COVID-19 in B.C.: 10 deaths, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister on threats and personal attacks, and more

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      B.C. continues to remain in a risky period for sudden increases in COVID-19 case numbers.

      At today’s briefing from Vancouver, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the weekly average for new cases has slightly increased in recent weeks, more so in the Lower Mainland region (and particularly in Fraser Health).

      She said an upward trend in the virus reproductive number indicates that there remains “potential for rapid growth if we’re not careful”, particularly in the Lower Mainland.

      Henry said that “we’re not quite there yet” for relaxing restrictions but that they are looking ahead into March to figure out when there could be potential for that.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pointed out that after the winter holiday season, there was a significant increase in cases and hospitalizations in Interior Health but that has since decreased over the past few weeks.

      “It shows again what we can do together as communities,” he said.

      Health measure resistance and threats

      In January, there were a number of incidents of police shutting down parties and makeshift nightclubs in Surrey, Richmond, and Vancouver that were violating provincial health orders.

      That has since given way to a handful of increasingly vocal or violent examples of individuals resisting health measures, including:

      • a few incidents involving male customers yelling and refusing to leave businesses after being denied service for not wearing a mask, including one in Kerrisdale, and another in Burnaby;
      • a male suspect physically assaulting another gym user who had asked him to wear a mask at a Downtown Vancouver gym;
      • two female passengers being arrested in Nanaimo and fined over $900 for yelling and verbally abusing staff aboard a B.C. Ferries sailing after they refused to wear masks aboard the ship;
      • a male customer allegedly assaulting and then becoming embroiled in a physical altercation with staff at Canadian Tire in Burnaby as they tried to handcuff him after he refused to wear a mask or leave the premises;
      • a male suspect allegedly stabbing a 50-year-old man during a fight that erupted after the victim’s daughter asked the suspect to physically distance in a Nanaimo parking lot.

      Meanwhile, the antimask protest movement continues on with rallies, including one held in Vancouver last weekend (February 20).

      In addition, the B.C. Supreme Court also denied a request from Henry and the province for an injunction against three churches in the Fraser Valley that are continuing to hold in-person services in defiance of provincial health orders. Those churches are also attempting to take legal action to overturn provincial health orders that prohibit church services from being conducted indoors.

      Henry had previously spoken in September about abusive phone calls and letters, as well as death threats, that she has faced over the course of the pandemic.

      When she was asked at today’s news conference about how she is dealing with threats and protests, Henry said that the part that she finds most challenging and disturbing is how it affects the people around her, including the people she works with and her family, but she added that they do have strong support systems.

      She said her colleagues across the country, who are contending with similar issues, meet regularly and they support each other.

      Henry did offer some insight into the psychology of those who are acting out in emotional or extreme ways.

      “I recognize that when people are in crises, part of the way they respond or react is to lash out, to become angry,” she said. “That is a reaction that is sometimes fed by certain groups, by certain media, social media posts, et cetera, and it’s not to condone it but it’s to recognize the psychology of what we’re dealing with leads some people to react that way.”

      She said “our collective support for each other that helps mitigate the impact of these things”.

      However, she said it “really is not acceptable”, and Dix agreed with that sentiment.

      “We live in a democratic society and it is absolutely legitimate to disagree, even about issues such as the pandemic, but some of the disagreement is totally unacceptable,” he said. “Dr. Bonnie Henry is an extraordinary leader and that doesn’t mean she’s right all the time…but the kind of personal attacks on some of them are completely unacceptable.”

      He condemned threats made against Henry, and pointed out how she never loses sight of people and shows compassion “for every single person” during the pandemic despite all of the criticism she receives.

      “We need to have a slightly more respectful debate,” he said. “All of us have to find ways to disagree without personal attack.”

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

      B.C. update: February 25

      Henry announced that there are 395 new cases (including 12 epi-linked cases) in B.C. today, which includes:

      • 207 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 86 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 41 in Northern Health;
      • 37 in Island Health;
      • 24 in Interior Health;
      • no one from outside of Canada.

      At the moment, there are 4,489 active cases, which is a drop of 179 cases since yesterday.

      Hospitalized cases also decreased—with nine patients discharged since yesterday, 228 individuals are currently in hospitals, and 62 of them are in intensive care units (two fewer patients since yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring 7,931 people for exposure to identified cases, which is only seven more people since yesterday.

      Unfortunately, the number of deaths has risen. There are 10 new COVID-19-related deaths. The cumulative total of number of fatalities during the pandemic is now at 1,348 people who have died in B.C.

      With 562 more recoveries since yesterday, a cumulative total of 72,781 people have now recovered.

      During the pandemic, B.C. has recorded a total of 78,673 cases.

      Variants and vaccinations

      Since the last variant update on February 22, there have been 16 new confirmed COVID-19 variant cases, bringing the total to 116 cases.

      By region, that includes:

      • 71 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 39 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • four in Island Health;
      • two in Interior Health.

      Of the total cases, nine cases are active and the remaining people have recovered.

      So far, the total cases include:

      • 95 of the B117 variant (U.K.);
      • 21 of the B131 variant (South Africa);
      • two of the B1525 variant (Nigeria), which Henry said is still a variant under investigation.

      Henry said the source of transmission remains uncertain for about 25 percent of the cases.

      Investigations into variants in schools remain ongoing.

      As of today, 239,883 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., and 68,157 of them are second doses.

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Henry said active outbreaks remain in 13 longterm care facilities and five acute care facilities for a total of 18 outbreaks, involving 611 cases (398 residents and 213 staff members).

      There is one new healthcare facility outbreak at the Revera Sunwood Retirement Community in Maple Ridge.

      Northern Health gave an update today on the outbreak at Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert, which was declared on January 19. there is now a total of 56 cases—33 residents and 23 staff, and 14 residents have died.

      In Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), restrictions were lifted today from Unit 9C at St. Paul’s Hospital, where restrictions were imposed on January 4.

      In an update today on cases in Whistler, VCH said that transmissions continue to decline. From February 16 to 21, there were 26 new cases (which is 36 fewer new cases than from February 8 to 15). With 671 people having recovered, there are currently 31 active cases left. Since January 1, a total of 702 cases have been confirmed in Whistler.

      Food and flights

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added seven domestic flights to its list of COVID-19 exposures:

      • February 10: Air Canada/Jazz 8236, Vancouver to Terrace;
      • February 12: Air Canada 115, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • February 14: Air Canada/Jazz 8069, Vancouver to Victoria;
      • February 14: Air Canada/Jazz 8239, Terrace to Vancouver;
      • February 18: Air Canada 106, Vancouver to Toronto;
      • February 20: Air Canada 251, Edmonton to Vancouver;
      • February 21: Flair 8101, Vancouver to Edmonton.

      Affected row information can be found at the BCCDC website.

      Loblaw stated that several employees (specific number and dates not provided) at the Real Canadian Superstore (6–291 Cowichan Way) in Duncan have tested positive. 

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