COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about travel risks, longterm care vaccinations, and more

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      Case numbers remain at the same level as previous days, once again. Meanwhile, there is one new Vancouver restaurant with an exposure event.

      At today’s in-person briefing, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answered questions about vaccinations, travel restrictions, venue closures, and more.

      Ski resorts, cinemas, and other venues

      When Henry was asked about why ski resorts can remain open but venues like movie theatres have had to close, she cautioned about comparisons and pointed out that those examples are different things.

      She clarified that has been transmission seen at numerous venues with events, including cinemas, theatres, and more. In addition, she pointed out that those venues that are open are under strict conditions, and she said they are increasing inspections of venues that are open.

      She cited Whistler as an example where six premises have been closed or had orders issued “because of people not obeying the rules in those environments”.

      The risk of transmission at ski resorts, she has stated, isn’t on ski hills but takes place in indoor social gatherings after outdoor activity.

      In addition, regional health authorities have stated that the majority of cases involved in clusters reported at Big White Mountain and Whistler have been among young adults who work, live, and socialize together.

      Biggest risks and travel

      Henry welcomed the new federal travel restrictions announced today by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

      She said these new measures will help to protect British Columbians “in these very few critical months when we don’t yet have enough people protected from this virus” and remain concerned about importation of different strains.

      She said they will actively discourage people coming from other provinces to B.C.

      “The fewer transmission events that we have in the world, but also in Canada and in B.C., the less chance there is for the virus to mutate,” she said.

      Unfortunately, Henry said that the COVID-zero model, such as what New Zealand is pursuing, is not a realistic option for a location such as B.C. which has numerous land borders and means of entry.

      “Our biggest risk continues to be from the United States,” she said. However, she said that is a reality of our geographic location and our socio-economic interactions, including essential travel and the movement of people and goods across borders.

      She said that she understands there are ongoing discussions at the federal level about travel between Canada and the U.S., and she expects that more details are yet to come.

      B.C. update: January 29

      Henry announced there are 514 new cases (including six epi-linked cases). By region, that includes:

      • 223 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 134 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 71 in Interior Health;
      • 57 in Northern Health;
      • 29 in Island Health;
      • no one from outside Canada.

      Active cases have increased for yet another consecutive day. Currently, there are 4,557 active cases, which is 102 more cases since yesterday.

      Hospitalized cases remain at the same level as yesterday. At the moment, there are 292 people in hospital (which is only one more person since yesterday), with 74 of those patients in intensive care units (one less person since yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring 7,242 people due to exposure to confirmed cases.

      Sadly, there are five new deaths. B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were three deaths in Fraser Health, one in Northern Health, and one in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      The cumulative total number of fatalities is now at 1,189 people who have died during the pandemic of COVID-19-related causes.

      Henry said that a cumulative total of 59,551 people have now recovered.

      During the pandemic, B.C. has confirmed 66,779 cases, which includes:

      • 40,184 cases in Fraser Health (60 percent);
      • 15,321 in Vancouver Coastal Health (23 percent);
      • 6,151 in Interior Health (nine percent);
      • 3,391 in Northern Health (five percent);
      • 1,597 in Island Health (two percent);
      • 135 people from outside Canada (less than one percent).

      When asked about the variants, Henry said there are seven cases of the U.K. variant and four South African variant cases in B.C. She added that two cases are linked, and three cases aren’t associated with travel, but health investigations remain ongoing.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix


      So far, 129,241 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., and 4,262 of those are second doses.

      Some good news in the immunization program that Henry called “exciting”: she said that the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines has now been provided to all longterm care residents and staff in B.C. who would like it. She said there is very high uptake and specific details will be provided in the near future.

      Some unfortunate news: Henry said they were informed today that the supply of the Moderna vaccine scheduled to arrive next week has been reduced by about 20 percent (about 6,000 doses) due to difficulties at Moderna’s processing plant.

      While Henry called it “disappointing for all of us”, she said that as of next week, B.C. will be getting slowly “back on track” and is confident that they will be able to meet their Phase 1 and 2 objectives “as quickly as we possibly can”.

      While she admitted it will be a challenging few weeks, she said she is especially thankful that B.C. has been able to protect the B.C.’s most vulnerable population.  

      “I am tremendously relieved and grateful that we’ve been able to get into every single longterm care home and assisted-living facility in this province,” she said.

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Henry said there are 34 active outbreaks in healthcare facilities, which includes 25 longterm care facilities and nine acute care facilities.

      Dix said that there are less healthcare outbreaks taking place, which he said reflects progress in immunizations. He pointed out that two weeks ago, there were outbreaks in 42 longterm care facilities, and seven outbreaks in assisted- and independent-living facilities (there are now two active today).

      There is one new healthcare outbreak at the second floor rehabilitation at Holy Family Hospital (7801 Argyle Street) in Vancouver, where Vancouver Coastal Health placed restrictions at on January 28.

      Healthcare outbreaks have been declared over at:

      • Little Mountain Place in Vancouver;
      • Nicola Lodge in Port Coquitlam.

      Interior Health provided updates on three community clusters in its region.

      In Williams Lake, an additional 24 cases has increased the cumulative total to 338 cases since January 1 in the region. (The cluster was declared on January 20). Currently, there are 134 active cases.

      The cluster in Fernie has 10 new cases, which brings the cumulative total cases to 91 since the cluster was declared on January 27. At the moment, there are 60 active cases.

      The Big White Mountain cluster has had only one new case identified, bringing the cumulative total to 226 cases since it was declared. Currently, there are 15 active cases.

      Food and flights

      Vancouver Coastal Health has listed one new public exposure event at Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar (845 Burrard Street), located at the Sutton Place Hotel, Vancouver during operating hours from January 19 to 23.

      Loblaw reported three of its stores had staff members who tested positive.

      One employee who tested positive last worked on January 18 at Wholesale Club Terrace (4524 Feeney Street) in Terrace.

      An employee who tested positive last worked on January 24 at Extra Foods (2760 Forksdale Avenue) in Merritt.

      One employee who tested positive last worked on January 24 at Shoppers Drug Mart (110–879 Marine Drive) in North Vancouver.

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

      • January 20: Air Canada 128, Vancouver to Toronto;
      • January 24: Aeromexico 696, Mexico City to Vancouver;
      • January 24: WestJet 186, Vancouver to Edmonton;
      • January 26: Air Canada 255, Kelowna to Vancouver.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website. 

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