B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have not held a B.C. COVID-19 update on a Saturday since May.
However, they scheduled a briefing today (November 7) from Vancouver to address the “steady…and worrisome increase” in case numbers, including those requiring hospitalization and intensive care, and because Henry announced new health orders.
Henry said that the case numbers over the past two weeks have been “dangerously high”, particularly in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, and have been affecting the healthcare system.
Henry said that transmission has particularly been occurring in workplaces, such as food-processing facilities; retail and car dealerships; indoor physical activity; homes; and in healthcare.
“We need to keep our essential services and essential activities, from schools to workplaces, open and operating safely, and right now, this is in jeopardy,” she said.
“We need to take urgent and focused actions,” she added.
Dix said everyone in the province needs to participate.
“Right now, we need to take action—no ifs, ands, or buts,” Dix said. “Full on, full in, everyone.”
Consequently, Henry announced five provincial health orders to address the current situation.
Four provincial health officer orders will apply for two weeks in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. (The exception is the Central Coast and Bella Coola Valley, which she said is geographically different and more closely aligned with the Interior Health region.)
She explained that the reason why these orders are not province-wide is because they are not seeing rapid increases in other areas like those that are occurring in the Lower Mainland, and that cases are manageable in the other provincial health regions. She added that there is a lot of movement within the Lower Mainland area that amplifies transmission.
The orders will commence today at 10 p.m. and continue until 12 p.m. on November 23.
The orders apply to four main areas: social gatherings, travel, indoor group physical activities, and workplace safety.
Henry said all businesses and worksites in these areas must revisit their safety plans. Henry noted that bylaw officers, public health officers, and WorkSafeBC will increase active workplace inspections.
Social gatherings: Henry said social gatherings are now restricted to household members only.
(She said this applies to social gatherings in controlled setting that were previously allowed to have up to 50 people maximum, which no longer applies during this time period.)
Funerals and weddings may proceed but can only have household members. Receptions are not allowed.
Travel: Henry recommended “in the very strongest terms” that only essential travel in and out of Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health should be taking place.
Travel for sports in and out of these regions is now suspended during this time period.
Group physical activity: After seeing rapid transmission in these settings, Henry ordered recreation centres and indoor physical activity facilities to immediately stop holding these activities until their safety plans are approved by health officers.
That includes spin, yoga, group fitness, and dance classes, and other group indoors physical activities.
She said fitness facilities need to implement preventative measures such as having attendance by cohorts of people, physical barriers placed between stationary bicycles, proper ventilation, or relocating to outside.
These orders do not apply to individual physical activities in these venues, where physical distancing and other measures are being used.
A community outbreak at a dance studio in Chilliwack, leading to over 25 cases and resulting in notification letters being sent to 11 schools, had been declared earlier this week.
Also, indoor sports where physical distancing is not possible are suspended, including games and competitions during this time period.
She said individual exercise or practise and drills with physical distancing can take place instead. (These rules do not apply to school-based sports programs, which can continue.)
Of particular concern are situations such as warming up, sitting on the bench, or spectators (which must be reduced in number), where physical distancing and other precautions must be maintained.
Workplaces: Henry said all workplaces must conduct active in-person screenings according to safety plans.
Workplaces must ensure all workers and customers maintain physical distances, wear masks, and be vigilant in small office spaces, breakrooms, and kitchens.
She recommended that businesses should support employees to allow them to work from home wherever possible.
She said transmission is not being seen in restaurants that are following safety plans but they do occur when such businesses fail to follow safety measures.
If businesses cannot maintain their safety plans, she said local medical health officers will shut those businesses down, as they have already done so in specific cases. Eateries where safety plan aren't feasible, she pointed out, need to consider alternative business operations, such as shifting to take-out-only.
In addition, she emphasized that they will be cracking down on restaurants that aren’t following rules.
“We will be paying attention particularly to restaurants because we know it can become an environment where we have seen transmission to large numbers of people when these rules aren’t being followed,” she said.
Perimeter-seating vehicles: The fifth province-wide health order is that all perimeter-seating vehicles, such as party buses and limousines, must immediately stop operating until further notice.
Several weeks ago, Henry had said that cases in B.C. were increasing in linear (in incremental amounts) rather than exponential growth (rapidly multiplying). However, when the Georgia Straight asked about the current growth rates, Henry confirmed that B.C. has now reached exponential growth and that is the reason why they held the news conference today.
She said the previous linear growth was “concerning but controllable” but over the past two weeks has seen rapid and exponential growth, which has been cause for concern.
Over the past few weeks, the number of people whom B.C. public health is monitoring has also been continually and rapidly increasing. Some jurisdictions, including Toronto and some places in the U.S., suspended contact tracing when numbers became too high and was no longer feasible or effective.
When the Georgia Straight asked about B.C.’s current contact tracing capacity, Henry reassured that the province is still at levels that can be managed.
She said that contact tracing has helped them to understand the scenarios where transmission is taking place and that the measures announced today are to stop transmission in those settings.
“We are now have community transmission in this area which is at that point that even [in] small groups, we can get rapid transmission to larger numbers, and then it gets multiplied from there,” she said.
That said, she emphasized that we must bring numbers down so that healthcare systems, essential services, and more can remain functional.
She added that the next monthly modelling update will take place on Thursday (November 12).
Henry said that while exposure events have been taking place in schools, particularly in areas where community transmission is taking place, she said they have not seen very many transmission events in schools.
“Schools are not amplifying this virus,” she said. “They are merely reflecting what’s going on in the community.”
She said they are seeing that the safety plans in schools are preventing transmission.
B.C. COVID-19 update: November 7
Henry announced there are 567 new cases today, which is in the range of yesterday’s record high of 589 new cases.
Today’s new cases break down regionally as:
• 411 new cases in Fraser Health;
• 122 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• 22 Interior Health;
• 9 in Northern Health;
• 3 in Island Health;
• none among people from outside Canada.
Dix said that Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions reached an all-time high of 546 new cases today while today there were 533 new cases in those two regions.
In addition, Dix said that the Interior Health region has reached a “significant” and record high number of active cases, and emphasized the importance for everyone in all B.C. regions to abide by health measures.
There are 100 people in hospital (four less than yesterday), with 31 of those patients in intensive care units (three less than yesterday).
Dix said that while hospitalizations remain below the peak of 149 patients in early April, he said the current number reflects “the severity of COVID-19 in our province”.
There is one new healthcare outbreak at the Residence in Mission (7324 Hurd Street).
Active outbreaks are now at 37 healthcare facilities, which includes 33 longterm care facilities and four acute-care facilities.
Unfortunately, there is one new death, bringing the total fatalities to 276 deaths during the pandemic.
Numbers for active cases, recoveries, and people being monitored by public health were not provided today.
During the pandemic, there has been a cumulative total of 17,716 cases in B.C.