COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry says province has reached "the end of our beginning" phase of the pandemic

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      As part of today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented data that offered a review of what has taken place in the province during the pandemic so far as well as a glimpse at what social changes British Columbians might be able to make over the coming months.

      Daily update

      Dr. Henry provided an update on COVID-19 cases since the last update was given on May 2.

      From May 2 to 3, there were 34 new cases and 19 more cases from May 3 to 4 for a total of 53 new cases over the past 48 hours.

      There have been a total of 2,224 cases in the province, with 845 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,027 in Fraser Health, 124 on Vancouver Island, 177 in Interior Health, and 51 in Northern Health.

      Fortunately, there haven’t been any new community outbreaks.

      There remain 23 outbreaks in longterm care facilities, with 13 new cases (266 residents and 168 staff members).

      For outbreaks at poultry processing plants, there are now seven cases at Chilliwack's Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry, 54 at Coquitlam’s Superior Poultry, and 35 at East Vancouver’s United Poultry.

      There are currently 134 cases at the Mission Institution (121 inmates and 13 staff).

      In addition, the number of cases in B.C. from the Kearl Lake oilsands project in Alberta is now at 15 cases.

      Hospitalized cases rose from 72 on May 2 to 77 patients currently in hospital, with 20 of those people in intensive care units (ICUs).

      Unfortunately, three new deaths have raised the total fatalities to 117 individuals who have died.

      A total of 1,417 people have now recovered from the coronavirus.

      Vulnerable groups

      In a presentation of data, Dr. Henry explained the epidemiology of the virus in B.C. by taking a look at groups most affected in the province.

      She explained that since implementing restrictions in March, “we have had a dramatic and sustained decrease in the number of new cases”.

      According to the data, the majority of the cases have been among people between the ages of 30 and 60 years old and more women than men, she said.

      However, among the more severe cases—including hospitalizations, cases in ICUs, and deaths—there have been significantly more cases among people 60 years and older, and more cases among men than women.

      Risk factors have included those older than 50 years old, being male (which she said is being reported around the world and still remains unknown as to why), and having at least one chronic underlying health condition.

      However, she also pointed out that younger individuals have been affected by the virus, including many cases among people in their 20s and 30s.

      In looking at outcomes of patients in critical care, there have been a total of 199 cases in ICUs (as of April 29). Of those cases, there have been 28 deaths (14 percent), who were primarily men over 50 years with underlying health conditions, and 110 patients have been discharged and have recovered (55 percent).

      Among healthcare workers, as of April 28, there have been 428 cases (21 percent of total cases) in B.C. Of those cases, 33 workers were hospitalized (eight percent), 13 individuals (three percent) required admission to ICU, and one person died. A total of 364 workers (85 percent) recovered.

      There have been about 170 excess deaths, or deaths indirectly related to the pandemic, such as people avoiding hospitalization due to concerns about the coronavirus. Of those cases, 111 of them have been attributed to COVID-19. Dr. Henry said that the contributing factors for these deaths are being investigated as death certificates are received.

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

      Increasing social contacts

      Dr. Henry said that we have reached “the point where we have deflected our curve, we’re coming down nicely, we have the measures in place that we know are working”.

      Accordingly, she said that we are now approaching the start of a new phase.

      “So this is, I believe, the end of our beginning of this pandemic,” she said. “We do not yet know what’s going to happen but we know that we have some room to increase our social connections, to increase our work, to increase our school and daycare and childcare.”

      Dr. Henry presented some models of what could happen based upon increases in social contacts.

      Under current measures, social contacts have been reduced to about 30 percent.

      Dr. Henry said that if we increase contacts to about 40 percent, we can expect new cases and hospitalizations will continue to be “relatively low over the coming weeks and months”. 

      She explained that if we increase social contacts to approximately 60 percent (or double the current amount), the province may have increased number of cases and hospitalizations, but would be manageable.

      However, if social contacts are increased to 80 percent, or the social levels that were available in December, the rapid spread of the virus could be reignited.

      “The more potential for transmission between people means that the virus will be able to increase exponentially and we might be in a situation that we’ve seen in other places around the world where we have a rapidly increasing outbreak, rapidly increasing number of people who need hospitalization,” she said.

      The challenge, she said, is to work together to find “that sweet spot, somewhere around increasing our contacts by at least twice as many as we have now, but without allowing those opportunities for rapidly exponential growth in our communities”.

      “We must find that right balance: to protect lives by suppressing transmission to the lowest rate possible, particularly to try and protect those who are more likely to have severe illness, to end up in hospital, or to die from this disease,” she said.

      She also acknowledged the physical, mental, and economic health challenges that accompany the social restrictions that can impact overall health.

      Preventive measures

      Among transmission reduction measures, Dr. Henry said that physical distancing is the most effective, ahead of engineering controls (such as plexiglass barriers), administrative controls (such as controlling the direction and number of customers within a space), and personal protective equipment.

      “It has allowed us to put the brakes on COVID-19 but it hasn’t stopped the car,” she said, “and it’s very unlikely that we’re going to be able to, at least in the coming months.”

      She said that we need to take a number of factors into consideration when increasing interactions, including the greater likelihood of exposure to the virus due to increasing number of people interacting with, who may need more protection in a household, such as someone with underlying health condition or an elder, or reconnecting with just one person.

      “When you invite one person outside of your immediate household bubble into your home, you’re also inviting all of the people in their bubble, the people who they’ve had contact with,” she pointed out.

      On Wednesday (May 6), Premier John Horgan will be revealing how the provincial government plans to move forward. 

      “This is going to be a unique summer for all of us,” Dr. Henry said. “We’re going to have to work very hard in my world, in public health, to make sure that we continue to detect every single case in our community and are able to manage it, to find the contacts, to make sure that we’re not allowing transmission, and outbreaks and growth.” 

      To see the May 4 COVID-19: Going Forward modelling report, download the file available in the lefthand column or visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website. 

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