COVID-19 in B.C.: Record high for daily new cases, banquet halls seek guidance, new testing site in North Vancouver

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      Unfortunately, British Columbia's COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb in almost all areas, including hitting a new high.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry returned after a week off (deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson filled in for her last week) to present today’s B.C. COVID-19 briefing with Health Minister Adrian Dix.

      “Despite the recent outbreaks and clusters that we have seen in the past week and the rising case numbers, we still have low undetected transmission in our province,” Henry stated. She explained that contact tracers have been able to “find and connect most people who have this disease”. Therefore, there have been very few unlinked cases—she said they would become particularly concerned if those numbers increase.

      Last week, B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth introduced new enforcement measures on August 21 that enables officers to fine individuals who are violating the provincial health officer’s orders. Over the first weekend of enforcement, several individuals were fined in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, including a gathering of Canucks fans in Surrey and an individual who held parties on two consecutive nights in Victoria.

      Daily update: August 24

      Henry provided updates for the past three days since the last update on August 21.

      From August 21 to 22, there were 109 new cases—which is a record number for one day during the pandemic.

      That was followed by 81 new cases from August 22 to 23, and then an additional 79 cases from August 23 to 24 for a total of 269 new cases (including five epi-linked cases) over three time periods.

      The number of active cases has risen from 824 to 913 cases—an increase of 89 cases.

      Hospitalized case numbers have continued to rise—from 13 people on August 21 to 18 people today (with five of those patients in intensive care units).

      Public health is monitoring 2,594 people due to potential COVID-19 exposure, which is the same number as August 21.

      One new healthcare outbreak has been reported at MSA Manor, a longterm care home in Abbotsford. There are 10 active outbreaks in healthcare, with nine in longterm care facilities and one in an acute care unit, and there have been 713 cases (430 residents and 283 staff) involved in healthcare outbreaks.

      There aren’t any new community outbreaks, and the outbreak at Fraser Valley Packers, a blueberry processing plant in Abbotsford, has been declared over.

      Over the course of the pandemic, the cumulative provincial total is now at 5,184 cases, with 1,651 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 2,739 in Fraser Health; 166 in Island Health; 425 in Interior Health; 127 in Northern Health; and 76 cases amongst those who live outside Canada.

      Unfortunately, there has been one new death, for a total of 203 fatalities.

      There are now 4,068 people who have recovered.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Banquet halls

      When B.C. began its crackdown on large social gatherings, Dix had stated that inspectors visited numerous banquet halls in the Lower Mainland.

      The B.C. Banquet Hall Association issued a news release on August 20 to state that facilities are losing thousands of dollars each week in revenue, and that they are facing pressure from customers and families to bend the rules for them.

      B.C. Banquet Hall Association president Sukh Mann stated in the news release that they have repeatedly asked for guidance from Henry and governments for a plan for banquet halls but have not received any specific help, except to follow the same guidelines as restaurants, which Mann said has “been very challenging”.

      Accordingly, as banquet halls breaking provincial health officer orders can face fines of up to $25,000 and a jail term, Mann said that banquet halls are asking for the province to shut them down.

      When asked about this issue at today’s briefing, Henry confirmed that they have received requests for consideration of banquet halls.

      However, Henry said these events are like every other situation.

      “Right now, for consistency across the board, we are staying at 50,” she said. “We know that when there’s more people than that, the chances of somebody coming in with the virus, and potentially spreading it go up dramatically, and we’ve seen what happens with that when we look at parties that were happening, for example, on the long weekend in July and again in August.”

      As she has stated before, she explained that this number not only ensures physical distancing, but also rapid followup through contact tracing.

      Dix added that these are “especially the kinds of events that we need to address right now”.

      The new enforcement measures includes $200 fines for anyone who doesn’t follow the operating procedures of a restaurant, bar, or licensed establishment or who is abusive to or bullies employees at venues.

      “Don’t yell at the waiter who asks you not to push your tables together at a restaurant,” B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said when he announced the new enforcement measures on August 21. “Don’t be belligerent towards the hardworking people who are trying to keep us all safe.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Air travel and COVID-19 exposure incidents

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed more domestic flights confirmed with COVID-19.

      • August 9: WestJet flight 136 from Vancouver to Calgary, rows 5 to 11;

      • August 10: Air Canada flight 214 from Vancouver to Calgary, affected rows not listed;

      • August 13: Air Canada flight 344 from Vancouver to Ottawa, rows 12 to 16;

      • August 15: Air Canada flight 112 from Vancouver to Toronto, rows 18 to 24;

      • August 18: WestJet flight 3387 (not 325) from Calgary to Kelowna, affected rows not listed.

      Anyone who was on these flights or in the specified rows should monitor themselves for symptoms for a period of 14 days after the flight date.

      If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and call 811 for testing.

      As previously reported, several food and beverage establishments had confirmed cases on their premises, including Hawksworth, Maenam, and Tacofino in Vancouver and Il Falcone Italian Restaurant in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, as well as at Shoppers Drug Mart and Wholesale Club locations in Vancouver.

      In addition, both No Frills and Real Canadian Superstore are making masks mandatory for customers as of Friday (August 28).

      A new COVID-19 testing site has opened in the parking lot of the Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver.
      Vancouver Coastal Health

      New testing site

      Both Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Fraser Health had announced on August 19 that they would be expanding operating hours of testing centres and launching some new centres over the coming days and weeks.

      VCH announced on August 22 that a new COVID-19 assessment centre has opened on the North Shore.

      It’s located in the parking lot of Centennial Theatre (2300 Lonsdale Avenue) in North Vancouver, and can be accessed by entering from 23rd Street.

      Operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for walk-ins and drive-throughs, and visitors are required to wear a mask, even when in their vehicles.

      Following a similar site in the parking lot of Vancouver Community College, this centre is the second to open this week in the VCH region.

      More expansions are still to come over the next few weeks.

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