COVID-19 in B.C.: U.K. mutation questions; more than 1,600 new cases and 41 deaths over weekend; and more

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      Although case counts are generally lower than last week or are decreasing, the death toll remains high. Also, there are five new healthcare outbreaks, and 24 flights and 14 stores with confirmed cases.

      Meanwhile, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answered questions about the virus mutation in the U.K., as well as about her forthcoming book. 

      U.K. virus mutation

      When asked about the genetic variant of COVID-19 detected in the U.K., Henry said that the virus does mutate but, as she has previously said, “this one mutates relatively slowly”. 

      However, the virus appearing in the U.K., she said, has up to 17 mutations, or changes.

      She said this mutation doesn’t appear to have increased the severity of illness so far but appears to transmit more easily, which she said is worrisome to her.

      “That’s something we’re still trying to understand and figure out,” she said.

      She said that she had meetings with her colleagues this weekend about whether or not the virus has appeared in Canada.

      The federal government placed a temporary restrictions on all flights between the U.K. and Canada for 72 hours as of midnight on December 20.

      Henry said this “pause” will allow public health “to get a better handle on where this might have been and what measures we need to take to ensure that it doesn’t get introduced and spread widely here in Canada”, and to determine what protective measures may need to be introduced.

      Questions about Henry’s book

      Penguin Random House announced on December 18 that it will be releasing Henry’s new book, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe: Four Weeks That Shaped a Pandemic, on March 9. She cowrote it with her sister, Lynn Henry.

      However, criticism arose on social media, including debates about whether she was profiting from her position as a public servant.

      Today, the book’s publisher released an interview conducted with Bonnie and Lynn, who said they would be donating their advances to charities.

      When asked about the book at today’s briefing, Henry said she wrote the book when she took six days off about what she and her sister personally experienced in March.

      She said she donated to First Book Canada, which ensures children have access to reading material, education, and literary supplies.

      “That is something that is near and dear to me, and something I feel is very important, particularly as we know that young people have suffered from the challenges through this pandemic in the last few months,” she said.

      (Lynn is donating her advances to True North Aid, which helps Indigenous communities.)

      When she was asked if she would donate her ongoing revenues from the book beyond her advances she donated, she didn’t answer the question.

      However, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix who responded to the question the second time, he said that there are no issues with the book that have been raised.

      Dix also recommends her first book because “it’s a real contribution to public understanding of the very issues we weren’t dealing with in the same way then and we are now”.

      “I have total confidence in Dr. Henry in every way,” he said. “This is a person of absolute generosity and integrity.”

      B.C. health minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. update: December 21

      Henry announced new cases for the past three time periods, which include:

      • 652 new cases from December 18 to 19;
      • 486 new cases from December 19 to 20;
      • 529 new cases from December 20 to 21.

      That’s a total of 1,667 new cases (including 14 epi-linked cases) over the weekend.

      By region, that includes:

      • 1,084 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 283 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 189 in Interior Health;
      • 90 in Northern Health;
      • 21 in Island Health;
      • no one from outside Canada.

      Active cases have declined—there were 260 less cases, bringing today’s total to 9,718 active cases.

      Also lowering is the number of hospitalized cases. With 15 less people since December 18, there are now 341 people in hospital, with 80 of those patients in intensive care units (12 less people since December 18).

      Currently, public health is monitoring over 9,651 people who were exposed to confirmed cases. However, Henry said that because Northern Health is undergoing a data transfer process, the number of people being monitored wasn’t included in today’s total.

      Tragically, the death toll remains high. There were 41 new deaths over the weekend, which brings to cumulative total during the pandemic to 765 people who have died.

      Dix said that there were 17 deaths in Fraser Health, 14 in Vancouver Coastal Health, nine in Interior Health, and one in Island Health.

      Henry said the majority of the deaths were in longterm care facilities, but did not provide specific numbers.

      Also, Dix pointed out that the nine deaths in Interior Health is “significant” and shows the impact of transmission, particularly in longterm care facilities, as there had previously only been a total of eight deaths in Interior Health during the pandemic prior to this past weekend.

      During the pandemic, there has been a cumulative total of 47,067 people confirmed with COVID-19, which includes:

      • 29,971 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 11,252 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 3,313 in Interior Health;
      • 1,599 in Northern Health;
      • 829 in Island Health;
      • 103 people from outside Canada.

      Henry said that since last week, there have been 3,644 people (“mostly healthcare workers”, Henry said) immunized with the vaccine. She also confirmed that vaccines have arrived in all five regional health authorities and are preparing immunization clinics.

      Outbreaks and exposures

      There are five new healthcare outbreaks in Fraser Health and Interior Health:

      • The Gardens at Qualicum Beach (650 Berwick Road North) in Qualicum Beach, where one staff member tested positive and Island Health stated that the outbreak is limited to one unit on the third floor of the facility;
      • The Mayfair Senior Living and Care (33433 Marshall Road) in Abbotsford, where four residents have tested positive;
      • Fleetwood Villa (16028 83rd Avenue) in Surrey, where two residents have tested positive;
      • Nicola Lodge (2240 Hawkins Street) in Port Coquitlam, where three residents have tested positive;
      • Heritage Retirement Residence (3630 Brown Road) in West Kelowna.

      The good news is that five healthcare outbreaks in Fraser Health have been declared over:

      • Bradley Centre in Chilliwack;
      • White Rock Seniors Village in White Rock;
      • Royal City Manor in New Westminster;
      • Harrison Pointe in Langley;
      • Agecare Harmony Court Estates in Burnaby.

      There are now active outbreaks in 55 longterm care facilities and six in acute care facilities for a total of 61 active outbreaks in healthcare facilities involving 2,216 active cases (1,424 residents and 792 staff).

      Northern Health announced two community outbreaks, both at Coastal Gas Link worksites. One is at 7 Mile Lodge in the Burns Lake local health area while the second is at Little Rock Lake Lodge in the Nechako local health area.

      Northern Health stated that as of November 20, 27 employees tested positive, with 17 cases remaining active. The worksites are restricted to essential workers only until public health approves an updated COVID-19 safety plan.

      Once again, none of the five regional health authorities have added any new public exposure events.

      Store and flights

      Sobeys reported it had five stores with employees who tested positive.

      One was FreshCo (100–32500 South Fraser Way) in Abbotsford, where an employee who tested positive last worked on December 10.

      The other four locations were Safeway stores:

      • one employee who last worked on December 12 at 8475 Granville Street in Vancouver;
      • one employee who last worked on December 13 at 697 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna;
      • an employee who last worked on December 14 at 3664 Highway 16 in Smithers;
      • an employee who last worked on December 15 at 6153 200th Street in Langley.

      Loblaw has 12 staff members at nine stores who tested positive.

      Five stores were Shoppers Drug Mart locations:

      • two employees who last worked on December 9 and 12 at 6060 Minoru Boulevard in Richmond;
      • one employee who last worked on December 12 at 5955 Main Street in Oliver;
      • one employee who last worked on December 14 at 5555 Gilbert Road in Richmond;
      • an employee who last worked on December 16 at 586 Granville Street in Vancouver;
      • one employee who last worked on December 17 at 20151 Fraser Highway in Langley.

      The other four stores were Real Canadian Superstore locations:

      • one employee who last worked on December 12 at 350 Southeast Marine Drive in Vancouver;
      • an employee who last worked on December 12 at 3185 Grandview Highway in Vancouver;
      • two employees who last worked on December 12 and 13 at 2855 Gladwin Road in Abbotsford;
      • two employees who last worked on December 12 and 16 at  8195 120th Street in Delta.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added 24 flights confirmed with COVID-19 to its domestic and international lists:

      • December 4: Air Canada 25, Vancouver to Shanghai;
      • December 5: WestJet 122, Vancouver to Calgary;
      • December 9: Air Canada/Jazz 8243, Terrace to Vancouver;
      • December 9: Air Canada 115, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 10: United Airlines 4769, San Francisco to Vancouver;
      • December 11: WestJet 3241, Calgary to Kamloops;
      • December 11: Air India 185, Delhi to Vancouver;
      • December 11: WestJet 3342, Calgary to Kelowna;
      • December 12: Air Canada 201, Calgary to Vancouver;
      • December 12: Air Canada 8253, Vancouver to Nanaimo;
      • December 12: Flair 8418, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 12: Air Canada/Lufthansa 9101/492, Frankfurt to Vancouver;
      • December 12: WestJet 126, Vancouver to Calgary;
      • December 13: Air Canada 103, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 13: Air Canada/Jazz 8261, Vancouver to Nanaimo;
      • December 13: WestJet 711, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 14: Air Canada/United Airlines 555/8417, Los Angeles to Vancouver;
      • December 14: Air Canada/United Airlines 8075/8435, Vancouver to Victoria;
      • December 14: Air Canada 103, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 15: WestJet 3170, Kelowna to Calgary;
      • December 16: Air Canada 242, Vancouver to Edmonton;
      • December 16: Air Canada/Jazz 8208, Prince George to Vancouver;
      • December 16: Alaska Airlines 2154, Seattle to Vancouver;
      • December 19: Air Canada 3, Vancouver to Tokyo.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

      A total of 86 schools in four regional health authorities had new exposures. For full details, see this article

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