COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry responds to criticism about undertesting as offsite centres prepared

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      While several additional COVID-19 treatment centres are being created across the province, B.C.'s provincial health officer addressed some concerns about the province's approach to testing.

      Since the last update was given on March 28, Dr. Bonnie Henry gave updates for the past two 24-hour periods.

      On March 29, there were 16 new cases. Within the past 24-hour period, there have since been an additional 70 cases, thus raising the total to 970 cases.

      There are now 472 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 323 in Fraser Health, 94 in Interior Health, 67 on Vancouver Island, and 14 in Northern Health.

      A total of 13 longterm care centres are now affected, all in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

      With 48 percent of all cases having recovered, there are 469 recoveries.

      Two new deaths raise the fatalities to a total of 19 deaths.

      The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that one of the deaths was the first community death. Dr. Henry clarified that this was a person who died at home due to COVID-19, the first death outside of a healthcare centre or hospital.

      Due to privacy, his identity is not being released.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix stated that there are now 19 B.C. hospitals that have become primary COVID-19 sites for most critically ill patients and maximize capacity.

      That includes hospitals in the Vancouver Costal Health region (Lions Gate Hospital, Richmond Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver General Hospital) and the Fraser Health region (Abbotsford Regional Hospital, New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital, and Surrey Memorial Hospital).

      In addition, Dix said that health authorities are also preparing off-site treatment centres where extra beds will be available for less ill patients. This extra capacity will provide more space for patients in acute care hospitals.

      Among the sites, Dix said there will be 271 beds set up at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre and 80 beds at the new tower at Royal Columbian Hospital.

      Meanwhile, Dr. Henry also responded to criticism that the province is not doing enough testing.

      Dr. Sean Wormsbecker, who works at Royal Columbian Hospital and Port Moody’s Eagle Ridge Hospital, expressed his concerns in a video released on March 28 that B.C. is not doing enough testing.

      He stated that he sends three to four probable COVID-19 cases home to self-quarantine without testing each shift, which is something that scares him.

      Dr. Wormsbecker says that he feels the province is undertesting and that the province is “lowballing” the actual case numbers. In addition, he is worried about patients being inconsistent in following directions. 

      When asked about Dr. Wormsbecker calls for more testing, Dr. Henry stated that she does not agree with him.

      “Having been on the frontlines with my colleagues in public health who are actually talking to these people who are at home and who self-isolating at home," she said. "Most people are absolutely doing what we need them to do, and our testing strategy, as I have explained a few times, has changed so that…the large number of tests that we are doing—over 3,000 tests a day—we’re focussing on those most likely to have this disease and those most likely to need healthcare or hospital care.”

      She had explained on March 23 that the province has shifted to not testing those with mild symptoms who are self-isolating themselves and to instead concentrate on healthcare workers, those in longterm care centres, and clusters of cases with no links to travel.

      “It’s not that we’re decreasing the number of tests we’re doing—it’s that we’re focussing the testing on the people most likely to need the healthcare services.”

      She added that they are also continuing on with contact tracing and speaking with those who have mild illness.

      Meanwhile, Dix also announced that all pay parking will be suspended for patients, staff, and visitors at all health authority owned and operated sites from April 1 until further notice. This change will help people avoid touching screens and buttons at payment kiosks touched by other people. 

      According to statistics from Johns Hopkins University, Canada has reported over 7,300 cases.

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