COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix on the Canada–U.S. border, air travel, and case number increases

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      The good news is that the number of new cases today (July 14) dropped from the levels reported over the past few days.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to questions about whether the recent numbers of cases over the past few days are cause for concern, and about the U.S.–Canada border and travel.

      Daily update: July 14

      At today’s briefing, Dr. Henry announced there are 13 new cases, which brings the cumulative provincial total to 3,128 cases  over the duration of the pandemic. That includes 1,015 Vancouver Coastal Health; 1,649 in Fraser Health; 135 in Island Health, 212 in Interior Health; 65 in Northern Health; and 52 cases among people who live outside Canada.

      At the moment, there are 209 active cases. There are 14 people in hospital (including five patients in intensive care units) and Dix stated that nine of those people are in Fraser Health with the remaining five in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      There aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks. Accordingly, there remain three active outbreaks in healthcare: two in longterm care facilities and one in an acute care unit.

      However, there were three new cases in healthcare, bringing the totals to 399 residents and 252 staff who have tested positive.

      There aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      However, more details were revealed about the exposure events in Kelowna from June 25 to July 6.

      While the number of individuals involved were reported as increasing from eight to 13 people, Dr. Henry said that the number is now at 17 people from the regions of Interior Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Fraser Health.

      She said what they understand so far from the investigation, which remains ongoing, is that a group of people who knew each other from Interior B.C., the Lower Mainland, and Alberta met in Kelowna. Dix had previously said that the individuals are in their 20s and 30s.

      Although there is an outbreak at the Krazy Cherry Fruit Co. farm (as previously announced on July 13) in Oliver, B.C., Dr. Henry stated that there isn’t evidence that the virus is spread by food and that there isn’t any risk from cherries from the Krazy Cherry Fruit farm. 

      However, she reminded people to still wash all food carefully before eating it.   

      Dr. Henry reminded those who may have been exposed to not only monitor their symptoms for 14 days but to also limit their social contacts during that period. Anyone who has symptoms should call 811.

      Thankfully, there aren’t any new deaths, leaving the total fatalities at 189 deaths.

      There are a total of 2,730 people who have recovered.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Increase in case numbers

      Although B.C. had a series of consecutive days with new cases numbering 20 or more since July 8, Dr. Henry said that around 20 remains a small number “given our population”.

      While she did express some nervousness about the situation, she said it would be more “worrisome” if the new cases weren’t linked and they didn’t know where the infections were coming from.

      “It was distressing for me to see, especially 25 one day—that’s way above my comfort zone—but it is not unexpected and we do know where those cases are,” she said. “That is the other piece that we’re trying to balance here—is us increasing our travel, increasing our contacts in a measured way, but us in public health being able to respond when we have clusters, where we have cases, making sure can find those links and find people who are exposed so that they can stay away from others and we stop those transmission chains.”

      She said “a good portion” of the new cases are related to the ongoing outbreak in Holy Family Hospital longterm care home in Vancouver.

      “We have very few people who are not linked to a known cluster or case yet,” she said.

      However, Dr. Henry reiterated that we know that transmission increases as people move around more during phases of reopening, and that the recent cases, which aren’t unexpected, reflect that.

      However, she said we need to ensure that contact tracing can be conducted quickly and efficiently to contain the spread of the virus.

      When she was asked about what actions should be taken in the wake of several public exposure events taking place, she said she would try to avoid returning to closures.

      “I don’t believe that it’s good to shut things down because that just drives things underground,” she said.

      She said it’s better for public health to work with people and industries to figure out how things can be done in the safest possible way.

      In addition, she said while they are seeing some young adults in 20 to 40 years old infected, B.C. is not experiencing the same spikes among this demographic group yet like parts of the U.S. and other parts of Canada, including Alberta and Ontario, are.

      In addition, both she and Dix repeated the importance of continuing on with health measures to protect all involved.

      “We learned that indecision is the acquaintance of COVID-19, inconsistency is its friend, and bad decisions are its closest ally,” Dix said.

      Canada–U.S border and travel

      The current extension of the closure of the Canada–U.S. border to nonessential travel, which was first introduced in March and since been repeatedly extended, was slated to expire on July 21.

      However, Canadian and American officials have agreed to extend the border closure until August 21.

      Dix said it’s “positive and necessary news” and he said it’s important that there are restrictions not only on Americans visiting Canada but also Canadians visiting the U.S., as he has previously explained it’s important to prevent the virus from being brought back with returning Canadians.

      The decision was made despite an open letter dated July 3 from 29 U.S. Congress members asking the Canadian government for a phased reopening of the border.

      However, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told CTV that the health of Canadians remain a priority and that decisions about the border are made by Canadians for Canadians.

      Meanwhile, as both domestic and international flights continue in and out of the province, several flights arriving at or departing from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) over the past month have been confirmed with COVID-19 cases aboard.

      Dr. Henry said that travellers arriving with symptoms cause her “great consternation”.

      She said it extremely important for airlines to collect and provide appropriate contact information and so that public health teams are able to identify people within specific rows near someone who develops symptoms after a flight.

      For example, none of the four recent flights with COVID-19 cases that arrived at YVR in recent days had affected rows or seats listed.

      “One of the most challenging things we do is trying to get flight manifests a couple of days later when we recognize somebody who might be ill and the type of information that’s on those flight manifests is not very helpful in trying to followup people, which is also one of the reasons why we post things publicly,” she said.

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