COVID-19 in B.C.: Health concerns about protests and why B.C. won't be releasing geographic data like Toronto

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      As British Columbia enters the third week of its reopening plan, the impact of lifting restrictions should become evident in data revealed in daily updates from B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

      With the reopening of schools and increased public transit, in addition to protests over the weekend, health officials will be closely monitoring what effect these developments have on numbers of new cases or outbreaks. 

      Daily update

      In today’s provincial COVID-19 udpate, Dr. Henry said that from May 30 to 31, there were nine new cases, while from May 31 to June 1, there were an additional 15 new cases, for a total of 24 new cases over the past two days.

      There are 224 active cases, and the number of individuals in hospital decreased from 35 on May 30 to 32 as of today. (Five of those patients are in intensive care.)

      B.C. has now had a cumulative total of 2,597 cases. There have been 904 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,307 in Fraser Health, 127 in Island Health, 195 in Interior Health, and 64 in Northern Health.

      There aren’t any new health-care or community outbreaks, but there are still 13 active health-care outbreaks (12 in long-term care and one in an acute-care unit) and 556 cases associated with health-care outbreaks.

      While there weren’t any deaths reported on May 29 and 30, there has been one new death (at a long-term care home in Fraser Health) reported over the past 48 hours. A total of 165 individuals in the province have died from the virus during the pandemic.

      A total of 2,207 people, or 85 percent, have recovered.

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

      Protests and precautions

      Across the U.S., government and community leaders and health officials have urged participants in protests to maintain health precautions, due to concerns about mass gatherings becoming super-spreader events.

      On this side of the border, where marches and protests were held in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, Canadian health officials echoed those messages.

      Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu emphasized that those attending such events need to wear masks, use hand sanitizer, and maintain physical distancing.

      Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that shouting can spread more droplets, and encouraged people to consider signage or use instruments to make noise instead of their voices.

      When asked about these rallies taking place in B.C., Dr. Henry acknowledged both the importance and risks of these events.

      “We need to look at ways that we can very effectively have our voices heard,” she said. "The irony is we may be endangering the people who we are most trying to help with this type of demonstration.”

      When asked if she would issue orders to prevent these protests from taking place, she said she can’t control peoples’ activities, but can provide advice and tools for a peaceful demonstration that won’t “imperil” other people during the pandemic.

      Meanwhile, Dix emphasized the social and political significance of movements and demonstrations.

      “I think it’s important in this time, as in all times, that democratic voices are heard, especially against racism and hate in all its forms,” he said. Both Dix and Dr. Henry previously condemned the anti-Asian assaults and vandalism that have increased during the pandemic. 

      However, Dix also encouraged people to be creative and to consider of other forms of demonstrations, such as holding virtual gatherings or coordinating 10 different groups of 50 people gathering instead of one group of 500 people assembling at one location.

      Geographic data

      When Dr. Henry was asked on May 28 about whether or not B.C. would release COVID-19 data according to geographic location, as Toronto and Montreal have, she said that they are considering ways they can provide geographic representation.

      However, she said that they have some concerns about the way data is presented.

      She said that a convention in public health is to label cases by place of residence. However, she pointed out that presenting that information provides only part of the picture.

      “The challenge that we face…is you look at the heat map and it’s based on numbers and it doesn’t tell you a story that you need to know to understand this,” she said. “So it doesn’t tell you where they might have been exposed, it doesn’t tell you what community the risk was in—so those are the challenges that we face.”

      She said that what the Toronto map (released on May 27) does reveal is that while there have been cases throughout the entire city, some of the lower-income or more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods “seem to be more affected”.

      Dr. Henry will be presenting a modelling update and a B.C. pandemic analysis on Thursday (June 4).

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