COVID-19 in B.C.: Concerns about outbreak at Brandi's and airlines eliminating physically distanced seating

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      Luckily, B.C. hasn’t had any new deaths or health-care outbreaks.

      However, concerns have arisen about a community outbreak at a strip club, as well as about airline policy changes in passenger seating.

      COVID-19 update: June 26 to 29

      Today (June 29), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided an update on COVID-19 for the past three days. (The last update was on June 26.)

      From June 26 to 27, there were 10 new cases, followed by 14 new cases from June 27 to 28, and two new cases from June 28 to 29, for a total of 26 over those three time periods.

      There are currently 153 active cases, with 18 people in hospital. (Five patients are in intensive-care units.) A total of 2,577 have now recovered from the coronavirus.

      The cumulative provincial total number of cases during the pandemic is now at 2,904. There have been 979 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,529 in Fraser Health, 131 in Vancouver Island, 200 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      There aren’t any new health-care outbreaks, with six remaining active outbreaks (five in long-term care facilities and one in an acute-care facility) with a total of 386 residents and 229 staff members affected.

      The good news is that there have been no new deaths over the past three days. A total of 174 people have died in B.C. during the pandemic.

      Strip-club outbreak 

      Three of the new cases over the past three days came from an outbreak at Brandi’s Exotic Show Lounge, according to Dr. Henry.

      She explained that public-health teams are still tracing contacts, and that Vancouver Coastal Health issued a public notice on June 27 because contact tracers were unable to directly reach all the individuals present at the location.

      Anyone who was at the venue from June 21 to 25 may have been exposed to the virus and therefore is asked to call 811 or local public health to seek testing.

      Dr. Henry said that Brandi’s was “ostensibly operating under that same type of an event license that would apply to a pub or other food license” and that they were “skirting the rules” in some ways.

      “They were in some sense going around the regulations to be able to hold events, and they are closed down because the safety plan that was in place was not adequate,” she said.

      She said that they cannot reopen unless a plan to protect staff and patrons is approved.

      As she emphasized that these health measures are to protect people, she cited examples of outbreaks at similar establishments in the U.S. and Europe.

      “We have to realize that there aren’t things that we’re inventing to try and punish businesses or people,” she said. “It’s to try and ensure that we’re not letting this virus get out of control, and we’ve seen it happen.”

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

      Airlines increase seating

      Canadian travellers have been raising concerns after Air Canada and WestJet announced on June 26 that they would end physical distancing measures for in-flight seating. Both airlines had been blocking the sale of adjacent seats to prevent potential infections.

      However, both airlines will begin selling all seats as of Canada Day (July 1) and follow health recommendations from the United Nation's aviation agency and the International Air Transport Association trade group.

      Transport Canada listed physical distancing as one of several key points in its airline guidelines issued in April. However, seat spacing was only a recommended guideline and isn’t mandatory.

      Air Canada announced on May 22 that its summer schedule includes almost 100 destinations in Canada, the U.S., and abroad.

      When asked about this change in policy, Dr. Henry said that she and her team are concerned, but “unfortunately” airlines are not part of her jurisdiction.

      She said the risk depends on a number of factors, including number of people and proximity, and she pointed out that there are measures in place in airlines, including air-circulation systems, and added that it’s important to wear a mask and reiterated the importance of physical distancing.

      “The other really, really important we need to remember is you should not be travelling if you are ill,” she said, “and we need to have screening processes in place that identify people before they get onboard an aircraft, and that’s what keeps other people safe as well.”

      She said that in the past week, people have arrived with symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. (She didn’t specify how many cases.) She added that it is imperative that people be honest when answering symptom questions before they arrive here.

      Something airlines can do to help, she said, is to have flexible policies that allow travellers to delay or cancel flights if they become sick.

      Dix backed up Dr. Henry’s call for screening people out who have symptoms.

      “That obligation has to be fundamental,” he said, which he said is the responsibility of Transport Canada, Health Canada, and the airlines.

      Dix said he will be talking to the federal government and that he wants to know from Transport Canada and Health Canada what the evidence is that proves these measures are safe.

      “My expectation would be to hear from all of them as to how this decision was determined at the federal level and what the evidence says that in this case a reduction in physical distancing is acceptable,” he said. “It’s important to also show [commitment to COVID-19 prevention], if you’re Air Canada and WestJet, through all your other actions. Your determination to stop the spread of COVID-19 can’t just talk about this in terms of the economic value to the airlines, although that’s very important in our country.”

      He pointed out that wearing masks can be used when other options are not available, but it is not a replacement for physical distancing.

      Air Canada was among the airlines that did not offer refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. However, CBC News reported on June 25 that the airline began to permit refunds to passengers whose flights originated in the European Union, Switzerland, and Iceland, but not Canada.

      Province of British Columbia
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