Today, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed issues about people not participating in health precautions, gender differences in deaths, lifting restrictions regionally, and a second wave.
At B.C.’s daily COVID-19 update today (May 21), Dr. Henry stated that there are 12 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,479 cases for the province.
So far, B.C. has had 887 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,223 in Fraser Health, 126 in Island Health, 183 in Interior Health, and 60 in Northern Health.
Currently, there are 307 active cases, with 43 of those individuals in hospital (and eight of those patients in intensive-care units).
There are 17 health-care outbreaks, with 14 in long-term care facilities and three in acute-care units. A total of 537 individuals have been affected, including 329 residents and 208 staff.
There is one new community outbreak at the federal Matsqui Correctional Centre, which has one case.
The outbreak at East Vancouver’s United Poultry processing plant, which affected 36 employees, has been declared over.
Three new deaths (one in Vancouver Coastal Health and two at long-term care centres in Fraser Health) have raised the total fatalities in the province to 152.
A total of 2,020 people have recovered from the coronavirus.
In an interview with CBC Radio today, Dr. Henry had said that a second wave is inevitable—she explained that there has never been a pandemic in history without a subsequent surge after the first one.
When asked again about the second wave at today's briefing, she said that in historical data of pandemics, there is a consistent pattern of a second wave occurring, though the sizes of the second wave have varied from smaller to larger.
She said that a lot remains unknown about what will happen with this coronavirus, but what they do know is that influenza season fades in March or April in the northern hemisphere and sinks to low levels during summer, but returns in fall.
“Chances are we are going to see that with this coronavirus as well,” she said. “So even if we’re able to control it well during the summer, chances are that just the climactic conditions will naturally allow it to increase in prevalence during the fall.”
Dr. Henry addressed news reports that more women than men have died of COVID-19 in Canada, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.
She said that statistics reveal that, in this regard, B.C. differs from other parts of Canada, and is more in line with what is occurring internationally.
In B.C., she said, 52 percent of all cases have been in women, while 48 percent have been men.
However, when it comes to hospitalized cases, she said 60 percent have been men and 64 precent of patients in intensive-care units have been male.
Regarding deaths, more males have died of COVID-19 in B.C. than females: 95 men (62 percent) and 57 women (38 percent).
She said that around the world, researchers remain uncertain about the reason for the gender difference in COVID-19 cases and are attempting to understand why.
Privacy, personal responsibility, and rights
When asked how she would respond to people who are resistant to participating in things like mask-wearing, Dr. Henry stated that she does not believe it is an issue of rights or privacy, but emphasized that they are providing health recommendations.
As she has previously stated, she pointed out that not everyone can wear masks (due to health issues or other reasons). While she has repeatedly advised that masks can be helpful in places where physical distancing is not possible, she said she doesn’t expect B.C. to make it a requirement to wear one.
“We’re encouraging people [to wear masks] as a mark of respect, as a mark of politeness, and paying attention to the welfare of others,” she said.
Dr. Henry pointed out that the idea of restaurants recording the names and contact numbers of guests who visit an establishment was one that came from the restaurant industry.
Again, she said it is only advice, as it can help with the efficiency in protecting people.
“If we have an exposure event in that setting, it allows us to contact people more rapidly and make sure that they have the information that they need to keep themselves and their family safe,” she explained.
Dr. Henry expressed her gratitude to British Columbians for paying attention to how individual responsibility can contribute to the benefit of everyone.
“We cannot underestimate how important it is for us to have that collectiveness in managing these events that really are out of our control,” she said. “There is so much that happened with this pandemic and what will happen with this pandemic that we cannot control, so the only way that we can make it through together is to have that personal accountability to each other and be respectful to each other and to do it in a way that supports each other to get through it.”
Dix called the measures “modest” and pointed out that while over 150 people have died in B.C. from COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, there have been 113 deaths in Ontario and Quebec today alone.
“These small actions…is what we owe to one another to help prevent the spread of the virus, what we owe to one another to return not to the old normal but to a new normal, what we owe to one another to help one another in a very difficult time,” he said, and encouraged people to view these measures in that regard. “It’s not a question of rights, but a question of our obligation to one another as human beings in an extraordinarily difficult time.”
Lifting restrictions regionally
Some countries and locations with no or low numbers of active cases are considering or have begun lifting restrictions on a regional basis, and some are even creating travel bubbles, such as between Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, or a proposed travel corridor between Australia and New Zealand that could expand to Fiji and other Pacific islands.
When asked if B.C. would do so in areas with low or no cases, Dr. Henry said she doesn’t believe it makes sense for the province.
She explained that B.C.’s slow, phase-based approach to lifting restrictions is designed to avoid widespread or rapid transmission.
She added that she has been questioned as to why B.C. is maintaining restrictions on gatherings to only 50 people, and she said there is rationale for doing so.
“Partly, that is so we can make our contact tracing more efficient, but it’s also partly because if somebody is carrying the virus and inadvertently spreads it, it’s not going to spread to thousands of people,” she said. “It’s going to spread to smaller numbers, and we can control that and we can care for those people effectively.”
She pointed out that there remain active cases here that still require monitoring.
“The philosophy that we need to have across the province…for the coming period of time is we don’t want to give this virus those opportunities to start spreading to large numbers of people,” she said.