COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry on viral and antibody testing, Adrian Dix on province's approach

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      While B.C. is in its third week of its reopening process, there haven’t been any indicators of significant increases in cases yet. However, there have been two new outbreaks at offices in the Lower Mainland.

      Daily update

      As was true of several days last week, once again there were no new deaths announced today (June 2) and the total number of fatalities remains 165.

      In addition, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed there are only four new cases (bringing the province’s cumulative total to 2,601).

      So far, there have been 904 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,311 in Fraser Health, 127 in the Vancouver Island region, 195 in Interior Health, and 64 in Northern Health.

      There are currently 207 active cases, with 31 of those people in hospital (and eight of those in intensive-care units).

      While there aren’t any new health-care outbreaks, there remain eight active health-care outbreaks involving 556 people (340 residents and 216 staff).

      Two new community outbreaks involve offices in Fraser Health: one at New World Technologies in Abbotsford and another at Maersk in Delta. Dr. Henry did not specify how many cases are involved in these outbreaks.

      There are now 2,229 people, or 86 percent of all cumulative cases, who have recovered from the virus.

      Viral and antibody testing

      As businesses and various sectors reopen, Dr. Henry emphasized that viral testing doesn’t replace the need to practise other health measures to protect people.

      While she said that testing helps to identify those who have COVID-19 so they can be isolated, she emphasized that the tests do produce a number of false positive and false negative results for people in the early stages of the illness.

      “It’s very important to understand that testing, however, right now can be unreliable, particularly for people who don’t have symptoms or have very mild symptoms that they may not even recognize,” she said. “The tests are not that great at picking this up early on.”

      There are two types of tests: viral tests, for those who have symptoms and suspect they currently have the coronavirus, and antibody (or serology) tests, for those who want to know if they have had COVID-19 in the past.

      An antibody test is not yet available in B.C., as health researchers, including in B.C., are still trying to determine what level of antibodies are required for immunity, how long immunity lasts, who should be tested, and more.

      Dr. Henry said that when an antibody test becomes available, those who would have priority are people who had a COVID-compatible illness or people who were epidemiologically linked (“epi-linked”) cases. Some examples of epi-linked cases include those who had a family member who tested positive and who also became ill with mild symptoms but didn’t get tested.

      Dr. Henry said there were a number of epi-linked cases recorded, particularly in March, when testing capacity was exceeded and testing was narrowed to focus on specific areas, including those who may impact on the health-care system and people returning from outside the country.

      At that time, she explained, there was less testing capacity available in northern, Interior, and Vancouver Island regions of the province.

      She said that she would like to have serology test conducted on these individuals to see if they have antibodies and whether they can be counted as true cases or not. She said it would help them to have a better understanding of the impact on the community and how many people do have immunity.

      While she said would have liked to have had more information on these cases, she also said that she doesn’t feel that those numbers would be significant enough to have changed their approach for Phase 2.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. approach

      When asked about whether or not regional approaches would be beneficial, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that he feels what has contributed to B.C.’s success has been all of the health authorities working together in a provincial response created under the leadership of Dr. Henry and deputy health minister Stephen Brown.

      “We have five regional health authorities, we have the provincial health services authority, we have the First Nations health authority, which gives us, I think, an advantage at the moment against other jurisdictions that have many, many, many more health jurisdictions, individual hospital boards, and so on,” he said. “It’s given us an advantage to coordinate and have a single province approach.”

      While he acknowledged that there have been fewer cases outside of Metro Vancouver, he credited the approach recognizing the potential risk of all regions.

      “Some of the health regions that have had the lowest outbreak have also had very significant cases in very unique circumstances that have required a remarkable health response,” he said.

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