COVID-19 in B.C.: Almost 700 new cases, questions about New Year's Eve alcohol restrictions, and more

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      With New Year’s Eve upon us, many questions at the last B.C. COVID-19 update of the year held in Vancouver were directed at B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about her health order restricting the service of alcohol until 8 p.m. tonight that she announced yesterday (December 30).

      Alcohol restrictions

      Food and beverage establishments have been reported to have been expressing unhappiness with the late timing of Henry’s health order announcement, which has caused restaurants to have to make sudden changes to previously scheduled plans or have received cancellations. A number of restaurants, such as Glowbal for example, had been planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve at 9 p.m. to be timed in conjunction with NYE celebrations on the East Coast.

      Henry said that she has heard from those in the food and beverage industries who are facing challenges in managing situations, such as celebrations being planned for hundreds of people, and the difficulties that staff and servers would have to deal with.

      When she was asked about criticism from food and beverage industries about the timing of her announcement, she said that they have been “signalling for some time the issues around New Year’s Eve and around the holiday season” so she doesn’t think that the announcement came “out of the blue in that respect”.

      She acknowledged that the alcohol restrictions she announced are another challenge that the food service industry have to face “in what has already been a very tough year”. However, she said the two hour change for ending alcohol service earlier (advanced from 10 p.m.) is “necessary for us to manage a situation that is going to be lasting for many more weeks”.

      Henry also encouraged people to think about supporting their local restaurants beyond today. She had provided an example of someone who had to cancel their plans but will instead visit the same restaurant later in the week.

      “It’s not just about tonight,” she said. “It’s about supporting our local business, our local restaurants, our local pubs over the coming weeks as well.”

      Schools and post-holiday restrictions

      When she was asked about school restarting in January, Henry said that she had organized a school task force in November to examine what has been learnt from the past few weeks in order to ensure a safe restart to school in the new year. She added that they continue to monitor for the U.K. variant but haven’t seen much transmission.

      Meanwhile, the current temporary health order restrictions are set to expire on January 8.

      The Georgia Straight asked Henry what conditions would prompt her to announce further restrictions or extensions if there is a surge in cases after the holidays.

      Although she didn’t specify any particular numbers, she said that B.C. has levelled off at a point “that is very concerning”. She added they continue to watch what is not only happening here but also around the world.

      When the Straight asked her whether restrictions or extensions would have greater priority over each other, she said she hadn’t really thought about it but that they try to keep all options open.

      When the Straight asked about what point would be the maximum threshold for contact tracing to operate effectively, Henry and Dix explained that many resources have been put into increasing contact tracing in the province, and hiring of contact tracers remains ongoing.

      Henry explained the important role that contact tracing plays in B.C.’s pandemic strategy.

      “We recognize that this virus is one that is amenable to those types of public health actions like contact tracing and that it is a key part of how we can control or at least understand where the virus is spreading, and that helps us take the measures that we need to take to control it,” she said.

      She said that they have “come up against the edge of us being able to do that effectively”, particularly in Fraser Health (she said a few week ago) and in the north.

      In those regions, she said they are focussing on “key high-risk environments”, including forming the aforementioned school health team and a workplace health team.

      In wishing everyone her best wishes for the new year, Henry offered some perspective on our situation.

      “COVID-19 may define 2020 but it will not define us,” Henry said. “As we came together in adversity in B.C. in the face of this global crisis, what will define us is how we did that: in kindness, with compassion and caring for each other, and with resilience.”

      The next in-person briefing from Henry and Dix will be held on Monday (January 4) from Victoria.

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

      B.C. update: December 31

      Henry announced there are 683 new cases (including two epi-linked cases) today. By region, that includes:

      • 447 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 105 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 64 in Interior Health;
      • 36 in Northern Health;
      • 11 in Island Health;
      • no one from outside Canada.

      Henry said there is some overreporting from Northern Health due to a data system change, and that numbers will be reconciled in the near future.

      At the moment, there are 7,803 active cases—an increase of 252 more people since yesterday.

      Currently, there are 374 people in hospital (one more person since yesterday), with 76 of those patients in intensive care units (four less people than yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring over 9,364 people, which still excludes the Northern Health region due to an ongoing data transfer process.

      Sadly, there are eight new deaths— Dix said that there were seven deaths in Fraser Health and one in Northern Health.

      A total of 901 people have now died in B.C. during the pandemic.

      A cumulative total of 42,129 people have recovered.

      B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 51,983 cases during the pandemic, which includes:

      • 32,918 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 12,135 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 3,890 in Interior Health;
      • 2,017 in Northern Health;
      • 928 in Island Health;
      • 102 people from outside Canada.

      A total of 17,510 people have now been immunized.

      Outbreaks and exposure events

      There are two new healthcare outbreaks:

      • Williams Lake Seniors Village, where Interior Health said one resident has tested positive;
      • an inpatient rehabilitation unit at Ridge Meadows Hospital, where Fraser Health stated today that two patients have tested positive.

      Three outbreaks have been declared over:

      • Saanich Peninsula Hospital in Saanichton;
      • Banfield Pavilion in Vancouver;
      • the Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion in White Rock.

      Henry said there are 61 active healthcare outbreaks in 52 longterm care facilities and nine acute care facilities, involving 1,412 residents and 733 staff for a total of 2,145 cases.

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


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

      • December 22:Air Canada 8414, Vancouver to Kelowna;
      • December 22: Air Canada 8239, Terrace to Vancouver;
      • December 23: WestJet 3315, Calgary to Comox;
      • December 25: Air Canada 311, Montreal to Vancouver;
      • December 27: WestJet 3335, Calgary to Comox;
      • December 28: WestJet 335, Edmonton to Victoria.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

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