COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. is doing the right thing but can't let down its guard

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      In addition to today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented her monthly data and modelling update.

      The overall picture indicates that B.C. is heading in the right direction.

      Despite heightened concerns about transmission at schools, she said overall community transmission rates in B.C. have not increased since school reopened and that case numbers among children remain low.

      While she said that most British Columbians are doing the right thing, she emphasized that we’re “not out of the woods” yet and must sustain this effort for the coming months as we head into flu season.

      As we head towards a Thanksgiving weekend as well as Halloween, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has provided guidelines for celebrations, including food preparation, as well as Halloween-specific social interaction information.

      Daily update: October 5

      While new case counts alternated between being above or below the 100 case mark last week, new case numbers for each day this past weekend were 100 or more.

      Today, Henry confirmed there were 130 new cases from October 2 to 3, 100 new cases from October 3 to 4, and 120 new cases from October 4 to 5. That’s a total of 358 cases (including eight epi-linked cases) over that three-day period.

      Currently, there are 1,353 active cases (an increase of 51 people from October 2). Of those cases, there are 66 people in hospital (up three people from October 2), with 16 of those patients in intensive care units (which is the same number as October 2).

      The number of people who public health is monitoring has decreased to 3,010 people, down 104 people from October 2.

      Unfortunately, there are three new healthcare outbreaks, each of which has had one staff member test positive and all of which are in Fraser Health.

      One is at Langley Lodge (5451 204 Street), which has already had two previous outbreaks.

      A second outbreak is at White Rock Seniors Village (1183 Maple Street).

      A third is at Chartwell Crescent Gardens Retirement Residence (1222 King George Boulevard) in South Surrey.

      Meanwhile, the outbreak at Holy Family Hospital in Vancouver has been declared over.

      Active healthcare outbreaks remain in 19 facilities—at 16 longterm care facilities and at three acute care units. A total number of 876 people (359 staff and 517 residents).

      There’s also one new community outbreak.

      Fraser Health has declared an outbreak at the MSJ Valhalla Distribution centre (7848 Hoskins Street) in Delta. Fraser Health stated it became aware of a potential outbreak after an employee tested positive on September 20. As of October 3, Fraser Health stated that 23 employees tested positive and that Fraser Health has closed the facility.

      Sadly, there have been four new deaths, which includes three people in Fraser Health and one person in Vancouver Coastal Health. The total number of fatalities is now at 242 people who have died.

      The cumulative total number is 9,739 cases during the pandemic. That includes 4,980 cases in Fraser Health; 3,580 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 548 in Interior Health; 322 in Northern Health; 220 in Island Health; and 89 people who live outside Canada.

      A total of 8,115 people have now recovered from COVID-19.

      Province of British Columbia

      Data update

      Henry provided an update on data and modelling that suggested an optimistic outlook.

      A total of 779 people have been hospitalized during the pandemic (with an average age of 67 years old).

      Henry said the percentage of hospitalized cases is now at eight percent of cases, which is “significantly down” from earlier in the pandemic, when approximately 20 percent cases were in hospital. She said this reflects the much broader testing being conducted now and the shift in the majority of the affected demographic age group to younger populations.

      She said older people remain overrepresented in the total number of deaths, with an average age of 85 years old for fatalities.

      In contrast, children and teens remain underrepresented among positive cases—Henry said that those under 10 years of age, which is 10 percent of B.C.’s population, is less than five percent of all COVID-19 cases. In addition, she said those in the 10 to 19 years old age range is also underrepresented, despite increased testing in that age group.

      “What we’re not seeing is schools amplifying transmission in the community,” she said.

      On the other hand, she said transmission rates have increased for young students. She said rates are four times higher for children aged five to 12 and have doubled for teenagers.

      Nonetheless, she said rates remain low in these age groups, with only seven in one-thousand tests being positive. Also, hospitalization rates for those 19 years and younger is less than one percent. 

      The age group that is overrepresented among positive cases, and comprise the majority number of cases, are among those 20 to 39 years old.

      She said over 80 percent of cases are people who have had contact with a confirmed cases or are a part of a known cluster of cases.

      Henry said that according to updated data, the number of infectious contacts that each case generates has decreased—and she said this is where we want to be.

      “That means that we are having connections in our communities—we’re opening schools, people are going back to work—but we’re having safe connections,” she said, “and so on average, fewer infections for each case in recent weeks and each case is now transmitting, on average, to fewer than one person.”

      What helped, she explained, is that British Columbians are doing what they need to do, and the closures of venues—nightlife venues and banquet halls were ordered closed on September 8—where widespread transmission was taking place.

      “What we saw tipping the balance a few weeks ago was when we took measures to try and reduce those environments where people can inadvertently spread it to large numbers,” she said.

      While the curve was trending upward at the last data update, she said it has since turned downward and B.C. has started to flatten the curve.

      “Our growth rate is decreasing, which means we are having safe connections in our communities now,” she said.

      However, she said we need to maintain interactions to a maximum of about 45 percent of our usual contacts and cannot let our guard down for the next few months, particularly during respiratory season.

      School and air travel exposures

      Henry said that as of October 1, there have been 50 exposure incidents in schools reported by regional health authorities, with an addition 14 incidents reported since then (for a total of 64 events). 

      Health authorities added seven more schools to their lists of exposure incidents.

      Northern Health added one new school to its list:  Dawson Creek Secondary School (South Peace Campus), which had an exposure event from September 23 to 25.

      Fraser Health added five schools in Surrey to its list:

      • the independent G.A.D. Elementary on September 23;
      • North Ridge Elementary, with an exposure incident on September 29;
      • Georges Vanier Elementary, with dates of September 29 to 30;
      • Strawberry Hill Elementary, also with dates of September 29 to 30;
      • Frank Hurt Secondary had a potential exposure incident from October 1 to 2.

      Island Health reported its first exposure incident in a school—at Alberni District Secondary School on September 14, 15, 17, 18, and 22.

      Over the weekend, the BCCDC added the following eights flights to its list of flights confirmed with COVID-19:

      • September 23: Air Canada 195 from Toronto to Victoria;
      • September 23: Air Canada 123 from Toronto to Vancouver;
      • September 26: Air Canada 115 from Toronto to Vancouver;
      • September 27: WestJet 725 from Toronto to Vancouver;
      • September 27: AeroMexico 696 from Mexico City to Vancouver;
      • September 27: Air Canada 115 from Toronto to Vancouver;
      • September 28: Air Canada 127 from Toronto to Vancouver;
      • September 30: Air Canada 115 from Toronto to Vancouver.

      For affected row information, visit the BCCDC public exposure webpage.

      Anyone in the affected rows or on these flights is asked to watch themselves for symptoms for 14 days following the flight date. If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and call 811 about testing.

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