Unfortunately, despite the rollout of vaccinations, B.C. has been heading in the wrong direction when it comes to COVID-19 transmissions. And, accordingly, urgent action is being taken.
This morning, B.C. rescheduled its daily briefing to an earlier time slot, and included an appearance by Premier John Horgan.
At the briefing, Horgan said that new case numbers are unacceptably high and that B.C. hit a new record case count during the pandemic
He also said that many individuals among the 20 to 30 year old age group aren’t following health guidelines, and appealed to them to “curtail” social activities and “do not blow this for the rest of us” and those who have been making “significant sacrifices so we can have good outcomes for everybody”.
At the briefing, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has been thrown off balance and that we have seen exponential growth in case numbers, more hospitalizations, and greater strain on acute care systems, and other concerning signs.
Although the immunization program is continuing on, she said there aren’t enough vaccines to keep vulnerable populations safe yet.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that in previous weeks, the weekly averages for positive tests ranged from 6.4 to 6.7 percent but that average has since jumped to 9.68 percent test positivity.
Accordingly, Henry said a circuit breaker is now required to break chains of transmissions.
The greatest risk is indoor gathering, Henry said. She explained that transmission has been occurring through social interactions and has been amplified by settings that remain open.
All indoor activities need to be on hold for the next three weeks, she said.
From midnight tonight to April 19, Henry announced four main restrictions that will be in place under provincial public health orders:
Food and drink establishments: All indoor dining will be suspended. Henry said that businesses can remain open for patio or takeout or delivery only. Establishments that only serve snacks or appetizers must close. Henry explained that increased transmission has been taking place at these venues during spring break. She added that staff were having challenges managing groups during evenings, which was leading to transmissions.
Fitness: All indoor adult group fitness of any kind are suspended. Only individual or one-on-one physical activity will be permitted. Henry clarified this does not apply to youth sports, which have their own guidelines and restrictions.
Religious services: All indoor worship services, including the amendments (allowing up to 50 people to gather indoors) for special occasions from March 28 to May 13 that were announced on March 25, will now be suspended.
“I cannot, in all conscience with the increased numbers of cases that we are having and the risk that we see from indoor services, allow these types of activities to happen right now,” she said.
Travel: She said that travel between communities has resulted in “rapid rise in cases”. Accordingly, travel is restricted to essential travel for work or medical reasons only.
In addition, cases in Whistler and Blackcomb area are increasing once again, particularly over the last week and include a cluster P1 (Brazil) variant cases. As a result, Henry said Whistler and Blackcomb will be closed for this time period.
Work: Henry is also asking everyone to work from home as much as possible.
Masks in schools: Fraser Health increased mask wearing in the Surrey school district to include students from Grade 4 to 7. In addition, Henry said that B.C. is updating guidelines for Kindergarten to Grade 12 to include mask wearing from Grade 4 and above (previously, elementary school students were exempt from mask wearing).
B.C. update: March 26 to 29
Henry announced that B.C. had 2,518 new cases over the past three time periods:
- 936 new cases from March 26 to 27, which sets a record high for new cases in one day during the pandemic;
- 805 new cases from March 27 to 28;
- 774 new cases from March 28 to 29.
By region, that includes:
- 1,280 new cases in Fraser Health (50 percent);
- 816 in Vancouver Coastal Health (32 percent);
- 156 in Interior Health (six percent);
- 142 in Island Health (six percent);
- 121 in Northern Health (five percent);
- three people from outside of Canada (less than one percent).
Active cases shot upward over the weekend and are approaching the 7,000 mark. Currently there are 6,902 active cases, which is an increase of 657 cases since Friday.
Currently, there are 299 people in hospital, which is five more since March 26. That includes 79 of those patients in intensive care units (a decrease of two patients since March 26).
The number of people whom public health is monitoring, due to exposures to identified cases, has increased by 381 people (since March 26) to a current total of 10,377 people.
Tragically, there have been six COVID-19-related deaths over the past three days. That brings the total number of fatalities to 1,455 people who have died in B.C. during the pandemic.
A cumulative total of 89,722 people have now recovered, which includes 1,856 recoveries since March 26.
During the pandemic, B.C. has recorded a cumulative total 98,165 cases.
Henry said that public health is concerned that variants are driving much of the current transmissions.
Henry said there are 329 new variant cases, which brings the cumulative total to 2,233 variant cases.
Currently, 413 of those are active cases.
The total includes:
- 1,915 cases of the B117 (U.K.) variant;
- 270 cases of the P1 (Brazil) variant;
- 48 cases (South Africa) of the B1351 variant;
She said that the spread of the P1 variant is particularly of concern because it is more transmissible and has shown some resistance to the vaccines.
Henry said B.C. has been making good progress in its immunization program and has delivered 699,092 doses of vaccines, with 87289 of those being second doses.
Henry said that over this past week, a safety signal was detected in Europe among young people using the AstraZeneca vaccine.
She said there have been less than 30 cases identified around the world, but that it is a serious condition and could lead to serious outcomes.
She said that the instances are rare but are suspending the use of the vaccine for people under the age of 55 as a precaution for the next few days, as they and Health Canada seek more information from AstraZeneca about risks.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which also announced the suspension today, and B.C. public health have met with chief medical officers of health from across the nation.
Henry explained that because Canada has alternatives for people under 55, they have decided to take this action together and expect to have more information in the coming days as they work to understand if there are implications for British Columbians.
Anyone who received the AstraZeneca vaccine over 20 days ago, there are no concerns.
For those who received the vaccine less than 20 days ago, Henry said that anyone who develops symptoms such as headaches or swelling can seek medical attention.
Outbreaks and exposures
Henry announced new healthcare facility outbreaks at:
- Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, where Northern Health stated that four patients in the Patient Care Unit tested positive;
- Long Lake Chateau in Nanaimo, where Island Health stated that eight residents have tested positive as of March 26.
Meanwhile, outbreaks have been declared over:
- Surrey Memorial Hospital;
- Oceana Parc in White Rock;
- Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.
Currently, there are 13 active healthcare outbreaks, which includes four in longterm care facilities and nine in acute care facilities.
Fraser Health added a public exposure event at First Hair and Beauty Studio (7639 6th Street) in Burnaby from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on each day from March 23 to 25.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added the following 19 flights to its public exposure lists:
- March 17: Air Canada 103, Toronto to Vancouver;
- March 19: Air Canada 127, Toronto to Vancouver;
- March 19: Air Canada 106, Vancouver to Toronto;
- March 19: Air Canada 103, Toronto to Vancouver;
- March 19: Harbour Air 1127,Vancouver to Nanaimo;
- March 20: Air Canada 124, Vancouver to Toronto;
- March 20: Air Canada 26: Seoul to Vancouver;
- March 20: Air Canada 8188, Fort St. John to Vancouver;
- March 20: Air Canada 8420, Vancouver to Kelowna;
- March 21: Air Canada 45, Delhi to Vancouver;
- March 21: Westjet 164, Vancouver to Edmonton;
- March 22: Westjet 115, Calgary to Vancouver;
- March 22: Air Canada 201, Calgary to Vancouver;
- March 22: Air Canada 8543, Regina to Vancouver;
- March 22: Air Canada 302, Vancouver to Montreal;
- March 23: Air Canada 8182, Fort St John to Vancouver;
- March 24: Air Canada 45, Delhi to Vancouver;
- March 24: Air India 185, Delhi to Vancouver;
- March 26: Air Canada 302, Vancouver to Montreal.
Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.
There’s also a COVID-19 exposure event on bus from Calgary to Vancouver on Rider Express Transportation on March 22.
Sobeys added two Thrifty Foods stores to its list of locations with staff members who tested positive, including:
- an employee who last worked on March 25 at the 560 South Terminal Avenue store Nanaimo;
- one employee who last worked on March 26 at the 310 Edgemont Boulevard store in North Vancouver.
Loblaw added nine stores to its list of locations with staff members testing positive.
Four stores were Real Canadian Superstore locations, including:
- three employees who last worked on March 15, 17, and 19 at the 2155 Ferry Avenue location in Prince George;
- two employees who last worked on March 21 and 26 at the 2332 160th Street store in Surrey;
- an employee who last worked on March 22 at the 14650 104th Avenue location in Surrey;
- several employees (number and dates not specified) at the 8195 120th Street location in Delta.
Two stores were Shoppers Drug Mart locations, and included:
- one employee who last worked on March 23 at the 3025 Lougheed Highway location in Coquitlam;
- an employee who last worked on March 24 at the 432 Southwest Marine Drive location in Vancouver.
A staff member at Your Independent Grocer (18765 Fraser Highway) in Surrey who tested positive last worked at the location on March 23.
Two employees at Sewak's Your Independent Grocer (8200 Bear Paw Trail) in Whistler who tested positive last worked at the location on March 22 and 26.
At Wholesale Club (5335 Kingsway) in Burnaby, a staff member who tested positive last worked there on March 23.
McDonald’s listed three locations with staff members who have tested positive, including:
- one employee who last worked on March 21 at 11620 8th Street in Dawson Creek;
- an employee who last worked on March 25 at 3444 East Hastings Street in Vancouver;
- one employee who last worked on March 26 at 32983 South Fraser Way in Abbotsford.