COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Henry says B.C. is at a "precipice" and must bring case numbers down before flu season

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      During B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's presentation on COVID-19 modelling and data, she said that while there have been increases in new cases, hospitalizations, and within certain age groups in recent weeks, she said overall transmission rates remain low and manageable for the moment. But she added that we can't allow that to increase.

      In addition, she pointed out that the province has reached a critical timeframe for bringing the curve down before we head into the respiratory virus season anticipated in autumn.  

      In addition, she and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed issues about parties and the Labour Day long weekend and flu shots.

      Daily update: September 3

      Henry announced there are 89 new cases (including one epi-linked case) in B.C. today.

      There are now 1,175 active cases, which is an increase of 48 people from yesterday. That includes 34 patients (one new case since yesterday) in hospital (with 11 of those people in intensive care units).

      Public health is monitoring 2,801 people (up 15 people from yesterday) for exposure to confirmed cases.

      Of concern, there are two new healthcare outbreaks, each involving one case each.

      One is at Cherington Place (13453 111a Avenue), a longterm care home in Surrey, and the other is at the Point Grey Private Hospital retirement home (2423 Cornwall Avenue) in Vancouver.

      The outbreak at the Maple Ridge Seniors Home is now officially over. Accordingly, there are currently 11 active healthcare outbreaks, with a cumulative total of 730 cases (287 staff and 443 residents) involved in healthcare outbreaks during the pandemic.

      Unfortunately, there is one new death, for a total of 210 people who have died in B.C. during the pandemic.

      The cumulative total number of cases in B.C. during the pandemic is now at 6,041 cases, with 2,012 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 3,155 in Fraser Health; 178 in Island Health; 450 in Interior Health; 167 in Northern Health; and 75 among people who live outside Canada.

      A total of 4,644 people have now recovered.

      Data update

      Henry presented an update on epidemiological data and modelling for B.C. for up to August 29.

      Although she said that they have observed a “substantial increase” in numbers of new cases reported over the past few weeks, she said that there is more testing being done now than compared to the amount of testing that was being done in March.

      “What this does tell is that even though we have a higher numbers of cases, we are finding and testing more people than we were in March who had this illness so we don’t believe that the number of people who are out there with COVID-19 that aren’t detected is as high as it was when our testing was limited,” she said.

      She said the average age of cases, which used to be in the 50s, has decreased to 41 years of age.

      “What that reflects is the fact that many of our new cases are in younger people,” she said. She pointed out that there has been a significant increase in the number of cases in the 20 to 29 year old age range over the past few months, and that this age group has become the largest proportion of new cases.

      In July and August, Henry said there were “dramatic increases in growth” of new cases among those 20 to 39 years old, and she added that they have also seen some increases among children and those 40 to 49 years old over the past week. 

      Although Henry observed that there has been an uptick in hospitalized cases recently, with 21 new patients in hospital last week, she said the hospitalization rate remains low and is lower than the first wave (when 20 percent of cases were hospitalized)—she said this also reflects the large number of new cases among younger age groups.

      A total of 588 people (11 percent of all cases) have been hospitalized during the pandemic, with an average age of 41 years.

      The fatality rate is four percent of all cases, with an average age of 85 years old, “reflecting that this virus is most lethal to our elders and seniors,” Henry said.

      In examining settings where transmissions have been taking place, she said that for children and older adults, the main exposure setting has been in households, usually from an adult.

      She said that in workplace settings, transmission has usually been between workers.

      “For the most part what we have not seen is a lot of transmission in workplaces from workers to the public in many settings,” she said.

      For those in the 20 to 49 years old age range, she noted there has been clusters of cases linked to restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, as well as private parties.

      Overall, she said that B.C.’s transmission rates remain low. The highest rates are in Fraser Health (about 16 per 100,000 population) and Vancouver Coastal Health (about 19 per 100,000). She said based on guidance from Europe and the U.S., the threshold for being safe for opening schools and business is around 25 per 100,000.

      When looking at modelling scenarios of how things might develop if we continue on at current rates, Henry said we are around an estimated 60 to 65 percent of our normal level of contacts and that we retain the ability to change outcomes.

      “We still have it in our hands, in our actions, to bend our curve back down, and that is what we need to focus on now,” she said. “We’re at that limit—we’re at that precipice, if you will—where we need to take the actions to ensure that we can move forward into the fall and keep our curve low.”

      Henry said that we need to avoid high-risk activities, such as spending time with groups of people we don’t know or not practicing health measures, in order to prevent further spread of the virus.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      Labour Day weekend

      Long weekends have proven to be problematic time periods, as previous parties and gatherings have turned into transmission events.

      As we head into another long weekend, Dix reminded people to keep numbers small for any social gatherings while using health precautions.

      Meanwhile, North Vancouver RCMP is asking parents to speak with children to remind them about provincial health orders and potential penalties they could face.

      A traditional grad sleepout and camping event and party held by students entering Grade 12 in the North Shore mountains before heading back to school next week.

      “In our experience, students who have participated in grad sleepouts are generally responsible young people enjoying the natural increases in freedom we all experienced as we grew up,” North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Peter DeVries said in a news release. “We just want to remind them and their parents that with increased freedom comes increased responsibility.” 

      Grade 12 students under 18 years of age are still considered youths under the law. 

      “That means when it comes to provincial or municipal fines for offences, parents may still be legally on the hook to pay up,” DeVries explained.

      On August 21, the B.C. government empowered officers to issue fines for provincial health order violations, including $2,000 tickets to owners, organizers, or operators, and $200 tickets to individuals.

      Meanwhile in other back-to-school news, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming provided details today about how $242 million in federal funding will be allocated to improve health and safety in schools.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

      Flu shots

      When asked about influenza season, she said that the example of how countries in the Southern Hemisphere (which were experiencing autumn and winter during our spring and summer) provided some sense of what could happen this fall.

      “It is a slight glimmer of hope, we can say, that it seems the measures they’re taking to prevent COVID-19 and the very high influenza immunization rates that they achieved in much of the Southern Hemisphere have made a difference,” she said, noting that what happens there doesn’t always happen here and vice versa.

      Henry said we all need to do our part to stop influenza, including getting a flu shot “even if this is the first time that you’ve ever had it”, to protect everyone.

      She explained that they need to be able to tell the difference between influenza and COVID-19, as the symptoms are quite similar.

      Air travel

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has identified three flights (two international and one domestic) with COVID-19.

      One was Air Tahiti Nui flight 68 from Tahiti to Vancouver on August 22 (affected rows not reported). Air Tahiti Nui flight 68 from Vancouver to Paris also on August 22 was also listed (affected rows not reported).

      Meanwhile, Air Canada flight 122 from Vancouver to Toronto on August 28 lists rows 18 to 22 as being affected.

      Anyone on these flights or in specified rows should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and reduce contact with others. If symptoms develop, contact 811 (if in B.C.) for testing while immediately self-isolating.

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