COVID-19 in B.C.: Total fatalities reach 200, six flights confirmed with cases, and airborne transmission debate

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      Although the number of new cases remains high and the number of people being monitored has increased, the number of active cases has decreased.

      In addition, there is a new community outbreak in the Lower Mainland, and more international and domestic flights, stores, and a Yaletown bar have been confirmed with cases.

      Meanwhile at today’s B.C. COVID-19 briefing with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, B.C. deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson responded to a question about whether or not people should be worried about airborne transmission. 

      Daily update: August 20

      Following 83 new cases on August 18 and 68 new cases on August 19, Dr. Gustafson stated that there are 80 new cases today. 

      The number of cases in hospitals has increased by one to 11 patients (which includes four people in intensive care units).

      Gustafson said that there is a “small increase” in the number of infections among 40 to 60 year olds, but she did not give specific numbers.

      “We are carefully monitoring this trend because we know that the risk of severe illness risk goes up with age,” she said.

      Public health is now monitoring 2,574 people due to exposure to confirmed cases—an increase of 122 since yesterday.

      That brings the cumulative provincial total (over the course of the pandemic) to 4,825 cases, which includes 1,526 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 2,533 in Fraser Health; 159 in Island Health; 411 in Interior Health; 121 in Northern Health; and 75 among people who live outside Canada.

      After three consecutive days of hitting record highs for active cases, the number of active cases has decreased by 18 cases from a record high of 798 cases yesterday to 780 cases today.

      There remain nine active outbreaks in healthcare: eight in longterm care facilities and one in an acute care unit.

      There’s one new community outbreak.

      Today, Fraser Health declared an outbreak involving nine confirmed cases at a Loblaws distribution centre (2755 190th Street) in Surrey. Contact management is underway. 

      The facility remains in operation as Fraser Health is inspecting it. Fraser Health stated that there isn’t any evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food and added that there isn’t any risk outside the centre.

      All cases involved in the community outbreak on Haida Gwaii, which was first announced on July 22, have now recovered. Gustafson said that public health is continuing to monitor for new infections until the outbreak is officially declared over. 

      Unfortunately, there have been two new deaths (both in longterm care facilities the Fraser Health region), bringing the total number of fatalities to 200 people who have died.

      A total of 3,845 people have recovered. 

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      Potential community exposures 

      Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has added Bartholomew Bar (1026 Mainland Street) in Yaletown to its list of potential COVID-19 public exposure sites. The potential exposure dates were on August 13 and 14.

      The bar stated on social media today that VCH informed them that it was a patron who visited the premises on those dates and that it is deemed a “low-risk potential exposure”. In addition, the bar voluntarily closed yesterday and today for sanitization as a precaution. 

      Loblaw announced that there have been confirmed cases at two Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Vancouver. 

      One staff member who tested positive last worked at 2303 West 41st Avenue on August 6 while another staff member confirmed with COVID-19 last worked at 6305 Fraser Street on August 9.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added six more flights confirmed with COVID-19. 

      The flights include: 

      • August 8: Philippine Airlines flight 116, from Manila to Vancouver
      • August 9: Air China flight 992, from Vancouver to Hohhot
      • August 10: Air Canada flight 295, from Winnipeg to Vancouver
      • August 10: Air Canada flight 296, from Vancouver to Winnipeg
      • August 14: Air India flight 1143, from Delhi to Vancouver
      • August 16: All Nippon Airways flight 115, from Vancouver to Tokyo 

      For affected row information, see the BCCDC website

      Anyone who was at any of these locations or on these flights on the specified dates should monitor themselves for symptoms, while minimizing contact with others, after the date of visit.

      Those who do develop symptoms should immediately self-isolate and contact 811 to arrange for testing.

      Bartholomew Bar

      Airborne transmission debate

      On July 6, Henry had addressed the issue after over 200 scientists signed a letter to the World Health Organization asking it to revise its recommendations because of evidence that the coronavirus could be spread by microdroplets in the air, which can travel father than droplets. 

      She responded that while there is disagreement about whether or not the virus could be spread by aerosols or droplets, she said that the debate points to the importance of having multiple layers of protection, such as physical distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and small numbers of people.

      However, the issue continues to be a subject of concern or confusion.

      When Gustafson was asked today about whether or not the virus is airborne, she said that there have been numerous studies about what could possibly happen. However, she pointed out that “but what really matters to us is what does happen”. 

      After over 22 million infections around the world, she said that “the behaviour of this virus is now known”.

      “We know that the way its behaving is that it’s transmitted in situations with close proximity with others who are infected, and that is not the feature of an airborne virus, or not a feature of a virus that is transmitted efficiently when airborne,” she said. “These are the features of viruses that are transmitted through close proximity through what we call droplet-spread.”

      She added that if airborne transmission were an issue, then the recommended health measures that are currently being used would be ineffective.

      “If there was a substantial contribution of airborne transmission to COVID-19, then the things that we are doing that are actually stopping transmission wouldn’t be working,” she said.

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