COVID-19 in B.C.: Concerns continue about travel, border restrictions, and visitors entering B.C. from U.S.

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      While there aren’t any new outbreaks in the province, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that there have been new deaths over the past two days.

      During today’s daily provincial briefing, Dr. Henry and Dix also responded to questions about travel and border restrictions.

      Daily update: July 1 and 2

      As there wasn’t an update on July 1, Dr. Henry and Dix provided an update for the past two days.

      Dr. Henry said there were 15 new cases from June 30 to July 1, while there were nine new cases from July 1 to 2. Accordingly, a total of 24 new cases over the past two days brought the cumulative provincial total up to 2,940.

      There have been 989 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,553 in Fraser Health, 132 in Island Health, 201 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      There aren’t any new health-care outbreaks, leaving five active outbreaks (four in long-term care facilities and one in an acute-care unit).

      Currently, there are 160 active cases, with 17 people in hospital (two of whom are in intensive-care units).

      Dix said 10 of those patients are in Fraser Health and seven in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      Unfortunately, there have been three new deaths (two in long-term care facility and one in hospital in Fraser Health), which brings the total number of fatalities to 177.

      A total of 2,603 people have now recovered.

      Travel into B.C.

      Despite a relaxing of some travel restrictions, many British Columbians remain concerned about foreigners entering the province and bringing the coronavirus with them.

      When asked about Americans being permitted to enter B.C. if travelling to Alaska, Dr. Henry said she understands concerns expressed by various communities about this issue.

      However, she said that the Canadian Border Services Agency informed her that most of the individuals with U.S. license plates in B.C. are Canadians who have returned home over the last few months.

      She said that while she has seen reports about people using the Alaska loophole to enter Canada for vacation reasons, those issues are the jurisdiction of the federal government and police.

      “I understand, as well, that they are very small in number and that they are subject to the federal quarantine order and there is very strict direction on what they should be doing. And that is, as we know, up to the CBSA, and the enforcement of those orders is through RCMP and police services,” she said. “I know they have been involved in some cases in ensuring that people are moving along as they are supposed to do.”

      Once again, she asked British Columbians to be understanding.

      “It is a challenging time and I know we are all very anxious and concerned about people who may put our communities at risk, and I think we need to take a step back and do what we’ve been doing all along: have some compassion, be calm about it, recognizing that we may not understand everybody’s situation, and that is how we are going to get through this,” she said.

      Nonetheless, she also addressed those entering B.C. to respect the health guidelines in place to protect citizens here.

      “To those people…who are coming through our province, recognize that we have a vested interest in making sure that you follow our travel manners as well, and we need to help people understand what those are in a calm and in a kind way,” she said.

      A number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among travellers arriving in and departing Vancouver on both international and domestic flights during June.

      Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam

      Like Dr. Henry and Dix, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, conveyed concern about Air Canada and WestJet's stopping the practice of physically distanced seating aboard planes, which has been permitted under federal transportation regulations, and she asked people to wear masks if they cannot maintain distance from others.

      Dr. Henry said that a difficulty public health often faces is efficiently contacting people who were aboard an aircraft once a case is confirmed.

      “It’s still a challenge to get contact information that allows us to connect with people in an effective and efficient way, and that’s why we are so conscious of posting the flights numbers as well, so people know,” she said.

      Border restrictions

      On June 30, the federal government announced that the mandatory 14-day isolation and quarantine for all travellers entering Canada has been extended to August 31.

      Also, all travellers must wear masks in Canada when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

      Foreign nationals entering from countries other than the U.S. are prohibited from entering has been extended until July 31.

      However, border restrictions for nonessential travel across the U.S.-Canada border are set to expire on July 21.

      Dr. Tam stated today that national COVID-19 surveillance data indicates a “steady decline” in case numbers, hospitalizations, intensive-care-unit patients, and deaths in May and June.

      However, she cautioned that recent outbreaks in areas with low levels of transmission are reminders that COVID-19 cases can resurge anywhere at any time.

      “In fact, we expect to see flare-ups in transmission as we lift restrictive public health measures to minimize other health, social, and economic impacts of these community-wide controls,” she said. “Our job now is to limit each new flare-up to a small and manageable size, and to prevent them from touching those at high risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19.”

      She advised Canadians to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded places; and close contact where two metres of physical distance from others cannot be maintained; and to also keep the number of contacts low.

      Long-term effects of infection

      When asked about the long-term effects of being infected with COVID-19, Dr. Henry explained that the virus binds to receptors in heart muscles, blood vessels, lungs, and the back of throat.

      Accordingly, she said that in B.C, they have seen how the virus can have an effect on different organs and organ systems, can have clotting effects, and may have some cognitive effects, and that some people have had small strokes.

      While one less-common symptom is confusion, she said they remain unsure if that arises from the infection or is an exacerbation of the immune system causing cognitive dysfunction.

      Other issues after recovery include ongoing scarring, breathing challenges, and profound fatigue, which often requires a long period of time to recover from.

      However, she that these cases remain low in number (she did not provide specific numbers) and that they are also studying the effects of the virus on pregnant women.

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