COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry says health impact of British Columbia's reopening won't be known for two weeks

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      Both B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to questions about what measures are being taken to monitor the spread of the virus during Phase 2 of the pandemic at today's daily B.C. COVID-19 update.

      Daily update

      Today (May 14), Dr. Henry said that there are 15 new cases, bringing the cumulative total for the province to 2,392 cases.

      Of those cases, there have been 878 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,149 in Fraser Health, 181 in Interior Health, and 58 in Northern Health.

      Currently, there are 372 active cases, with 58 people in hospital (and 12 of those in intensive-care units).

      Now that one outbreak at a long-term care facility in Fraser Health has been declared over, there are 19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities (including four in acute-care units), with 500 cases (309 residents and 191 staff members) involved.

      There aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      Meanwhile, Coquitlam’s Superior Poultry, which was shut down after an outbreak took place at the food-processing plant, received approval to reopen with health protocols in place.  

      Unfortunately, there have been three new deaths. The total number of fatalities in the province is 135 people.

      A total of 1,885 people have recovered.

      Virus surveillance

      Although the province is set to begin reopening many closed sectors after Phase 2 commences on Tuesday (May 19), Dr. Henry clarified that they will be progressing slowly and that, as she has previously said, she does “not expect that everything’s going to be open” quite yet.

      “We will not be moving into the next phase until we are confident that the measures we’ve taken so far have not resulted in a dramatic increase in transmission in the community,” she said.

      When asked about what measures they will be taking during this phase to track the spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Henry said that they will be closely monitoring new cases, particularly numbers of people who aren’t linked to known cases or outbreaks.

      Dr. Henry explained that their testing capacity is about 7,000 tests per day, and have been currently conducting about 2,000 tests per day.

      As they are seeking to detect anyone who has the virus, the tests are currently available to anyone with symptoms.

      She said asymptomatic individuals are only tested when they are associated with community outbreaks, such as at long-term care facilities, prisons, and food-processing plants.

      As she has previously explained, the test has a small false-positive rate and people can test negative early in the incubation period. Accordingly, she said that random testing of the population is not effective.

      She said that case management, or the investigation of every person who tests positive, which includes contact tracing (or finding all the people they were in contact with, testing those individuals, or ensuring they are in isolation if necessary), will be particularly important in this phase.

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

      Meanwhile, Dix opined that this phase will pose new challenges.

      “In some ways, this next period is going to be more difficult to execute than the period we’ve just been in because we’re going to be out more in our workplaces and other things, and we have to ensure that physical distancing continues to happen because physical distancing stops the spread, physical distancing saves lives,” Dix said.

      Dr. Henry also pointed out that due to the incubation period of the virus, she said that “it will take us the next 14 to 28 days to understand the impact of the measures that we’re taking in the coming week.”

      She also acknowledged the concern that the virus will continue to circulate for many years, and that a lot about the virus remains unknown.

      On May 13, World Health Organization emergencies expert Mike Ryan said at a news conference that the virus may never go away and warned against any predictions of how long it may circulate.

      He pointed out the example of measles, which still exists even though there is a vaccine for it.

      “We’ve talked a number of times about the importance of serology testing, about understanding what immunity means, how will antibodies protect us and for how long antibodies protect us,” she said. “We don’t yet know that and I think that it also highlights importance of an effective vaccine in helping us manage this in a long-term way.”

      Travel and survey

      Both Dr. Henry and Dix also reiterated that nonessential travel needs to be avoided over the long weekend, and that people need to stay close to home.

      While Dr. Henry acknowledged the importance of seeing family and friends for emotional and social health, she reiterated the potential impact that seeing someone in person can have on physical health at this time.

      “Remember when you do visit others, everyone that is in your expanded household, your bubble, is coming along with you—and that risk comes along with you too,” she said.

      Meanwhile, both Dix and Dr. Henry have been impressed by the response to the provincial survey launched this week to understand the impact of the pandemic on individuals across the province.

      Dr. Henry said that as of this morning, over 165,000 people have responded, which Dix called an “extraordinary” response.

      Dix encouraged people to spread the word about or help others complete the survey so that they can obtain “the maximum amount of information necessary to guide us through the coming weeks and months and year”.

      The survey can be completed online (in English, Chinese, and Punjabi) at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website. For those without Internet access or who need translation assistance for other languages, the survey can be completed by phone at 1-833-707-1900.