COVID-19 in B.C.: B.C. Ferries, air travel, First Nation on Sunshine Coast, nightclubs, Halloween, and more

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      With students going back to school tomorrow (September 10), nightclubs shut down, and B.C. preparing its healthcare system for flu season, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had asked everyone in the province to go back to basics when it comes to health precautions.

      “It is the time for all of us to cut back on our social interactions,” she had said at yesterday’s briefing (September 8). “This is what we all need to do now to reduce our risk of contracting COVID-19, for ourselves and for everyone around us.”

      Meanwhile, a coastal First Nation has declared a state of emergency; B.C. Premier John Horgan addressed issues about B.C. Ferries and air travel; Henry answered questions about nightclubs and Halloween; and more restaurants, bars, and flights have had confirmed cases on their premises.  

      Daily update: September 9

      Although the number of new cases dipped yesterday below 100 after four consecutive days of new case counts exceeding 100, Dr. Henry and Dix announced today that there were 100 new cases today (without any epi-linked cases).

      The number of active cases has dropped from 1,386 (yesterday) to 1,378 cases today.

      Of the active cases, 37 people are receiving treatment in hospital (an increase of five people since yesterday), with 15 of those patients in intensive care units (three more patients than yesterday). 

      Public health is monitoring 3,101 people due to exposure to confirmed cases (which is up from 3,063 people yesterday).

      Thankfully, there weren’t any new deaths announced today, leaving the total number of fatalities at 213 people who have died during the pandemic. 

      Unfortunately, there is one new healthcare outbreak at the Milieu Children and Family Services Society community living facility in Surrey. (The Georgia Straight included the outbreak at the Royal Arch Masonic Home—announced by Henry and Dix today—in yesterday’s daily update article.)

      A total of 15 healthcare facilities—12 longterm care facilities and three acute-care facilities—are currently experiencing outbreaks. 

      Henry and Dix’s statement said that there aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      However, the Tla’amin Nation, based on the Sunshine Coast in Powell River, announced a state of emergency in a news release on September 8, as reported by CBC News, and confirmed today that it has seven positive cases, as well as other citizens with symptoms who are awaiting test results. As a result, the First Nation issued a shelter-in-place order, barricaded access points in and out of the community, organized testing in the village, and is assembling food and other essentials for citizens.

      A cumulative total of 5,086 people in B.C. who previously tested positive have now recovered.

      During the pandemic so far, there has been a cumulative total of 6,691 cases in B.C., including 2,285 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health; 3,482 in Fraser Health; 185 in Island Health; 462 in Interior Health; 193 in Northern Health; and 84 cases among people who live outside Canada.

      Community exposures

      Vancouver Coastal Health has added four locations where people may have been exposed to COVID-19.

      One is at a social club in Mount Pleasant, Athens Cultural Club (114 West Broadway), during operating hours from August 26 to September 8.

      A second incident took place at the West Pub (488 Carrall Street) in Chinatown during operating hours from August 20 to September 8.

      The third event was at the Flying Beaver Bar and Grill (4760 Inglis Drive) in Richmond during operating hours from August 28 to September 3.

      A fourth potential exposure occurred at the private You Plus One electronic music event, held in the Granville and Helmcken area in Downtown Vancouver from the evening on August 29 to the early morning hours of August 30.

      Loblaw has listed several Shoppers Drug Mart locations in B.C. that have had a staff member test positive:

      • 11000 8th Street at Dawson Mall in Dawson Creek, last date employee worked was on August 27;
      • 20678 Willoughby Town Centre Drive in Langley, last date employee worked was on August 29;
      • 610 6th Street in New Westminster, last date employee worked was on September 2;
      • 4303 East Hastings Street in Burnaby, last date employee worked was on September 2;
      • 20395 Lougheed Highway at Westgate Centre in Maple Ridge, last date employee worked was on September 3.

      Meanwhile, a McDonald’s at 15574 Fraser Highway in Surrey had reportedly closed on September 8 after an employee tested positive. After being sanitized, it reopened today. The employee last worked at the location on September 5 and 6.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has added two flights confirmed with COVID-19.

      One is Flair flight 8101 from Vancouver to Edmonton on August 30, with rows 17 to 23 listed as affected.

      The second is Air Canada flight 295 from Winnipeg to Vancouver on September 5, with rows 19 to 25 listed as affected.

      Anyone who was at these locations or on these flights during the specified times or in the affected rows should reduce contact with others while monitoring for symptoms for 14 days after the date of visit or flight date. If you develop symptoms, call 811 to find out about testing while immediately self-isolating.

      Nightlife closures

      When asked further about the closures of nightclubs and banquet halls, Henry explained that public health had worked with the nightlife industry “extensively”.

      However, she said that these venues are simply not safe environments.

      “I will recognize that they have done a great job trying to make these things safe but by the nature of the environment, the type of entertainment, the things that people go to a nightclub to do, it is an inherently risky thing in this time of a pandemic, and it’s not unique to us here in B.C.,” she said, citing examples in Ontario, Quebec, and South Korea.

      Exposure incidents at these locations have taken up “a huge amount of public health resources” for contact tracing, she said. She added that the challenges in contact tracing from nightlife venues, which she had explained yesterday involves finding a lot of people who aren’t connected to one another, are “why some of this transmission has happened around the province and in other places”.

      She clarified that her orders for banquet halls do not apply to small events but are those with a primary focus on large events in numerous rooms. She added that they have seen transmission occurring at those venues repeatedly.

      In contrast, Alberta’s chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw was reported to have said that Alberta won’t be implementing any further restrictions on businesses—nightclubs in Alberta are already closed and banquet halls are limited to a maximum of 50 people.

      B.C. Ferries and air travel

      B.C. Ferries announced today that Transport Canada is cancelling its permission of travellers to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks on ferries, which was introduced at the start of the pandemic, effective September 30.

      Transport Canada has advised B.C. Ferries that the health precautions implemented, such as mandatory face masks and sanitization, allow for the ending of the temporary permission as “enclosed car decks are spaces that represent inherent risk to the travelling public”.

      One exception is Horseshoe Bay–Langdale travellers who may remain in their vehicles on the lower deck, as the route operates in what Transport Canada defines as “sheltered waters”.

      B.C. Ferries is also opening additional areas to provide more seating for physical distancing.

      When B.C. Premier Horgan was asked about this change, he said that they are disappointed with the announcement from Transport Canada that has rescinded the permission for people to remain in their vehicles while on ferries.

      “This is not something we sought,” he said. “This is something that’s being imposed,”

      Horgan said that he brought this issue up with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland earlier today, and that he will continue to press and pursue this issue “aggressively” with the federal government.

      In addition, Horgan said he has spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about ensuring airlines can provide public health with relevant passenger information for contact tracing.

      He said that while WestJet and some other carriers have been able to adapt, why Air Canada hasn’t been able to is “a mystery” to him.

      “Rather than focussing on encouraging people to get out of their cars on the car deck for the trip from Swartz Bay to Pender Island, I would prefer that Transportation Canada officials were getting us the information we need so we can protect British Columbians and keep them safe,” he said.

      While he said they have been working cooperatively with the federal government, he said that it has taken “a lot of time” to get to “some pretty simple solutions” on certain issues, such as federal correction facilities.

      Halloween

      One question that has been on a lot of minds—particularly young ones—is an upcoming annual celebration.

      Henry said she had had dozens of questions from children about Halloween.

      “Yes, absolutely,” she said. “I think we can have Halloween this year. It’s just going to look different, like everything is looking different during this pandemic.”

      She said that guidance for Halloween is in the works, and that it will involve things like having small groups outside or having pre-packaged treats ready to avoid children rummaging through things.

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