COVID-19 in B.C.: Over 900 new cases; religious and cinema questions; gym and restaurant exposures; and more

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      On Monday and Tuesday, the new case count was over 600, followed by over 700 on Wednesday, then 800 yesterday.

      Today’s new case count continues on with the next step in that unfortunate progression.

      In a joint statement issued today, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix explained part of the reason for the increases.

      “We are facing a sustained increase in clusters of new cases and outbreaks, including increasing cases caused by variants of concern,” they said. “This is particularly concerning in the Lower Mainland areas.”

      Increased among younger people

      At yesterday’s B.C. COVID-19 briefing, Henry and Dix answered some frequently asked questions at this point in the pandemic.

      One issue of concern has been about younger age groups becoming increasingly contracting the coronavirus.

      Henry said that although there have been decreases in older age groups, particularly those over 80 years old, there has been a concerning increase in cases among those 19 to 49 years old over the last month and a half. (Although she didn’t provide specific numbers or perspective, she used a graph during the presentation to illustrate the changes.)

      Restrictions, religious services, and cinemas

      Yesterday, Henry had announced amendments to care facility visitors (due to immunizations of residents and staff at those facilities) and for faith and spiritual services.

      A common question Henry said she has been asked is why restrictions are being eased amid rising case numbers and an upward trend of B.C.’s curve.

      “Really, it’s not about easing restrictions as much as recognizing in this phase of the pandemic, we need to focus on those things that we can do safely,” she explained.

      In particular, she said that we need to focus on doing things outdoors, which is safer, than indoors, as the immunization program continues on over the next few months.

      She said that indoor activities continue to be a constant source of transmission, including at worksites. She said large transmission events have taken place at some essential workplaces across the province. In response, she said that immunization is being used to address these outbreaks, particularly at places where COVID-19 safety plans are difficult to adhere to.

      In addition, she said enforcement will be increased during workplace health investigations into transmissions, including shutting down workplaces to prevent people from entering that location.

      When asked about the reopening of faith and religious services and when cinemas might be able to reopen, Henry clarified that religious services and cinemas are very different categories.

      “We know that there are special considerations that need to be taken under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Henry said with regards to faith services.

      As announced yesterday, indoor religious gatherings (with a maximum of 50 people or 10 percent of the space) will be allowed on four days (between March 29 and May 13) for specific religions.

      B.C. update: March 26

      Henry and Dix announced, in a joint statement, that there are 908 new cases in B.C. today.

      By region, that includes:

      • 438 new cases in Fraser Health (48 percent);
      • 294 in Vancouver Coastal Health (32 percent);
      • 78 in Northern Health (nine percent);
      • 55 in Island Health (six percent);
      • 43 in Interior Health (five percent);
      • no one from outside of Canada.

      Active cases have grown once again and surpassed 6,000 cases. Currently, there are 6,245 active cases, which includes the addition of 389 active cases since yesterday.

      However, hospitalized cases have have decreased. After 12 people were released from hospitals, there are currently 294 individuals in hospitals, and 81 of them are in intensive care units (two more since yesterday).

      The number of people public health is monitoring for exposures to confirmed cases is closing in on the 10,000 mark. Public health is now monitoring 9,996 people (32 more people since yesterday). 

      Sadly, there are three new COVID-19-related deaths, for a cumulative total of 1,449 deaths in B.C.

      A cumulative total of 87,866 people have now recovered, which includes 515 people since yesterday.

      During the pandemic, B.C. has confirmed a cumulative total of 95,677 cases, which includes:

      • 55,611 cases in Fraser Health (58 percent);
      • 22,764 in Vancouver Coastal Health (23 percent);
      • 8,258 in Interior Health (nine percent);
      • 5,777 in Northern Health (six percent);
      • 3.096 in Island Health (three percent);
      • 171 people from outside of Canada (less than one percent).

      Variants and vaccinations

      Henry and Dix announced there are 140 new COVID-19 variant cases, which brings the cumulative total to 1,912 cases. Of the total cases, 258 are currently active.

      The total includes:

      • 1,666 cases of the B117 (U.K.) variant (177 new cases);
      • 199 cases of the P1 (Brazil) variant (23 new cases);
      • 47 cases of the B1351 (South Africa) variant (no new cases).

      In B.C.’s immunization program, 637,856 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca-SII vaccines have been administered in B.C., as of today, and 87,233 of those are second doses.

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

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Island Health declared an outbreak at Longlake Chateau independent-living facility in Nanaimo, where five residents have tested positive.

      Fraser Health declared an outbreak at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where four patients in a medicine unit tested positive. The unit has closed to admissions but the rest of the hospital is unaffected and the emergency department is open.

      Yesterday, Henry and Dix announced an outbreak at Chilliwack General Hospital. Today, Fraser Health stated that four patients in a medicine unit tested positive, which has been temporarily closed to admissions. The rest of the hospital remains unaffected and the emergency department remains open.

      Fraser Health also added a COVID-19 public exposure event at Shiraz Grill (20526 Fraser Highway) from 4 to 9 p.m. from March 12 to 14 and 17 to 20.

      Meanwhile, Interior Health announced today that the cluster at Big White Mountain near Kelowna, which was declared on December 15, has been contained. This cluster involved 237 cases (150 cases were among those who resided and worked at Big White Mountain). All cases have recovered and no deaths were reported.

      Anytime Fitness (200-1015 Denman Street) in Vancouver's West End announced today that it is voluntarily and temporarily closing for two weeks. Vancouver Coastal Health informed the gym that there have been five additional cases confirmed after a possible COVID-19 exposure at the location. The gym will reopen on April 9. 

      Loblaw added eight stores to its list of locations with staff members who tested positive.

      Two were Real Canadian Superstore locations:

      • at the 3185 Grandview Highway store in Vancouver, an employee who tested positive last worked there on March 14;
      • four employees at the 8195 120th Street store in Delta tested positive and last worked there on March 16, 17, 18, and 20.

      Five were Shoppers Drug Mart locations:

      • an employee who last worked on March 17 at the 7820 Williams Road store in Richmond;
      • one employee who last worked on March 17 at the 8962 152nd Street store in Surrey;
      • an employee who last worked on March 18 at the 20159 88th Avenue store in Langley;
      • one employee who last worked on March 18 at the 45905 Yale Road store in Chilliwack;
      • two employees who last worked on March 19 and 23 at the 102–22441 Dewdney Trunk Road in Maple Ridge.

      The eighth location was Sewak's Your Independent Grocer (8200 Bear Paw Trail) in Whistler, where an employee who tested positive last worked on March 22.

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