COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry on fast-food outbreak and risk of virus spread from singing and choirs

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      Today, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix held their first daily update from Vancouver (instead of Victoria) since the early days of the pandemic.

      Dr. Henry talked about the risk involved in singing in groups and outbreaks in workplaces.

      Daily update

      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update for June 16, Dr. Henry confirmed that there are 11 new cases, for a cumulative total of 2,756 cases since the start of the pandemic.

      So far, there have been 940 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,426 in Fraser Health, 130 in Island Health, 195 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      There are 172 active cases, and 11 of those cases are in hospital (with five of those patients in intensive-care units).

      Unfortunately, there is one new health-care outbreak, at the Maple Hill Centre longterm care unit at Langley Memorial Hospital, for a total of five active health-care outbreaks and a total of 579 cases (357 residents and 222 staff).

      Meanwhile, five community outbreaks remain active.

      Thankfully, there aren’t any new deaths (the total fatalities remain at 168 people).

      A total of 2,416 people have now recovered.

      Choirs and singing

      Dr. Henry has previously stated that choirs and singing, like yelling or talking loudly, is a risky activity for spreading the virus.

      When she was asked about this subject again, she said that there have been a number of serious outbreaks around the world related to choirs or singing that they have paid attention to.

      She referenced the Skagit Valley Chorale, which held practices on March 3 and 10 in Mount Vernon, Washington, at a time when no one in the county had been diagnosed with COVID-19. One infected person who attended both practices did not develop symptoms until March 7. Of the choir’s 122 members, 53 of them became infected and two died.

      Several outbreaks in Germany have been linked to church gatherings involving singing, despite physical distancing and other health measures in place.

      Dr. Henry said that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is developing a report on musical groups, choirs, and bands, and that B.C. will be providing advice about music events in the near future.

      Workplace outbreaks

      Dr. Henry briefly mentioned yesterday (June 15) that there had been a community outbreak at a fast-food restaurant.

      When asked for more details about it, she said she wouldn’t give the specific name of the outlet, as it was a small restaurant.

      However, she said it was similar to what has been seen in other situations in which individuals fail to recognize that they have mild symptoms and go to workplaces that “may not have the appropriate spacing or barriers in place for the workplace”.

      She said that transmission occurred between four or five staff members at the location.

      She added that she wasn’t aware of any customers exposed; that, after an assessment, the outbreak was deemed as not having been a risk to customers; and that public-health inspectors reviewed the infection control precautions at the venue.

      Similar scenarios have taken place at food-processing plants and two offices—Abbotsford’s New World Technologies and Delta’s Maersk—that she previously mentioned on June 2.

      Though she didn’t have any specific numbers of cases at the office outbreaks on hand, she said there haven’t been any new cases and that they said should be declared over soon.

      While there are factors that can’t be controlled, she said that people can control the number of individuals in specific environments to prevent explosive outbreaks or “super-spreader” events, which, she explained, is also important for contact-tracing.

      “If we catch it early, we can contain it very quickly,” she said of outbreaks. “In public health, we are working very quickly and very careful to make sure that we’re tracking every single person [exposed], and that’s one of the reasons why we’re continuing to have that reduction in numbers of people who gather, because that allows us to find people quickly and contain the spread.”

      She said that examples like the fast-food-restaurant incident serve as a “wakeup call” to remind workers not to become “complacent with workmates”.

      Wholesale liquor discount for businessses

      The B.C. government is moving to offer further assistance to the province’s hard-hit food-and-beverage industry.

      Today, B.C. announced that businesses with liquor licenses, such as restaurants, bars, and tourism operators, will soon be able to purchase beer, wine, and spirits at a discounted price.

      From the end of July to March 31, 2021, the province will implement a temporary wholesale pricing program that will allow these businesses to purchase alcohol at wholesale prices, instead of after the retail markup established by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), as they currently do.

      The province will review the program in March 2021.

      The province is also working on several other measures identified in a report from the Business Technical Advisory Panel, including adopting recommendations in an assessment by Deloitte of the LDB’s distribution centre in Delta, and a conversion of all rural agency store authorizations administered by the LDB to a new rural liquor licence under the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch by the end of 2020.

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