COVID-19 in B.C.: Active cases still at record high, and questions about smoke, schools, and outdoor transmission

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      Once again, new case numbers approached the record high of 139 cases on September 10.

      In addition, active and hospitalized case numbers continue to climb, and one of the largest clusters of deaths in recent weeks was reported.

      Also, one First Nation has reported its first cases while another First Nation has reported a significant increase in case numbers over the past week. Meanwhile, 10 flights were confirmed with COVID-19 over the weekend.

      The good news is that several outbreaks have been declared over.

      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to questions about health concerns during the heavy wildfire smoke in southern B.C. as well as outdoor transmission risks.

      Daily update: September 11 to 14

      Henry provided updates for the past three times periods since the last update on September 11.

      From September 11 to 12, there were 137 new cases, followed by 119 new cases from September 12 to 13, and 61 new cases from September 13 to 14, for a total of 317 cases (including four epi-linked cases) over those three days.

      The number of active cases remain at a record high. At the moment, there are 1,594 active cases, which is an increase of 133 cases since September 11 (when there were 1,461 active cases).

      The number of hospitalized cases has increased from 49 on September 11 to 58 patients today, with 16 of those individuals in intensive care units (up from 10 people on September 11).

      Dix said there are 28 patients in Fraser Health, 22 in Vancouver Coastal Health, seven in Northern Health, and one person from outside Canada in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      Public health is monitoring 3,047 people, which has decreased by 151 people since 3,198 people on September 11.

      There aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks, and four healthcare outbreaks have been declared over: Holy Family Hospital in Vancouver, MSA Manor in Abbotsford, Czorny Alzheimer Centre in Surrey, and George Derby Centre in Burnaby.

      That leaves 13 active healthcare outbreaks (10 in longterm care facilities and three in acute care facilities). A total number of 791 cases (471 residents and 320 staff) have been involved in healthcare outbreaks during the pandemic.

      Henry said that there also aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      The outbreak at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver has been declared over.

      Dix acknowledged the anxiety and stress that the announcement of outbreaks in facilities causes to staff, families, residents, and all involved.

      “It’s truly good news after a very challenging period in those five cases to see those outbreaks declared over,” he said.

      Meanwhile, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in Bella Bella issued a news release today stating that it has two positive cases.

      The Tla’amin Nation in Powell River, which has been under a shelter-in-place order on September 8 after seven cases were confirmed, stated today that it now has over 20 cases, with several individuals awaiting test results.

      Over the weekend, six fatalities were reported. That includes four people in Fraser Health, one in Vancouver Coastal Health, and the first death in Northern Health.

      B.C.’s total number of deaths is now at 219 people who have died.

      A total of 5,446 people have recovered during the pandemic.

      During the pandemic, there has been a cumulative provincial total of 7,279 cases, with 2,557 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 3,754 cases in Fraser Health; 473 in Interior Health; 195 in Island Health; 216 in Northern Health; and 84 people who live outside Canada.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Community exposure incidents

      A fourth McDonald’s location in the Lower Mainland was reportedly closed temporarily for sanitization after an employee tested positive. A staff member who last worked at 8586 120 Street on September 10 tested positive on September 12.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has added the following flights to its list of flight confirmed with COVID-19:

      • August 30, Air India flight 1143 from Delhi to Vancouver;

      • September 1: Lufthansa flight 761 from Frankfurt to Vancouver;

      • September 3: United Airlines flight 5351 from San Francisco to Vancouver;

      • September 3: Flair flight 8513 from Toronto to Vancouver;

      • September 5: United Airlines, Flight 5747, San Francisco to Vancouver;

      • September 6: Air India flight 1143 from Delhi to Vancouver;

      • September 7: WestJet flight 112 from Vancouver to Calgary;

      • September 8: Air Canada flight 112 from Vancouver to Toronto;

      • September 9: Air Canada flight 122 from Vancouver to Toronto;

      • September 6: Air Canada flight 305 from Montreal to Vancouver.

      For information about affected rows, visit the BCCDC website.

      Anyone who was on these flights or in the affected rows should reduce contact while others while monitoring themselves for symptoms for 14 days after the flight date. If symptoms appear, you should immediately self-isolate and call 811 to find out about testing.

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

      Wildfire smoke and outdoor transmission

      With wildfire smoke is reducing air quality in Metro Vancouver to some of the worst levels in the world, Dix and Henry reminded people and communities to take appropriate health precautions, particularly those who have asthma or other lung-related illnesses.

      When Henry was asked about school health precautions during the smoky conditions, Henry said that they have previously seen schools in the province through wildfire smoke seasons.

      However, she said that although they previously advised schools to keep windows open for more ventilation or for students to be outside during the pandemic, those measures are exceptions from their health guidelines for the moment amid the wildfire smoke.

      She added that for some students, school facilities are safer environments than many homes. Some schools, she pointed out, have the ability to use filters and there are portable air cleaners that can be used.

      When asked if B.C. has had any transmission taking place in outdoor settings, Henry, as she had previously mentioned, stated there have been some outdoor transmission cases in B.C. (she didn’t have specific numbers offhand). She said these cases have come from social situations like parties where people have spent periods of time talking closely near each other without wearing masks while sharing food, drinks, and other things.

      She said one recent case involved a heated conversation between two people who were in proximity to each other over a period of time outdoors.

      Yet she said that, based upon reported events around the world, transmission is “much, much less likely” to occur outdoors than indoors.

      She pointed out that earlier in the pandemic, there were concerns and debates about the difference between size of droplets, such as aerosols versus larger droplets, involved in transmission.

      However, she said that much more is now understood about the virus.

      “We know that this virus doesn’t live as long in smaller droplets as they dry out and get smaller and we can inhale them deeper into our lungs,” she said. “This virus doesn’t live as well in those ones. It lives better with a little bit more moisture.”

      She said in outdoor settings, breezes can help to disperse droplets, which “means that you’re very unlikely to get enough of the virus—inhale enough of the virus—that you will get sick yourself.”

      She said that the risk of transmission from someone walking by is “very, very low to non-existent” and that she isn’t aware of cases in B.C. from these types of situations.

      Meanwhile on September 11, The National's Ian Hanomansing interviewed Henry at the B.C. Legislature to take a look at how things have changed over the pandemic and what needs to be done to continue on into the months ahead. She talked about risks and transmission rates in B.C., wearing masks, criticism about the back-to-school plan, vaccines, and the resiliency she has seen from people.

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