COVID-19 in B.C.: Air and land travel issues, Haida Gwaii restrictions, and school restart plan concerns

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      After yesterday’s high number of new cases, today’s numbers were lower while the number of hospitalized cases continues to decrease, which is an encouraging sign.

      With the long weekend approaching (August 1 to 3), B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix asked for everyone’s help in reminding others to practise health measures.

      “We probably all know somebody who has bent the rules to make it work for them, and that’s not a surprise,” Dr. Henry said. “I think until it hits home, we think we are immune to many of the effects of things like this virus.”

      She asked people to help those individuals to get back on track by socializing but doing so safely while Dix encouraged everyone to do their part to help bend the curve.

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

      Daily update: July 30

      Dr. Henry stated that there are 29 new cases, bringing the cumulative provincial total to 3,591 cases.

      So far, there have been 1,076 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 1,865 in Fraser Health; 143 in Island Health; 360 in Interior Health; 86 in Northern Health; and 61 among people who live outside Canada.

      Currently, there are 242 active cases, with five people in hospital (two patients are in intensive care unit). Dix pointed out that this is the lowest number of hospitalized cases since mid-March and that it is a “significant improvement”.

      More good news is that there aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks (one remains in a longterm care facility and one in an acute care unit). The cumulative total number of cases remains at 664 people among staff and residents.

      In addition, there aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      However, the number of cases from the Fraser Valley Packers outbreak in Abbotsford has grown from 31 cases reported yesterday to 59 cases today.

      There weren’t any new deaths reported today, leaving the total number of fatalities at 194 people who have died.

      A total number of 3,155 people have recovered.

      Haida Gwaii outbreak

      No new cases were announced today linked to the Haida Gwaii outbreak, leaving the number at 20 people who have tested positive.

      Due to the outbreak, B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced today that non-residents are not allowed to travel to the Haida Gwaii archipelago, which has limited healthcare resources.

      The decision was made with the Haida Nation Coucil, Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council, and local governments, in consultation with Dr. Henry. 

      According to Northern Health, all cases are believed to be linked to residents who travelled off-island.

      Travel to Haida Gwaii will only be permitted for delivering essential goods and supplies, medical appointments, urgent or emergency family matters, and essential services—all of which are subject to the approval of the collective Haida Gwaii communities.

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

      Air and land travel

      Another flight was confirmed with a COVID-19 case.

      Anyone in rows 15 to 21 on Air Canada flight 575 from Los Angeles to Vancouver on July 23 may have been affected. Passengers in these rows should monitor themselves for symptoms while minimizing contact with others for 14 days from the flight date. Anyone who develops symptoms should immediately self-isolate and contact 811 to arrange for testing.

      When asked if there have been any cases in B.C. contracted during air travel, Dr. Henry said it’s not an easy question to answer, as it’s difficult to determine where a person contracted the virus if they have had multiple exposures.

      Since January, she said, many people arriving in Canada from abroad who have tested positive after being exposed to confirmed cases on flights. She added, however, that these individuals have also had other exposures, this making it difficult to determine which specific exposure led to the illness.

      She said that infection is a low but real risk during air travel, and that the risk increases when passengers are close to each other over extended periods of time.

      Dix also emphasized that no one should travel within Canada, either by vehicle or airplane, if sick—he said that is everyone’s responsibility as travellers.

      In response to the Canada Border Services Agency’s announcement today that they will be adding additional restrictions on travellers entering Canada from the U.S. to head to or from Alaska, Dix said that they are “delighted” with the federal government addressing the Alaska loophole.

      Dr. Henry agreed that this is a “helpful step”.

      She also added that any Canadians returning to B.C. from outside of Canada, including essential workers, must obey provincial and federal quarantine orders for self-isolation.

      “I’m saying this quite emphatically today because I’ve become aware of people who have travelled to the U.S. and do not believe that they were subject to the requirements to self-isolate when they came back—and that is not correct,” she said.

      B.C. school restart plan

      When asked about parents who still remain concerned about their children attending in-person classes despite the B.C. Education Ministry revealing its restart plan for the 2020-21 school year yesterday, Dr. Henry said that this plan does not state that it is mandatory for every child to attend.

      “The plan says the aim is to support every child in a classroom setting as much as we can,” she explained.

      She said there will be hybrid models required in some situations and access to online and other  forms of education.

      Again, she pointed out that the virus appears to have little effect on children “for the most part” but does affect older people.

      She added that “we’ve always had risks in our schools” and that “there’s no such thing as no risk”, as there has been risk of measles, influenza, norovirus, and meningitis.which they’ve had to deal with in the past.

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