COVID-19 in B.C.: New cases rocket to new high, WestJet announces strict measures, social influencers sought

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      While COVID-19 case numbers had been levelling off or decreasing over the past few days, that came to an end with today's update.

      Meanwhile, there's a new potential exposure event that spans an area of Northern B.C., a Canadian airline has announced it is implementing strict new health measures, and a Lower Mainland health authority is seeking the help of young social media users in helping to spread the message about COVID-19.

      Daily update: August 28

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provided today’s COVID-19 update in a news release.

      They announced that there are 124 new cases (including one epi-linked case) today.

      Not only is that a significant jump from the new case numbers over the past few days (which have been around 60), it also set a new record for new cases reported in one day since the start of the pandemic. The last record was set about one week ago on August 22 with 109 cases.  

      Active cases continue to climb upward—there are now 974 active cases, up 68 cases from yesterday's 906 cases. There are now 23 individuals in hospital, with seven of those patients in intensive care.

      Public health is monitoring 2,796 people due to exposure to confirmed cases, which is 14 people less than yesterday. 

      The good news is that there aren’t any new deaths. The total number of fatalities remains at 204 people who have died during the pandemic.

      Also, there aren’t any new healthcare or community outbreaks, leaving active outbreaks in nine longterm care facilities and two in acute care units.

      Furthermore, Northern Health announced today that the Haida Gwaii outbreak, which was first announced on July 24, has been officially declared over, as there haven’t been any new cases over two incubation periods.

      Since the pandemic began, there have been 5,496 cases in the province. That includes 1,791 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 2,878 in Fraser Health; 174 in Island Health; 433 in Interior Health; 142 in Northern Health; and 78 cases of those who live Canada.

      A total of 4,310 people have now recovered from the virus.

      According to the weekly report from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), a total of 547 new cases were reported in the province over the past week, which is around the same number as the previous week, which had 551 cases.

      Over 90 percent of the new cases were reported in Fraser Health (285 new cases) and Vancouver Coastal Health (211 new cases) regions.

      B.C. Centre for Disease Control

      Community exposures

      Northern Health issued an alert today for potential COVID-19 exposure in the Prespatou region of Northeastern B.C.

      There isn’t a specific address or dates but any individuals who attended events, services, or gatherings in the area since early August where physical distancing or mask-wearing was not practiced, as well as all residents of Northeastern B.C., are asked to monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days.

      Northern Health stated that contact tracing is underway but they are unable to identify and contact all individuals involved.

      Anyone who develops symptoms is asked to immediately self-isolate while calling 811, primary healthcare provider, or the Northern Health COVID-19 Online Clinic and Info Line (1-844-645-7811) to seek testing.


      Air travel

      Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced today that the federal government will extend restrictions on international travel to Canada by one month to September 30. Full details about restrictions can be found at the federal government website.

      Also today, WestJet announced that it will be implementing new additional health measures to help address the pandemic.

      As of September 1, WestJet will follow a zero-tolerance policy for mask-wearing.

      Anyone over the age of two who doesn’t wear a mask or face covering after being warned to do so will be denied boarding, may be suspended from travel on any WestJet aircraft for up to a year, or may involve the aircraft returning to the gate for the passenger to disembark. Transport Canada has required all travellers to wear face coverings at airports and on flights during the pandemic.

      In addition, WestJet will require contact information for all travellers on WestJet, WestJet Encore, WestJet Link, and Swoop during the check-in process, as of September 1. This information will be used to assist in contact tracing procedures by public health.

      Henry had previously stated at several briefings that the flight manifests (lists of passenger information) they were provided with didn’t have information useful for contact tracing, such as phone numbers, addresses, and other details.

      In a joint statement, Dix and Henry said that although the federal government regulates the airline industry, WestJet representatives met with them earlier this month to discuss what they could do that would be beneficial.

      Dix and Henry said that these new measures “will help us immensely” and that this information will enable them to contact anyone exposed to the virus and stop any further transmission.

      “In air travel, it is still a relatively low risk, but it is a risk that we would prefer to be able to notify people of in an efficient way,” they stated.

      From March 23 to August 25, approximately 230 out of 19,370 flights (carrying over 725,000 passengers) were confirmed with COVID-19 cases, which represents about one percent of all flights.

      WestJet stated that there haven’t been any reported cases of transmission aboard any of their flights.

      Meanwhile, the BCCDC has added two more flights confirmed with COVID-19, and both are domestic.

      One is Air Canada flight 122 from Vancouver to Toronto on August 17 (affected rows weren't specified).

      The second is Flair flight 8711 from Vancouver to Edmonton on August 24 (rows 12 to 18 are listed as affected).

      Anyone on these flights should minimize contact with others while monitoring for symptoms for 14 days during the incubation period. If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and call 811 (if in B.C.) to arrange for testing.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Social influencers campaign

      While B.C. Premier asked some high-powered help from the likes of locally born and raised celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen to reach youth through social media, one local health authority is looking for social influencers to help spread the message about COVID-19.

      Fraser Health, which covers communities from Burnaby, Delta, and Surrey through the Fraser Canyon to Hope, announced today that it is seeking individuals aged 20 to 29 years old in the region to become health influencers.

      “In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people ages 20 to 29 represented just 12 per cent of COVID-19 cases in our region,” Fraser Health president and CEO stated in a news release. “In recent weeks, we have seen a substantial increase in this demographic, with 30 percent of new cases within this group, though they comprise just 14 percent of Fraser Health’s population. This shows that this demographic is becoming sick with COVID-19 at double the rate of the general population.”

      Fraser Health released videos on its TikTok account (@fraserhealth) addressing COVID-19 prevention among young adults and social gatherings.

      Anyone interested in becoming a health influencer can find out more at the Fraser Health website.

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