COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry on U.S. travellers reported in Canada and the virus in long-term care facilities

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      While B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. Health Minister Dix, and B.C. Premier John Horgan repeatedly expressed concern last week about troubling spikes in COVID-19 cases in numerous U.S. states south of B.C., a new concern has arisen among Canadian citizens about U.S. travellers appearing on this side of the border.

      Daily update

      As there wasn't a daily B.C. COVID-19 update held on June 13, Dr. Henry provided updates for the past three time periods. 

      Today (June 15), she said there were 14 new cases from June 12 to 13, 16 new cases from June 13 to 14, and six new cases from June 14 to 15, for a total of 36 new cases over three days. 

      That brings the cumulative provincial total of 2,745 cases over the course of the pandemic, with 934 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,420 in Fraser Health, 130 in Island Health, 195 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      Currently, there are 182 active cases, with 13 people in hospital (four of those patients are intensive-care units).

      The good news is that there aren’t any new health-care or community outbreaks.

      There remain four active health-care outbreaks (affecting a total of 353 residents and 220 staff).

      More good news is that, as Dr. Henry noted, Alberta health officials have declared that the outbreak at the Kearl Lake oilsands project, which involved workers returning to B.C., is now over.

      Further good news is that there aren’t any new deaths. (A total of 168 people have died.)

      A total of 2,395 people have now recovered.

      U.S. travellers in Canada

      Despite these positive signs of how B.C. is progressing in its battle against the virus, some recent news reports have raised concern about potential issues that put those gains in jeopardy.

      Since June 11, some news outlets have been reporting that U.S. travellers have allegedly been entering B.C. by telling border officials that they intend to travel to Alaska, but instead end up vacationing in B.C. and Alberta.

      Global News reported that Banff RCMP is investigating reports of a group of four diners at a restaurant who said they were from Texas and were supposed to be heading to Alaska but had decided to vacation in Canada instead.

      When asked about these issues at a daily briefing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that they are looking into the reports.

      When Dr. Henry and Dix were asked about the reports, Dr. Henry once again reiterated that it’s important to avoid assuming to know what the full story is.

      However, she added that if people are lying, these are “border issues and that there are penalties for doing that”.

      Dix also said that while he believes that only a small number of people may be doing this, it’s a federal government issue. Nonetheless, he gave a stern warning.

      “If people are misleading people at the border, then there can very likely be consequences for that, and I would advise anyone even contemplating such a thing to give their head a shake and not do it, because it doesn’t make sense and they put at risk in some respects their ability to visit our country in the future,” he said.

      He pointed out that people most likely to be affected by this behaviour are “those that are most vulnerable” and “the people who you know and who you love”.

      He added that it's important to consider the social and emotional sacrifices other people are having to make during the pandemic.

      “Many people are not able right now, for example, go to memorial services and celebrations of life and funerals because of the limit on the size of crowds,” he said, “and that is a loss, because all of us would say that comforting and being a part of that experience is important. And yet people aren’t doing that right now, and that’s true of many other social gatherings of importance to people.”

      When asked about Canadian citizens temporarily meeting loved ones from the U.S. at Peace Arch Park, Dr. Henry said that although these individual are not required to quarantine, she emphasized that they should take precautions, including physical distancing and monitoring for symptoms, and remain careful about who else they are in contact with.

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

      Long-term care facilities

      When asked about how the virus has managed to get into long-term care facilities, Dr. Henry said that most of the outbreaks in these facilities have been from health-care workers carrying the virus, as they are the only ones entering them.

      “We do not know how many outbreaks might have been averted because others were not coming in and out of the facility as they did prior to us having these outbreak responses,” she said.

      She added that a provincial health order requires active screening of all individuals entering these facilities.

      What has complicated matters, she explained, is how some people can be infected but remain unaware of their symptoms.

      “Finding that balance of how to keep everybody in that community safe is very challenging, and we’ve been finding it increasingly challenging as we learn more about how this virus can be spread from people who have minimal symptoms who may not recognize it in themselves,” she said.

      What has also been difficult is that the virus can spread quickly in a closed environment with numerous people.

      “Once it’s into a facility or a family or a group, it can spread very rapidly before we can get an understanding of what’s going on,” she said. “In some settings, if we don’t catch it early enough, if enough people are shedding virus, that’s where things like touching surfaces and not cleaning your hands become really important [in the spread of the virus].”

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