COVID-19 in B.C.: Mandatory masks, expanded health orders, LNG outbreak, and more

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      Update (November 26):

      Due to data error from Fraser Health, B.C. announced corrected case counts for Fraser Health and the province. For more on the data correction, see this article

      Original article (November 19):

      After two consecutive days of record-high new cases over 700, the new case count finally dropped, as did the number of deaths.

      However, case numbers continue to increase in other areas.

      There are also six healthcare outbreaks, a new community outbreak at a work site, and 30 schools, 12 flights, and three stores with new exposure events.

      New health orders

      In a press briefing prior to the B.C. COVID-19 update, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had said that they have been closely monitoring data since the provincial health orders were announced on November 7.

      Unfortunately, they “have not seen dramatic decrease” in case numbers but have seen impacts on the healthcare system, where she said they have seen increased transmission and heightened strain upon all health authorities.

      Consequently, Henry announced new health orders today.

      She said that the previous health orders announced on November 7 (that had applied only to the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions), which were originally scheduled to expire on November 23, have now been:

      • extended to continue until midnight on December 7;
      • expanded beyond the Lower Mainland to apply province-wide.

      The three main areas that the orders apply to are social gatherings, physical activities, and workplaces.

      She said the main focus is to reduce social interactions where transmission is taking place.

      She warned that they are looking at other areas of concern, including bars and pubs.

      Masks: Previously, Henry issued a statement on November 16 to respond to questions about why masks haven't been made mandatory, and she has long been reluctant to do so.

      Yet after longstanding public demand and debate about the issue, Henry has now made it mandatory for all customers and workers to wear masks in all indoor public and retail spaces, including hallways, elevators, breakrooms, kitchens, and customer counters. The only exception is while eating or drinking.

      "I have been consulting with many different areas, particularly the public and retail sectors have asked for more explicit direction on use of masks to support them in being able to manage their worker safety and address customer issues when they come into those environments," she said, explaining why she spoke to B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to issue a requirement for masks to be worn by all employees and customers in all indoor public and retail spaces and workplaces.

      This mandate does not apply to schools.

      Social gatherings: All indoor and outdoor social gatherings are now prohibited, including religious, cultural, or community events. Socializing is restricted to household members.

      All community-based social events—including in-person group services at places of worship—will be suspended, including those with less than 50 people in controlled settings.

      Exceptions include baptisms, funerals, and weddings, which can be conducted with up to 10 people (including an officiant) if safety protocols are in place. However, no associated receptions can be held.

      Henry said that religious gatherings cannot be held in person but can be held virtually instead.

      Those who live alone can only see up to two people of their pandemic bubble at home.

      Henry said that all invitations to other friends or family members to homes should be delayed for the next two weeks.

      She clarified this does not apply to business or support group meetings, childcare, after-school programs, or social-service programs.

      She also said it’s okay to go out for a walk outside with a friend, to have cleaner come to your house, or have a family member pick up children from schools.

      Sports and group physical activities: Henry said that all group fitness classes, including hot yoga, spin classes, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), must stop for the autumn and winter due to high risk of transmission.

      “We’ve also learned that this virus is changing,” she said, explaining that the safety protocols for gyms and fitness classes were fine during the summer but have since become riskier with increased transmission.

      Enhanced guidelines are being developed for how to conduct other group physical activities indoors.

      While sports activities are permitted to continue, travel for sports and spectators at games are not allowed.

      Workplaces: Once again, Henry is reminding all businesses and worksites that they must conduct “active daily screening of all on-site workers” following their COVID-19 safety plans.

      As she has previously pointed out, they are not seeing transmission in interactions between workers and customers at workplaces, such as at grocery or retail sores, where safety plans are being carefully followed. Similarly, she added that they haven't seen transmission occurring in places like hair or nail salons and barbershops or restaurant where operators are following safety plans carefully.

      Instead, she said they are seeing transmission between coworkers (who are spending time together) at workplaces in areas such as lunchrooms, meetings in small rooms, carpooling, and light industrial worksites, including lumberyards.

      Any efforts to bring employees back to workplaces should be suspended and efforts to work from home should be supported instead.

      Travel: All recreational or social travel outside communities, including to other destinations within the province, is discouraged.

      Although Yukon Premier Sandy Silver had said on November 17 that the travel bubble shared by B.C. and Yukon would remain, Yukon announced today that it was ending the bubble, which also applies to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, where cases have sharply spiked. As of Friday (November 20), anyone entering Yukon will now have to self-isolate for 14 days.

      Enforcement: As Henry has previously said, inspections will be increased.

      She said that she has formed a Rapid Response Group task group with regional environmental health officers and a deputy provincial health officer, with a focus on Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions to focus on clusters and outbreaks, and to shut down businesses that aren’t complying with health orders.

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

      B.C. update: November 19

      In contrast to the case counts over the past two days above 700, Henry announced there are 538 new cases, including nine new epi-linked cases, today.

      That includes:

      • 309 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 178 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 28 in Interior Health;
      • 12 in Island Health;
      • 11 in Northern Health;
      • none among people from outside Canada.

      Active cases continued to climb, but with a much smaller increase than seen on previous days. Currently, there are 6,929 active cases, which is 68 more cases than yesterday.

      Unfortunately, hospitalizations continue to increase. At the moment, there are 217 people in hospital (eight more than yesterday), with 59 of those patients in intensive care units (one more than yesterday).

      Public health is monitoring 9,977 people, which is an increase of 106 people from yesterday.

      Unfortunately, there is one new death, raising the total number of fatalities to 321 people who have died. However, this number is much less than the past two days, which saw a total of 21 deaths.

      A total of 17,207 people have now recovered.

      During the pandemic, a cumulative total of 24,960 cases have been reported in B.C., which includes:

      • 15,448 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 7,256 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 1,172 in Interior Health;
      • 563 in Northern Health;
      • 429 in Island Health;
      • 90 people from outside Canada.

      Outbreaks and public exposures

      Unfortunately, there are six new healthcare outbreaks:

      • Windermere Care Centre (900 W 12th Avenue) in Vancouver, where Vancouver Coastal Health imposed restrictions on November 18;
      • the Parkview Unit of Youville Residence (4950 Heather Street), where Vancouver Coastal Health imposed restrictions on the fourth and fifth floors on November 18;
      • Cottage-Worthington Pavilion (33457 Cottage Lane), a longterm care facility in Abbotsford where Fraser Health stated that two staff members have tested positive;
      • Langley Memorial Hospital (22051 Fraser Highway) longterm care in Langley, where Fraser Health stated that two employees who work in the Cedar Hill and Rosewood residences have tested positive;
      • The Residence at Clayton Heights (18788 71 Avenue) in Surrey), where Fraser Health stated that two employees tested positive;
      • Royal Columbian Hospital (330 E Columbia Street) in New Westminster, where Fraser Health said one staff member tested positive and that the hospital is now temporarily closed to admissions.

      There are now 59 active outbreaks in healthcare facilities—40 in longterm care facilities and 19 in intensive care units.

      Northern Health declared a community outbreak at the LNG Canada Project Site in Kitimat, B.C. As of today, 14 employees have tested positive. Northern Health stated that 32 employees are in self-isolation at the site while others are isolating in their home communities. The outbreak declaration will remain in place for 28 days.

      Meanwhile, Sobeys announced three locations had staff members who tested positive:

      • Real Canadian Superstore (8195 Scott Street) in Delta, where two employees who tested positive last worked on November 6 and 11;
      • Shoppers Drug Mart (4326 Dunbar Street) in Vancouver, where an employee who tested positive last worked on November 12;
      • Shoppers Drug Mart (20151 Fraser Highway) in Langley, where an employee who tested positive last worked on November 13.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added 12 flights confirmed with COVID-19 to its lists:

      • November 5: Air Canada 103, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • November 5: Air Canada/Jazz 8183, Vancouver to Fort St. John;
      • November 9: Air Canada 854, Vancouver to London;
      • November 9: Swoop 207, Edmonton to Abbotsford;
      • November 9: United Airlines 1641, Denver to Vancouver;
      • November 11: Alaska Airlines 3304, Seattle to Vancouver;
      • November 13: Air Canada 222, Vancouver to Calgary;
      • November 13: Air India 185, Delhi to Vancouver;
      • November 14: Air Canada 561, San Francisco to Vancouver;
      • November 16: Air Canada 209, Calgary to Vancouver;
      • November 16: Air Canada 341, Ottawa to Vancouver;
      • November 16: Air Canada/Jazz 8280, Vancouver to Prince Rupert.

      The BCCDC also corrected information for a flight posted on November 17:

      • November 14: WestJet 195, Calgary to Victoria.

      For affected row information, visit the BCCDC website.

      A.R. MacNeill Secondary School

      School exposures

      Four regional health authorities added 30 schools with new exposures.

      Northern Health didn’t have any schools with new dates.

      Island Health added one school with new exposures: Lakeview Christian School (729 Cordova Bay Road) in Victoria had an exposure on November 16.

      Interior Health had two schools in Kelowna with new dates:

      • École KLO Middle School (3130 Gordon Drive)—which had previous exposures on October 30 and November 2, from November 3 to 6, and on November 8—had new exposures from November 9 to 10;
      • Heritage Christian School (907 Badke Road), which previously had exposures from November 2 to 4, had new exposures from November 12 to 13.

      Vancouver Coastal Health had three schools in Richmond with new dates:

      • A.R. MacNeill Secondary School (6611 No. 4 Road) in Richmond had an exposure on November 12;
      • Kingswood Elementary (11511 King Road), which had a previous exposure event from October 5 to 6 and from October 27 to November 2, had an exposure on November 10;
      • Steveston-London Secondary School (6600 Williams Road), which previously had an exposure event from November 2 to 6, had a new exposure on November 13.
      École Nestor Elementary

      Meanwhile, Fraser Health had 24 schools with new exposure dates.

      In Abbotsford, two schools had new exposures:

      • Ten-Broeck Elementary (2580 Stanley Street), which had a previous exposure on September 17, added November 9 as a new exposure;
      •  Abbotsford Senior Secondary (33355 Bevan Avenue), which previously had an exposure incident on October 14, added November 6 and 9.

      In Burnaby, two schools had new exposures:

      • Burnaby Central Secondary School (6011 Deer Lake Parkway), which had previous exposures from October 13 to 16 and from October 20 to 22, had new exposures from November 9 to 10;
      • Burnaby North Secondary (751 Hammarskjold Drive)—which previously had exposures on from October 8 to 9, from October 14 to 15, from October 28 to 30, and from November 2 to 3—had an exposure on November 10.

      In Coquitlam, three schools had new exposures:

      • École Porter Street Elementary (728 Porter Street) had exposures from November 12 to 13;
      • Harbour View Elementary (960 Lillian Street), which previously had exposures on October 16 and 20, had exposures from November 9 to 10;
      • École Nestor Elementary (1266 Nestor Street) had exposures on November 5, 6, 9, and 10.

      In Port Coquitlam, Minnekhada Middle School (1390 Laurier Avenue) had exposures from November 9 to 10.

      In Port Moody, Port Moody Secondary (300 Albert Street), which previously had an exposure on October 13, had a new exposure on November 12.

      In Delta, Delview Secondary (9111 116 Street), which previously had an exposure on October 29, had new exposures from November 6 to 16.

      In Langley, three schools added new exposure dates:

      • H.D. Stafford Middle School (20441 Grade Crescent)—which previously had exposures on October 9, and November 6 and 9—added November 10 as an additional date;
      • Willoughby Elementary (20766 80 Avenue), which previously had an exposure event from November 5 to 6, had new exposures from November 10 to 11;
      • R.E. Mountain Secondary (7633 202a Street), which previously had exposures from November 2 to 4, had a new exposure on November 9.

      In New Westminster, three schools had new dates:

      • École Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary (6151 180 Street), which previously had exposures from September 14 to 15 and on November 10 and 12, added November 9 to 13 as new dates;
      • New Westminster Secondary (835 8th Street)—which previously had exposures from September 15 to 17; from October 14 to 16 and 20 to 21; and from October 26 to 27; and from November 2 to 3—had an exposure on November 9;
      • Richard McBride Elementary (331 Richmond Street) had exposures from November 9 to 10.

      In Surrey, eight schools had new exposure dates:

      • Cloverdale Traditional (17857 56 Avenue) had exposures from November 12 to 13;
      • David Brankin Elementary (9160 128 Street), which previously had exposures from October 1 to 2 and on November 2 and 3, had an exposure event from November 9 to 13;
      • Green Timbers Elementary (8824 144th Street), which previously had an exposure event on September 29, added November 9 to 10;
      • Khalsa Elementary—Old Yale Road campus (10677 124th Street)—which previously had exposures on September 1 and 4; on October 5; and from October 27 to 30 and from November 2 to 4—added November 5 to 6 and 12;
      • Morgan Elementary (3366 156a Street), which previously had exposures from September 8 to 10, had exposures from November 5 to 10;
      • Queen Elizabeth Secondary School (9457 King George Boulevard)—which previously had exposures on September 14; from October 14 to 16; from October 19, 21, and 22; and from October 29 to 30 and November 3 to 5—added November 6, 9, and 10;
      • Tamanawis Secondary School (12600 66 Avenue)—which previously had incidents on September 17 and 30; October 2 and 6; from October 13 to 16; on October 19; from October 26 to 28; and from November 3 to 5—added November 9 and 12 as exposure dates;
      • Pacific Academy (10238 168 Street) has an exposure on November 9.
      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.