COVID-19 in B.C.: New case count remains below 500 while Vancouver and B.C. prepare for New Year's Eve

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      With New Year’s Eve tomorrow night (December 31), the question remains what impact it will have on COVID-19 case numbers.

      The answer won’t be known for about two weeks, due to the virus incubation period.

      However, B.C. public health is taking preemptive measures.

      Today, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a new public health order that all liquor sales in the province must stop at 8 p.m. at all food and beverage establishments—including retail sales outlets, grocery stores, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, cafés, and more—on January 31 and cannot resume until 9 a.m. on January 1.

      Henry explained, during a media conference call, that the measure is intended to prevent any risky behaviour leading to transmission that may occur due to indulgence in alcohol consumption, late-night partying, and other problems.

      However, she did state that she feels confident that it is safe for people to dine out at restaurants that have strong safety plans in place.

      "We recognize this order creates an added strain on our already challenged restaurant and food services sector that has been working hard to ensure restaurants are safe,” Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement. “However, this is the time to do all we can to keep our wall strong. We remain confident that having a meal with your household contacts in a restaurant in B.C. is safe, and we encourage people to continue to visit their local restaurants to eat in or take away on New Year's Eve.”

      Meanwhile, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) stated that it will be taking measures for New Year's Eve, such as having additional officers on patrol and conducting liquor enforcement in entertainment districts and near transit stations.

      Among their recommendations, they’re asking people not to go out after 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

      When the Georgia Straight asked Henry about this recommednation, she clarified that is their own direction rather than provincial health guidelines but that she said that “we need to pull out all the stops right now to keep everybody safe”.

      Dix said that they appreciate what municipalities are doing and said that the VPD advice is an “excellent suggestion”, in light of the number of people who have died and the current case counts, which “are still too high”. 

      After what happened on Halloween, with numerous partiers gathering on Granville Street without masks or physical distancing, it remains to be seen if similar issues arise on New Year’s Eve.

      When the Georgia Straight asked Henry if any cases were linked to the Halloween gatherings on Granville Street, she said that as people who were gathering there were also linked to other gatherings, Henry said it remains unclear where the points of transmission were.

      However, she said what they did learn from those incidents, which she said “was a bit of a surprise to us”, was that party buses and limousines were still operating, with a number of cases linked to them. Subsequently, provincial health orders were introduced to restrict the operation of these perimeter-seating vehicles.

      Meanwhile in other COVID-19 news, the VPD also announced that it arrested a 24-year-old male party host who repeatedly held social gatherings despite warnings and two fines of $2,300. After spending Christmas in jail, he was released on bail conditions, and will be arrested if he violates those conditions.

      B.C. update: December 30

      Henry announced there are 485 new cases today, including five epi-linked cases. That includes:

      • 211 new cases in the Fraser Health region;
      • 117 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 84 in Northern Health;
      • 57 in Interior Health;
      • 16 in Island Health;
      • none among people from outside Canada.

      Currently, there are 7,551 active cases, which is only 29 more cases than yesterday.

      There are 379 individuals in hospital (six more people since yesterday), with 77 of those patients in intensive care units (three more than yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring over 9,320 people—unfortunately, numbers from Northern Health is still not available due to an ongoing data transfer process. 

      Tragically, the death remains high—there were 11 new deaths. The total number of fatalities is now at 893 people who have died during the pandemic.

      B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 51,300 cases, which includes:

      • 32,471 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 12,030 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 3,806 in Interior Health;
      • 1,974 in Northern Health;
      • 917 in Island Health;
      • 102 people from outside Canada.

      A total of 14,027 people now have been vaccinated.

      Henry also said that the Moderna vaccine has been delivered to 10 remote or isolated First Nations communities that have been deemed “high risk”.

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

      Outbreaks and exposure events

      Two new healthcare outbreaks have been declared at:

      • a medicine unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where Fraser Health stated that four patients have tested positive and the emergency department remains operational;
      • the Cedar Hill residence at Langley Memorial Hospital, where three staff members have tested positive; 

      Northern Health stated today that the precautionary outbreak declared at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George (listed in yesterday’s B.C. COVID-19 update) involves two patients and four staff who have tested positive.

      None of the five regional health authorities added any new public exposure events.

      Interior Health stated that an additional 11 cases have brought the total number of cases from the Big White ski resort community cluster to 111 cases. 

      Meanwhile, four workers at Sun Peaks Grand Hotel at Sun Peaks ski resort have also tested positive. 

      Stores and flights

      Loblaws reported that two of its Real Canadian Superstore locations had staff members who have tested positive:

      • one employee who last worked on December 22 at 2155 Ferry Avenue in Prince George;
      • one employee who last worked on December 24 at 7550 King George Boulevard in Surrey.

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

      • December 17: Air Canada 115, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 17: Air Canada/Jazz 8418, Vancouver to Kelowna;
      • December 18: WestJet 3450, Abbotsford to Calgary;
      • December 20: Air Canada 8239, Terrace to Vancouver;
      • December 21: Swoop 411, Kelowna to Toronto;
      • December 27: WestJet 713, Toronto to Vancouver.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

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