COVID-19 in B.C.: More outbreaks, back to school, and health minister says "Enough!" to problems with private parties

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      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 briefing in Vancouver, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix discussed the ongoing problem of parties that are contributing to outbreaks.

      Meanwhile, cases have been confirmed on flights from Mexico and Washington state and aboard a U.S. vessel, and there have been new outbreaks and public exposure events.

      Yesterday and today (August 5 and 6), TransLink and B.C. Transit announced that they are making it mandatory for passengers to wear masks while on transit vehicles.

      Henry said she is “really pleased” with these policies; that it’s a “rational and reasonable thing to do”; and that their “education and supportive model”, instead of enforcement, is similar to B.C.’s overall approach. 

      Daily update: August 6

      Dr. Henry announced that there are 47 new cases (plus one epi-linked case) today, for a cumulative provincial total of 3,881 during the pandemic.

      There have been 1,143 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 2,045 in Fraser Health; 146 in Island Health; 385 in Interior Health; 93 in Northern Health; and 69 cases among people who live outside Canada.

      At the moment, there are 371 active cases. The number of people in hospital continues to slowly rise, with 11 cases now in hospital (five in intensive-care units).

      Public health is monitoring over 1,518 people across the province who are in self-isolation after being in contact with confirmed cases.

      Thankfully, there are no new deaths. Dix said this is the sixth consecutive day without deaths.

      A total of 3,315 people have recovered.

      Outbreaks and exposure incidents

      Unfortunately, there are two new health-care outbreaks in Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

      One is at the Richmond Lions Manor long-term care facility (9020 Bridgeport Road) in Richmond. A VCH bulletin states that outbreak took place on the second floor, with restrictions imposed on August 5. 

      The other is at the Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre (803 West 12th Avenue) in Vancouver. VCH stated that this one took place on the eighth floor and restrictions were implemented today.

      Each one has a single case of a positive health-care worker.

      There are now five active health-care outbreaks—four are in long-term care or assisted-living facilities and one is in an acute-care unit. There have been a total of 666 cases (404 residents and 662 staff) in health-care outbreaks.

      While there are no new community outbreaks, there have been exposure events in the province.

      VCH has issued an alert for an exposure event at Lions Bay Beach Park in Lions Bay.

      Anyone the park from July 26 to 31 is asked to limit contact with others, monitor for symptoms, and contact 811 immediately while self-isolating if symptoms appear.

      CTV News reported that a staff member at a Vancouver 7-Eleven at 904 Davie Street (between the West End and Yaletown) has tested positive for the virus. The store was closed for sanitization and cleaning.

      Anyone who visited the store on July 28 should minimize interactions with others in person while monitoring themselves for symptoms. Anyone who develops symptoms should immediately self-isolate and contact 811 for testing.

      Some cases have been identified on a U.S.–registered marine vessel that has 10 crew members. Dr. Henry didn’t specify the number of cases but said that the Public Health Agency of Canada and Transport Canada are working with Fraser Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to monitor the situation.


      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

      Schools and children

      While many parents, teachers, and students have concerns about schools reopening in September, Henry said that the cost of keeping schools closed for an extended period of time is “too high” for students.

      She later explained that this includes not only education beyond book-based learning and instruction but also social interactions, mental and emotional growth, and mental health.

      She pointed out there are many students don’t have resources for virtual learning, and that for some students, schools are a source for receiving meals or healthcare, or finding a safe place or psychological support.

      In examining the unintended consequences and negative impacts of closing schools, Henry said that they have been considering elements for years, and have examined previous pandemics and experiences when schools have been closed for long periods.

      “We know that the downside impact on some children, particularly those children who are falling behind, is never made up if schools are closed for an extended period,” she said.

      Two main areas she said they examined are “how severely children are affected by the virus and the role that children play in transmission”, both within schools and in the larger community.

      After closing schools in March and shifting to online learning, she said, they didn’t have information about those issues.

      “We know a lot more now,” she said, including evidence gathered after reopening schools in June. “We know that the severity in children is very mild with this virus, particularly in young children.”

      While no children under 18 years of age have died in Canada, she said there have been some cases in hospitals, including intensive-care units, “but it’s very small numbers”.

      She also clarified that the overall plan is a framework that schools are now using to work on details for their specific facilities.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      Party problems

      Henry said that about 45 cases are now associated with a party held in the Vancouver Coastal Health region (which began appearing among case numbers announced on August 4).

      She added that the incident involved overlapping social groups and other parties, and includes cases in the Fraser Health region as well.

      As a result, she said there is an approximate total number of contacts (people who may have been exposed to the virus) in the 400 range.

      Dix pointed out that there were many examples of people not practising health measures during the Canada Day long weekend (when several large public exposure events took place in Kelowna), which resulted in “a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases”, particularly among younger demographic groups.

      Consequently, he pointed out that the approximately 1,500 people who are in self-isolation are “not working, not working out, not going out” and “causing them and their families and friends significant anxiety”, with some becoming ill.

      “Large private parties come with huge public consequences—we’ve seen this,” he said. To party organizers and those hoping to attend these parties “in the middle of a global pandemic”, Dix said, “Enough!”

      He said that the goal of public health isn’t to ruin anyone’s summer—COVID-19 does that, he pointed out.

      “Refusing to accept that COVID-19 changes everything, must change everything, puts all of us at risk,” he said.

      Whether it’s behaviour in houseboats and private residences, or table-hopping at restaurants and bars, he said that large groups are a problem for the spread of COVID-19.

      “Let’s be clear: it’s not the location of the behaviour—it’s the behaviour in the location," he explained.

      Meanwhile, Dix also applauded that Kelowna mayor Colin Basran and the city of Kelowna for doing “an outstanding job” in working with Interior Health after the outbreak began there.

      “All of the things that you’ve seen in Kelowna, I think they are a model of how we respond,” he said. “We’ve actually seen in the past couple of weeks a significant decline in active cases in Interior Health, and that’s good news.”

      Henry said that the overall shift towards more young adults testing positive also reflects a number of factors, including the reopening of places such as restaurants, retail outlets, and processing plants, which includes both customers and staff of younger demographic groups.

      Air travel

      Unfortunately, three more international flights have been confirmed with COVID-19.

      Two of them arrived at Vancouver International Airport from Seattle.

      The first was Delta Flight 4523, which arrived on July 20. The second was Delta Flight 3898, which arrived on July 29. Affected rows weren’t specified for either of these flights.

      Meanwhile, a fifth flight from Mexico City to Vancouver this month has been linked to the coronavirus. Passengers who were sitting in rows 19 to 27 on Aeromexico Flight 696 on July 29 may have been affected.

      Anyone who was on these flights should reduce contact with others during a 14-day period after the flight while monitoring themselves for symptoms.

      If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and contact 811 to arrange for testing.

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