COVID-19: B.C.'s Dr. Bonnie Henry says social-distancing measures appear to be making an impact

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      In what may be the first time since she began giving daily updates about the COVID-19 outbreak in British Columbia, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed some cautious optimism that the province appears to have begun to see some results from measures taken to stem the outbreak.

      In today’s daily update (March 27), 67 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. have raised the provincial total to 792 cases, with 73 individuals of those patients in hospital.

      Divided into provincial health authority regions, there are 391 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 262 in Fraser Health, 70 in Interior Health, 57 on Vancouver Island, and 12 in Northern Health.

      Unfortunately, there were two more deaths, both in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, for a total of 16 deaths.

      Once again, more longterm care homes are reporting new cases (among staff members)—this time at the Harrison at Elim Village in Surrey and Chartwell Independent Living at Langley Gardens—which brings the total number of affected longterm care homes to 11.

      However, the number of recoveries also continues to increase and a total of 275 patients have now recovered and are out of isolation.

      “In the past few days, our upward path has been less severe than other places, but we continue to see steady increases in community transmission cases and continue to be concerned about outbreaks, which could quickly grow and challenge our pandemic response,” Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix stated in a joint news release. “The evidence is clear: with every person in British Columbia 100 percent committed to physical distancing, we can flatten the curve. Over the next two weeks we must be united in this one goal.”

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

      At a news conference in Victoria, Dr. Henry reiterated what she had explained on March 23—that the province’s testing strategy has changed from focussing on testing people who came in from other countries (as they now know that those arriving in Canada have potentially been exposed and know where those exposures are) to zeroing in on those within communities, in the healthcare system (such as hospitals and longterm care centres), and highest risk populations, where outbreaks can occur.

      Using several graphs during her presentation, Dr. Henry also ventured to say that there is “a slight chance of optimism perhaps” that the pandemic rate of growth in the province is beginning to be impacted by preventative measures taken and that the curve is starting to “bend a little bit”.

      After the implementation of measures such as cancelling large gatherings and restricting travel, she said that the rate of new cases has begun to slow down, sinking from a 24 percent increase per day down to 12 percent per day.

      “I do believe we have seen a flattening, a falling off of that curve,” she stated. “What these important measures that we have put in place that all of us need to pay attention to—these distancing measures—we’re going to start to see the impact of those in the coming week to two weeks.”

      Dr. Henry explained that B.C. has 130 reported cases per million population but if the province had continued on the same trajectory it was on before implementing any measures, there would have been an estimated 215 cases per million.

      While she cautioned that the trajectories presented are not predictions but models as means to make decisions with and to prepare for worst case scenarios, she emphasized the importance of continuing with the current measures in order to ensure that the province maintains progress.

      “We are in this together and we are making a difference in bending that curve, and we need to get us through this together by all of us being committed to continuing to do this,” she said.

      Meanwhile, Dr. Henry also issued a new order today that, effectively immediately, all recurring events where food and other merchandise is sold, such as farmers or community markets, are only allowed to include vendors who sell food at these events. All other vendors with non-food items or other merchandise are prohibited.

      Concurrently, the B.C. government also announced that farmers markets are transitioning to online sales to protect vendors as well as customers while ensuring consumers can purchase locally grown fresh food.

      In addition, the province also announced yesterday that open fires are restricted in certain areas of the province to reduce air pollution that could negatively affect the immune systems of British Columbians.

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