COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry on VCH's approach to schools, when nightclubs might reopen, and more

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      While active COVID-19 cases continue to decline, new case numbers and monitored individuals have increased. There’s also one new healthcare outbreak, an exposure incident at a hotel pub, and four more schools with exposure events.

      Meanwhile, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry further explained Vancouver Coastal Health’s approach to publicly reporting schools with exposure incidents, and she also further discussed issues about nightlife venues and banquet halls.

      Daily update: September 24

      While the daily new case counts have been in the 90s over the past two days, the number of new cases has surged over 100 once again.

      Henry announced there are 148 new cases (including 12 epi-linked cases) today.

      Active cases continued to decline but only slightly this time—currently, there are 1,371 active cases (five less than yesterday), with 61 people in hospital (20 of those patients are in intensive care units) which is about the same as yesterday.

      The number of people being monitored by public health continues to climb—up 49 people from 3,368 people yesterday to 3,417 people today.

      Unfortunately, there is one new healthcare outbreak at the Banfield Pavilion longterm care facility at Vancouver General Hospital (2785 Ash Street) in Vancouver.

      The healthcare outbreak at Opal by Element in Vancouver, announced on September 15, has been declared over.

      Active healthcare outbreaks remain in 14 facilities (nine longterm care facilities and five acute care units), with a cumulative total of 822 cases (487 residents and 335 staff) have been involved in healthcare outbreaks during the pandemic.

      Interior Health has listed one new exposure incident which took place at the Coldwater Hotel Pub (1901 Voght Street) in Merritt fro 9 to 10 p.m. on September 19.

      Sadly, Henry announced two new deaths today. The total number of fatalities in B.C. is now at 229 people who have died.

      A cumulative total of 8,543 cases have been confirmed in B.C. during the pandemic. That includes 4,361 cases in Fraser Health; 3,094 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 520 in Interior Health; 278 in Northern Health; 203 in Island Health; and 87 people who live outside Canada.

      A total number of 6,917 people (81 percent) have now recovered from COVID-19.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has added five flights to its list:

      • September 16: WestJet 133 from Calgary to Vancouver;

      • September 16: WestJet 3111 from Calgary to Kamloops;

      • September 17: WestJet 706 from Vancouver to Toronto;

      • September 19: Air Canada 128 from Vancouver to Toronto;

      • September 20: Delta 3702 from Seattle to Vancouver.

      For affected row information, visit the BCCDC website.

      Anyone on these flights or in the affected rows should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days following the flight date, and immediately self-isolate and call 811 about testing if symptoms develop.

      School exposures

      Four more schools have been listed with COVID-19 exposure events.

      Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has added one more school to its list: Xpey’ Elementary (1950 East Hastings Street) in Vancouver, with potential exposures on September 10, 14, 15, and 21.

      Fraser Health has reported two more schools have had exposure events.

      École Riverside Secondary (2215 Reeve Street) in Port Coquitlam had an exposure incident on September 18. Meanwhile, Kennedy Trail Elementary (8305 122a Street) in Surrey reported a potential exposure event from September 15 to 17.

      Northern Health has added the independent school Nak’albun Elementary School (1180 Lakeshore Drive) in Fort St. James, with potential exposure dates from September 16 to 18.

      Interior Health didn’t have any new schools to add, and Island Health has not yet reported any incidents.

      Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly
      Vancouver Coastal Health

      VCH and exposures in schools

      Earlier today, Henry issued a joint statement with VCH chief public health officer Dr. Patricia Daly to address concerns about how VCH is reporting cases in schools.

      Part of the statement explained how VCH approaches COVID-19 cases in schools:

      “Whether in schools or in other settings, VCH Public Health notifies all contacts of cases exposed to COVID-19 in the most direct manner possible. This is the most effective contact tracing practice—it allows Public Health to provide clear direction to those contacts while respecting patient confidentiality which is important for the effective management of the pandemic.

      “When there has been exposure of classrooms or cohorts of students and staff in a school setting, we work with the school administrator to quickly send an email and letter to notify the staff and students (or their parents) identified as contacts. VCH Public Health will follow-up directly with all contacts who receive a notification in order to provide further public health advice. All notifications to school administrators—including school exposure and outbreaks—are posted to the VCH school exposure webpage at"

      At today’s briefing, Henry went on to explain that when there is a potential exposure in a school, the first step is public health conduct contact tracing and assess risks for each individual student, teacher, and staff member.

      She said that schools issue alerts when exposures take place and the BCCDC website and health authorities are also publishing school notifications.

      She said that they will never publish individual health information of any cases (“no matter what the circumstances”).

      “Maintaining the privacy of anyone who has COVID-19 is very important,” she said. “It is our responsibility and we take that very seriously.”

      However, she said that this information is important “because it provides public information that helps you understand what is happening in our school communities around the province”.

      She said that it allows parents to know where exposures are and so that they can “have confidence in knowing that if they have not been contacted, their families have not had a risky exposure in the school community”.

      She said that there are now approximately 30 school exposure event notifications from across B.C. posted online at health authority websites. She said she’s not surprised by this and that “this is to be expected”. However, she pointed out that there haven’t been any outbreaks in the school system yet.

      When asked about the inconsistencies between VCH and the other health authorities, she said she has full confidence in VCH and that “it’s somewhat unfortunate that there’s been some reporting on some of these details around this”.

      The most important thing for public health, she said, is investigating whether someone was infectious in the school environment, and ensuring families and the school community has information first.

      “I think where some of the nuance came in was around exactly what we were talking about as an exposure event,” she said.

      When asked about the large number of exposure incidents in schools in the Fraser Health region compared to the VCH region, she said the largest school districts are in Fraser Health so it’s not surprising to her. She added that all have been “relatively low risk” and have been managed.

      In VCH, she said the types of exposures (including where people are being exposed and the clusters of cases) occurring are different from those in Fraser Health.

      She pointed out that there haven’t been any exposure incidents reported by Island Health yet.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Nightlife venues and banquet halls

      Early on in the reopening phase, Henry had mentioned that she wanted to avoid opening things up and then closing things down again as she said that confuses people, and she had also raised concerns about how shutting things down can result in parties and events popping up in underground ways.

      When the Georgia Straight asked today if these are still concerns of hers, she confirmed that they are but she pointed out that what has changed since then is that enforcement is now in place to take care of any issues that develop.

      “When we do see these things crop up, we do have a mechanism for addressing them,” she said.

      She added that enforcement, which she said was introduced “in parallel” with the closures, is a last resort for her.

      In addition, she said that information has been published at some universities and “parties happening in certain situations”.

      When asked if there might be a point during the pandemic at which nightclubs and banquet hall could reopen, she said she could foresee that happening after certain health developments.

      “Once we get to that phase where we have immunity through a vaccine or through effective treatments for large numbers of people then, yes, we would absolutely be looking at getting things back to the types of social interactions and events, whether it’s sport or arts or nightclubs, as soon as we possibly can,” she said.

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