.

      There are currently 103 people in hospital, with 46 of those patients in intensive care units.

      Unfortunately, there have been three more deaths, raising the total fatalities to 90 deaths.

      A total of 1,079 people are now considered recovered.

      Preparing for reopening

      While Dr. Henry empathized with people who are tired of not being able to do the things they use to do, she emphasized the need to continue with current measures if lifting of restrictions are to take place in the near future.

      In particular, she said that the province needs to avoid any more outbreaks, which can overwhelm the healthcare system.

      “We can’t afford to have any weaknesses in our firewall if we are going to be able to move ahead into our new normal,” she said. “To ease restrictions, we need to have a decline in both the number of new cases as well as the numbers of outbreaks.”

      She added that because B.C. has no control over what’s happening in other provinces and states, or elsewhere in the world, which affects what happens here, British Columbians therefore need to remain “vigilant”.

      Dix further emphasized the need for people to remain at home if they are sick, which he says is a responsibility of employees and employers.

      “I think we see the case—whether it’s Cargill [meat-packing plant] in Alberta, whether it’s United Poultry here in Vancouver, whether it’s the circumstances of the Mission federal institution in Mission—[of] the significant and ongoing risks posed by COVID-19 to the health of people in British Columbia,” Dix said. “And what it says to us, surely, is that we have to continue to do what we need to do, to be 100 percent all in.”

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

      Second wave possibility

      Dr. Henry said that in their pandemic preparations, they are looking historically at influenza pandemics where second waves have occurred during respiratory virus seasons.

      At this point, unfortunately, she said, we don’t know yet if there is a seasonality to the novel coronavirus.

      What she does know is how flu season can make matters much more difficult to deal with.

      “Once we have influenza complicating things, and the other respiratory viruses that we see, it’s much more challenging to detect which one is influenza, which one is RSV, which one is parainfluenza, which one is COVID-19,” she said. “That’s why it is so important for us to do everything we can over the coming weeks…to try and get this down to zero as much as we can now.”

      She said that health authorities are planning for influenza season, which will add to the number of people who need to be hospitalized.

      “Yes, there is very much a potential of a surge come the fall, and that’s one of the things that we are working very hard to have in place: the surveillance that we need, the testing that we need, the contact tracing in our communities that we need,” she said. “But we need to do everything that we can now to try and stamp it out as much as possible so we at least have a fighting chance when we’re going into the fall.”

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