COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. is at a turning point, "explosive growth" is possible

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      Today (July 20), B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented an update on epidemiology data as well as the results of the online B.C. survey, about the impact that the pandemic is having on British Columbians, that was launched in May.

      However, when talking about the data and about recent daily case increases over the past few days, she said that there is an upward bending of the curve and that “we are at a turning point” that could affect what happens in the months to come.

      “We’re on the edge that might go up but is in our hands to control,” she said.

      Daily update: July 17 to 20

      Dr. Henry provided case updates for the periods since the last update, on July 17.

      Because of numerous flare-ups across the province over recent weeks, Dr. Henry had predicted that we would see more cases. The numbers she announced today confirmed what she anticipated.

      From July 17 to 18, the number of new cases hit a high of 51—the last time daily new cases exceeded 50 cases was April 27, when there were 58 new cases.

      From July 18 to 19, the number of new cases declined to 19, but the number rose again from July 19 to 20 with 32 new cases.

      There was a total of 102 new cases over those three periods (which include four epi-linked cases).

      All health authorities were affected this past weekend.

      Over the course of the pandemic, there have been 3,300 cases in B.C., with 1,042 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 1,713 in Fraser Health; 142 in Island Health; 280 in Interior Health; 69 in Northern Health; and 54 among those who reside outside Canada.

      There are currently 253 active cases, with 16 of those people in hospital. (Four patients are in intensive-care units.)

      There are three health-care outbreaks, including one in a long-term care facility and two in acute-care units. A total of 657 people (401 residents and 256 staff) have tested positive in health care.

      Thankfully, there are no new deaths, leaving the total at 189 people who have died.

      A total of 2,858 people have now recovered.

      She also said that air travellers should note that there have been several recent flights in and out of B.C. confirmed with COVID-19 cases.

      There remains one case linked to the Site C outbreak in Fort St. John.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix (with Dr. Bonnie Henry)
      Province of British Columbia

      Young adults

      Dr. Henry said that over 60 cases are now linked to the Kelowna outbreak that took place from June 25 to July 9, which involved individuals from Interior Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, and Alberta. She had previously stated that this outbreak may be connected to the Krazy Cherry Co. farm outbreak in Oliver.

      She said several hundred people were exposed in this incident and have since returned to their homes in all health authority regions in the province. Accordingly, she said that we will see more cases develop in the coming weeks.

      “What we can do is stop those people from exposing anybody else,” she said.

      Prior to health measures, the average number of contacts in the province was around 11 or 12 people. However, she said that they are finding that the number of contacts is returning to those levels (Dr. Henry previously advised keeping contact numbers to about six people), which is a concern to her.

      In addition, she said that many of the contacts are unsafe connections, in settings such as parties, groups going to restaurants or bars, resorts, and private residences, and that people are sometimes meeting with one set of contacts on one night and a different set on another night, which she has previously advised against.

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

      Epidemiological update and survey results

      Approximately 394,400 people completed the survey.

      Four out of five respondents approved of B.C.’s public-health response to the pandemic.

      On the upside, 96 percent of respondents said they were practising preventative personal hygiene and 89 percent were avoiding gatherings.

      However, while 79 percent said they were capable of remaining at home when sick, 67 percent actually stayed at home while sick, which is something Dr. Henry said is something that needs to be addressed.

      Among challenges that British Columbians are facing, 69 percent had their work impaired by the pandemic, 62 percent were concerned about vulnerable family members, 47 percent felt their mental health was worsening, 33 percent had difficulties accessing health care, and 31 percent faced difficulties meeting their financial needs.

      Those aged 18 to 29 years reported higher levels of decreased mental health (55 percent), worsening financial situations (52 percent), increased difficulty meeting financial needs (41 percent), and more.

      Dr. Henry also provided an update on epidemiological data as of July 9.

      While more men have been reported as contracting the virus in some areas, the number of cases between men and women were almost even (52 percent female, 48 percent male).

      The average age of cases was 50, and 17 percent of cases were hospitalized (with an average age of 69).

      Overall, the case fatality rate is about six percent (183 deaths out of 2,978 cases). The average age of those who have died (six percent of all cases) is 85.

      However, in health-care facilities, the rate is much higher as 20 percent in long-term care facilities (109 out of 539 residents) and 22 percent in acute-care units (22 out of 98 patients) died.

      Concerns about upward curve

      When presenting the latest epidemic curve, she pointed out that although we are continuing to see small numbers of cases per day as sporadic transmission events occur, the curve continues to grow.

      “We do have a possibility of having explosive growth in our outbreak here in B.C. if we’re not careful in how we progress over the summer,” she said. “We still have it in our hands to make a difference in bending this curve.”

      She said that they are starting to see an uptick.

      "This is concerning, but it is not foregone that we will have a rapid rebound," she said. "It is something that we can make a difference in if we pay attention now.”

      She said that if we increase our social contacts too much, it will impact everyone.

      “Most concerning in the last week and a half, we have seen a growth in our number of cases, particularly in young people,” she said.

      Social groups, she said, should not be larger than six people and she advised to avoid table-hopping at restaurants or bars. She reminded everyone to be considerate of people working at venues as well.

      For those who are having social gatherings, she is asking people to assign “a designated contact keeper” so that contact tracers can find and reach everyone who may have been exposed.

      “This is a warning to us,” she said, reminding everyone to be social in safe ways and to spread the message of maintaining health precautions. “The more people you see, the more likely it is that someone will have COVID-19 and spread it to you and the people you are close to.”

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