COVID-19 in B.C.: LNG and Big White outbreaks, vaccines and immunocompromised people, and more

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      Yet again, the new case count and number of deaths remain at high levels, as has been seen for most of this week. 

      There's news and updates on several outbreaks, including at a Trans Canada pipeline worksite, a ski resort in Kelowna, and food-processing plants in the Lower Mainland. 

      In addition, low-intensity physical activity in groups—such as classes for yoga, pilates, and tai chi—can begin again indoors under revised public health guidelines. 

      Immunocompromised people and vaccinations

      Henry said she has received many questions about why people who have compromised immune systems should avoid taking the vaccine at this point.

      She explained that those who have an underlying health conditions or are on medications have a lowered immune-system response to viruses and they may also not respond as well to certain vaccines. 

      “This would apply to people who have had an organ transplant, for example,” she said, “have chronic liver or kidney disease, someone receiving chemotherapy, or certain immuno-suppressive therapies.”

      For those who are uncertain if this applies to them, Henry said the best thing to do is to consult your healthcare provider.

      She explained that the clincial trials for the vaccine excluded people who were immunocompromised and only included health populations. Therefore, there isn’t any information yet about how these vaccines will affect people with compromised immune systems.

      Church services

      In recent weeks, some churches in the Fraser Valley and Okanagan have defied public health orders prohibiting gatherings and held religious services, which resulted in some receiving fines.  

      In addition, some churchgoers are planning to take legal action against provincial health orders, arguing that the orders violate their right to freedom of religion. 

      When Henry was asked about why restaurants are allowed to operate but churches are not allowed to hold religious services with safety measures in place, she said that “church services are fundamentally different than a retail transaction or a transaction with a family or a small group in a restaurant where you’re walled-off from others”.

      She said that they have seen that even when safety protocols have been in place, transmission was still occurring at religious services, which made them high-risk situations.

      “This has nothing to do with taking away peoples’ rights to religious freedom at all,” she said.

      She added that religious and spiritual leaders across B.C. have told them that they are still practising their faith despite remaining apart.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      B.C. update: December 17

      Henry announced there are 673 new cases (including six epi-linked cases) in B.C. today, which includes:

      • 403 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 145 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 66 in Interior Health;
      • 47 in Northern Health;
      • four in Island Health;
      • eight people from outside Canada.

      When Henry was asked about the eight cases from outside Canada, she said that these were people here for work, such as temporary farm workers or related to the Big White outbreak (more details below).

      Today, there are 10,009 active cases, which an increase of 59 people since yesterday.

      With four less people hospitalized since yesterday, there are now 358 cases in hospital, with 93 of those patients in intensive care units (two more since yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring 10,388 people, which is 150 more people since yesterday.

      A cumulative total of 32,963 people have now recovered, which is 587 people since yesterday.

      Tragically, the death toll has remained high this week. Today, there have been 21 new deaths, which brings the total fatalities to 713 people who have died of COVID-19-related reasons during the pandemic.

      Henry said the majority of deaths involved seniors in longterm care but did not provide specific numbers.

      Dix said that 10 deaths were in Vancouver Coastal Health, 10 in Fraser Health, and one in Island Health.

      B.C.’s cumulative total is now at 44,776 cases during the pandemic, which includes:

      • 28,481 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 10,863 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 3,064 in Interior Health;
      • 1,462 in Northern Health;
      • 803 in Island Health;
      • 103 people from outside Canada.

      Over the past day, an additional 806 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were given to healthcare workers. Henry said that as of today, a total of 1,215 healthcare workers have now been vaccinated.

      Big White Ski Resort

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Thankfully, there aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks.

      However, there remain 61 active outbreaks, involving 55 longterm care facilities and six acute care units, and 2,109 cases (1,374 residents and 735 staff).

      Island Health provided an update that one more staff member has tested positive related to the outbreak declared on December 1 at Saanich Peninsula Hospital in Saanichton on Vancouver Island. There are now 10 staff members and 10 patients who have tested positive in this outbreak.

      Today, Northern Health declared a community outbreak at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. Northern Health stated that as of today, 15 out of 40 Diversified Transportation employees working at the site have tested positive.

      Northern Health stated that this outbreak is unrelated to the previous outbreak declared on November 19 and which has not had any related cases since December 2.

      After today’s in-person briefing, Fraser Health announced that an outbreak has been declared at the Rossdown Natural Foods poultry-processing facility in Abbotsford. Yesterday, an outbreak was declared at the Wingtat Game Bird Packers poultry-processing plant in Surrey. For more details on both outbreaks, see this article.

      Meanwhile, after Interior Health announced a community cluster was identified at Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna, involving at least 60 cases as of December 15, Big White confirmed to CBC News on December 16 that it has fired an unspecified number of employees for breaking a social contract to report any symptoms to managers and to sign a health declaration at the beginning of each shift.

      The individuals who tested positive are reportedly mostly in their 20s and 30s and Interior Health had stated that many cases were linked to shared accommodations, households with large numbers of people, and social gatherings.

      Big White Ski Resort stated in a news release on December 16 that it is in the process of finding secure housing for individuals affected by the cluster. Big White Ski Resort stated that it employs 636 employees, or 55 percent of the total workforce on the mountain, and manages accommodation for 152 employees, or 24 percent of that workforce.

      In other news, Burnaby RCMP fire investigators confirmed today that the fire at Burnaby Hospital on November 15 was an act of arson. As the fire compounded an outbreak at the hospital, up to about 100 cases were confirmed after the fire, and five people died. Investigators are seeking witnesses. For more details, see this article.

      Today, none of the five regional health authorities added any new public exposure events.

      Stores and flights

      Sobeys had four stores with five staff members who tested positive.

      Thrifty Foods at 50–2720 Mill Bay Road in Mill Bay had two employees, who last worked on December 4 and 6, test positive.

      Another location was a FreshCo store, located at 6140 Blundell Road in Richmond, where an employee who tested positive last worked on December 10.

      The other two locations were Safeway stores:

      • an employee who last worked on December 10 at the 3410 Kingsway Street location in Vancouver;
      • one employee who last worked on December 11 at the 697 Bernard Avenue location in Kelowna.

      Meanwhile, Loblaw stated that one employee who tested positive last worked on December 12 at the Real Canadian Superstore (19800 Lougheed Highway) in Pitt Meadows.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added five flights confirmed with COVID-19 to its lists:

      • December 6: Air Canada 45, Delhi to Vancouver;
      • December 6: Air Canada 212, Vancouver to Calgary;
      • December 6: Pacific Coastal Airlines 108, Vancouver to Victoria;
      • December 6: Pacific Coastal Airlines 457, Vancouver to Trail;
      • December 11: WestJet 3241, Calgary to Kamloops.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

      McMillan Elementary

      School exposures

      For the first time in several days, the number of schools with new exposures was notably lower. Four regional health authorities had a total of 23 schools with new exposures.

      Island Health once again didn’t have any schools with new exposure dates.

      Northern Health had two schools In Prince George with new exposures:

      • Shas Ti Kelly Road Secondary (7405 Kelly Road South) had an exposure event from December 7 to 11;
      • St. Mary’s Catholic School (1088 Gillett Street)—which previously had exposures from December 1 to 2; and from December 3 to 4—added December 7 to 10.

      Interior Health had two schools in Kelowna with new exposure dates:

      • Canyon Falls Middle School (1211 Frost Road)—which had previous exposures from November 18 to 19; from November 26 to 27; and from December 2 to 4—added December 7 to 11;
      • Bankhead Elementary School (1280 Wilson Avenue), which previously had exposures on November 26 and 30, added December 9 to 10.

      Vancouver Coastal Health had one school in Vancouver with a new exposure: Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary (6363 Lanark Street)—which had previous exposures from December 7 to 8; and December 9—added December 11.

      Betty Gilbert Middle School

      Fraser Health

      Fraser Health had 18 schools with new exposure dates.

      In Abbotsford, two schools had new dates:

      • McMillan Elementary (34830 Oakhill Drive) had exposures from December 7 to 8;
      • Sandy Hill Elementary (3836 Old Clayburn Road) had exposures from December 9 to 10.

      In Burnaby, Edmonds Community Elementary (7651 18th Avenue)—which previously had exposures on November 26, 27, and 30; and on December 7—added December 10 and 11.

      Two schools in Coquitlam had new dates:

      • Harbour View Elementary (960 Lillian Street)—which previously had exposures on October 16 and 20; and from November 9 to 10—added December 7 to 11;
      • Miller Park Elementary (800 Egmont Avenue)—which previously had an exposure event from September 30 to October 2; and on December 7—added December 9 to 11.

      In Chilliwack, G.W. Graham Secondary (45955 Thomas Road)—which previously had exposures on October 23 and from October 26 to 29; from November 16 to 18; on November 13 and 23; and from November 30 to December 2; and from December 3 to 4—added December 11.

      In Delta, Annieville Elementary (9240 112nd Street)—which previously had exposures from November 30 to December 1; and on December 2—added December 9 and 10.

      Four schools in Langley had new dates:

      • Betty Gilbert Middle School (26845 27 Avenue) in Aldergrove had exposures from December 7 to 8 and 10 to 11;
      • Brookswood Secondary (20902 37a Avenue)—which previously had exposures on October 5, 13, 15, and 16; and on November 10, 12, and 13—added December 11;
      • Langley Meadows Community School (2244 Willoughby Way) had an exposure on December 11;
      • Richard Bulpitt Elementary (20965 77A Avenue), which previously had an exposure on November 16, had a new exposure event from December 7 to 9.

      In Maple Ridge, Thomas Haney Secondary (23000 116 Avenue), which had previous exposure incidents on October 26 and on November 17, added December 9 to 11.

      Six schools in Surrey (the smallest number in recent days) had new dates:

      • Boundary Park Elementary (12332 Boundary Drive North)—which previously had exposure incidents from September 14 to 15; from November 23 to 25—added December 7 to 11;
      • Frank Hurt Secondary (13940 77th Avenue) in Surrey—which previously had exposures from October 1 to 2; from October 5 to 9; from October 13 to 16; on October 19, 21, 22, and 30from November 2 to 3; on November 4, 5, 10, and 12from November 16 to 17; and on November 19; from November 23 to 24; and from November 25 to 27—added December 7;
      • Lena Shaw Elementary School (14250 100a Avenue)—which previously had exposures from October 5 to 9; from October 28 to 30; and from November 17 to 19—added December 10 and 11;
      • Queen Elizabeth Secondary School (9457 King George Boulevard)—which previously had exposures on September 14; from October 14 to 16; from October 19, 21, and 22; from October 29 to 30; from November 3 to 5; on November 6, 9, 10; on November 12, 13, and 16; from November 18 to 20; from November 23 to 27on November 30; from December 3 to 4; and from December 7 to 10—added December 11;
      • Khalsa School Newton (6933 124th Street)—which previously had exposure events from September 22 to 25; from October 20 to 22; from October 28 to 30; from November 16 to 17; from November 18 to 20; from November 23 to 24; on November 26, 27, and 30; from December 1 to 2; and on December 4—added December 11;
      • Southridge School (2656 160th Street)—which previously had exposure events from September 28 to October 1 and on October 2; from November 16 to 17; and from December 7 and 8—added December 14.
      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.