COVID-19 in B.C.: Case numbers levelling off, and Dr. Bonnie Henry defines school exposures, clusters, and outbreaks

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      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that a record number of tests—10,899—were conducted in the province yesterday (September 30), which she called “an incredible feat”.

      Henry also said that they are starting to see smaller clusters of infections and numbers appear to be levelling off, meaning that the number of people that an infected person transmits to has decreased.

      She said that this is “good news for us and means people are doing the things that we need them to do”. She said she will speak more about this during her data and modelling update next week.

      At the moment, she said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the numbers. Although they have not been seeing an exponential increase, she said there is still ongoing transmission and that we need to remain careful.

      “We’ve found with this virus,” she said, “it sneaks up on us and we can have explosive outbreaks if we’re not on our guard.”

      Daily update: October 1

      This past week, new cases counts have constantly gone above and below the 100-case mark. Today, it was down to 82 new cases in B.C. (including one epi-linked case), as Henry announced at today’s briefing.

      Currently, there are 1,261 active cases, which is a decrease of 23 people from yesterday’s number.

      The number of people in hospital decreased from 72 patients yesterday to 69 patients today, and 19 of those patients are in intensive care units (which is two less patients than yesterday).

      Hospitalized cases include 36 people in Fraser Health, 29 people in Vancouver Coastal Health, two in Interior Health, and two in Northern Health.

      Public health is monitoring 3,093 people—that’s 109 less people than yesterday.

      While there aren’t any new community outbreaks, there is one new healthcare outbreak at the George Derby Centre (7550 Cumberland Street) longterm care facility in Burnaby, where one staff member has tested positive. This is the second outbreak at the facility.

      Active outbreaks are currently in 15 longterm care facilities and three acute care units. There has been a cumulative total of 860 people (513 residents and 347 staff) who have been confirmed with COVID-19 in healthcare outbreaks.

      Unfortunately, there was one new death confirmed, bringing the total number of fatalities to 235 people who have died.

      A cumulative total of 9,220 cases have been recorded in the province during the pandemic, including:

      • 4,712 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 3,360 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 535 in Interior Health;
      • 317 in Northern Health;
      • 209 in Island Health;
      • 87 people who live outside Canada.

      A total number of 3,093 people have recovered.

      Chilliwack Secondary School

      Restaurant and school exposures

      Vancouver Coastal Health has listed the East Vancouver restaurant Park Drive (1815 Commercial Drive) as having a potential exposure incident from 6 to 10 p.m. on September 26.

      Two schools have been added to health authority lists as having exposure incidents.

      Fraser Health added Chilliwack Secondary School (46363 Yale Road) had an exposure incident from September 22 to 24.

      Vancouver Coastal Health has added the alternative education Cedar Walk Program (1043 Kingsway) with potential exposure dates of September 14, 15, 17, and 21.

      School issues

      Henry acknowledged the great “concern and anxiety” related to schools.

      Like all other aspects in B.C.’s COVID-19 response, she said that they are “adjusting” their approach as they learn and that they are doing their best.

      “I think it’s important to recognize that we don’t always get it right, right off,” she said.

      More specifically, she addressed the confusion that arose when Vancouver Coastal Health was reported to have been taking a different approach for listing schools with exposure incidents than the other regional health authorities.

      “When we started sharing information about our school exposures, our communications across the province were not fully aligned and what was being said in one place was not always the same as what was said in other places, and we’re working through those kinks and continue to refine our approach.”

      She said that the communication approach is now “aligned” in all of B.C.’s health authorities.

      Despite these earlier differences, she emphasized that public health teams have conducted contact tracing for all cases in schools, and that she has been “closely monitoring” all contact tracing that has been taking place for schools. She added that contact tracing is a highly skilled job that requires specific expertise.

      Caulfeild Elementary School

      Exposure definitions for schools

      Henry clarified the differences between exposures, clusters, and outbreaks in schools.

      A school exposure is when an individual who is confirmed with COVID-19 has been in a school during their infectious period.

      A cluster is when two or more people, who attended school, are confirmed as positive.

      She said every time there is a school exposure, public health teams conduct contact tracing. Contact tracers determine who is a close contact and who isn’t.

      “Even if you have been in a school setting with somebody, you may not be a close contact, you may not be at risk of exposure yourself,” she said. “Anybody who did have contact where the virus could have been transmitted has been contacted by public health and we know that’s working, and we’ve seen it in schools across the province.”

      An outbreak in a school setting is “when we have ongoing transmission and we’re not clear who has been transmitted to who”, she said, and widespread transmission is taking place between groups of classes or learning groups in a school.

      Henry said there hasn’t been any outbreaks in B.C. schools. However, she said it remains a possibility, as they have occurred in other jurisdictions.

      When Henry was asked about Caulfeild Elementary in West Vancouver, where a class of students has been reported to be isolating, she said that she doesn’t know the specific about that case but that there hasn’t been any outbreaks or widespread transmission in schools.

      She said in many cases, there may be transmission involving one or two people, and public health will either pull close contacts out of the school, or ask the entire class to isolate if they have all been potentially exposed.

      “It is likely that some of them will develop illness in that incubation period but they are not in the school setting when they get ill so it’s not an outbreak,” she explained.

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