COVID-19 in B.C.: Okanagan outbreak, Vancouver beach drumming gathering, and potential travel amendments

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      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that the B.C. COVID-19 curve is trending upward, which is “a direction we do not want to go”.

      Over the past few days, Dr. Henry has presented both data and details about increasing case numbers and community outbreaks or exposure incidents across the province, and warned that the potential for “explosive growth” remains in the province.

      While both she and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix reiterated their message about the importance of maintaining health precautions during the ongoing pandemic, a new example of a community gathering has raised concern among citizens.

      Daily update: July 22

      There are 34 new cases (including three epi-linked cases), for a cumulative provincial total of 3,362 cases over the course of the pandemic. That includes 1,049 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 1,742 in Fraser Health; 141 in Island Health; 304 in Interior Health; 69 in Northern Health; and 57 among individuals who live outside Canada.

      Currently, there are 285 active cases, with 17 of those individuals in hospital. (Three of them are in intensive-care units). Dix pointed out that hospitalizations have slightly increased from 15 people yesterday.

      There remain three active outbreaks (one in a long-term care facility and two in acute-care units). With one new resident case, the cumulative total is now at 659 people (403 residents and 256 staff) who have been infected in health-care outbreaks.

      As there were no new deaths announced today, Dix pointed there have been no new deaths for six consecutive days. The total number of fatalities remains at 189.

      However, he also pointed out that over those six days, there have been over 190 new cases.

      A total of 2,888 people have now fully recovered.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Okanagan outbreak

      Dr. Henry said that there are now over 70 cases linked to the Kelowna outbreak that took place during the week of Canada Day.

      In response to the outbreak, Dix said, efforts have ramped up in Interior Health over the past week. The number of tests has increased fives times in Kelowna, and doubled in Penticton, along with extended testing hours.

      One of the challenges public-health teams have been facing is in tracking down large numbers of people.

      “We’ve had people who are in groups that are larger than are manageable, and it’s put a strain on…us in public health being able to contact people quickly, and that has led then to additional transmission chains,” Dr. Henry explained.

      Contact tracers, she said, need to find people within 24 to 48 hours before they start to show symptoms.

      Dr. Henry said that there are currently 1,000 people who are now self-isolating because they were contacts of someone with COVID-19 from this exposure incident.

      For the next incubation period, the teams need to “rapidly find people” so they can isolate themselves, receive testing, and be monitored.

      “To facilitate that, we may need to adjust things like the numbers of people,” she said, which may entail rental agencies like Airbnb, houseboats, boat rentals, and more in order to limit transmission in travel scenarios.

      Drumming party at Vancouver beach

      Images emerged on social media and in news reports of a large number of people congregating for an informal drumming circle at Third Beach at Stanley Park on July 21 that exceeded the provincial maximum of 50 people for social gatherings, with little or no sign of mask-wearing or physical distancing.

      She said she can understand why people wanted to be out on a “beautiful evening”.

      However, she added that they don’t want large groups of people gathering for periods of time and having close conversations.

      “Being outside means it’s less risky, but it’s not zero risk,” she said.

      She has previously noted cases in the U.S. of transmission between people attending outdoor or beach parties, which she said may be due to people spending prolonged periods in face-to-face interactions.

      When asked if she would consider stronger enforcement, she said her approach is based on educating people, and reminded people to remain in small groups and maintain distances from others while enjoying beaches.

      In Vancouver, anyone who sees large gatherings that aren’t following health guidelines can report them to the City of Vancouver by calling 311.

      Meanwhile, in the wake of several COVID-19 exposure incidents at nightlife venues in Vancouver, Dr. Henry announced today that some amendments have been made to public-health orders for nightclubs and bars. For more details, in addition to the names of several restaurants that have had confirmed cases, see this article.

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