The Year in Review: How B.C. responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

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      It’s the year we all wish didn’t happen. But it did—and what a year it was.

      For many people, the changes witnessed this year are the most far-reaching they have seen in their lifetimes, and would have been unthinkable a year ago. Everyone's experience of the pandemic greatly differed, ranging from mild frustrations to tragic losses and hardships.  

      What was common, however, was the uncertainty of what would happen next as we continued along.

      Looking back over what has occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic began in British Columbia, a great deal has taken place within this province alone that can be both surprising and intriguing to review.

      With the calendar year finally coming to a close, here’s an overview of some key dates and developments that have taken place in B.C. this year.

      January 21: The first North American case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Seattle, Washington.

      January 25: Canada confirms its first COVID-19 case, a man in his 50s in Toronto who returned from Wuhan, China. His wife becomes the country’s second case.

      January 28: B.C. confirms its first COVID-19 case—a man in his 40s who returned from Wuhan to Vancouver.

      January 30: The World Health Organization declares the COVID-19 pandemic to be a global health emergency.

      February 4: B.C. identifies its second case as a woman in her 50s in Vancouver Coastal Health who had visitors from Wuhan.  

      February 6: B.C.'s third and fourth cases are identified as a man and woman who travelled from Hubei province, China, to Vancouver.

      February 14: The first case in B.C. outside the Vancouver Coastal Health region—a woman in her 30s in Interior Health, who returned from China—is identified as the province's fifth case.

      February 20: B.C. identifies its first case that can't be traced directly to Wuhan (and the sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.): a woman in her 30s in the Fraser Health region who travelled from Iran. This point marks a shift to cases coming from locations outside of China. 

      February 22: A passenger who travelled from Montreal to Vancouver on February 14 is confirmed with COVID-19.

      March 3: Three more cases in B.C. are confirmed, and all are among people who returned from Iran. 

      March 5: The Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver becomes the first longterm centre with a positive case when a staff member tests positive.

      Meanwhile, B.C. reports its largest number of new cases for one day since the pandemic began: eight cases. None of the cases are directly linked to China.

      Four of the cases are contacts of someone who travelled to Iran. Two other cases are travellers returning from Iran. One case is a woman from Seattle visiting relatives in Fraser Health. 

      The eighth case is a woman in her 50s in Vancouver Coastal Health who has no recent travel history—it's Canada's first potential case of transmission through community contact. 

      Lynn Valley Care Centre

      March 6: B.C. announces its pandemic response plan, which includes preparing healthcare for increased illness; protecting vulnerable citizens, including seniors and healthcare workers; supporting institutions; and preparing for increased workforce absences.

      March 7:  When B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry asks for everyone's help to protect elderly people from the pandemic, she becomes emotional and pauses to fight back tears during a live B.C. COVID-19 update.

      She later explains that she knows how stressful the situation is for healthcare workers, her colleagues, and families and people dealing with the impact. She becomes praised for the honesty of her emotion and compassion, as she becomes increasingly regarded with admiration for her approach.

      March 9: Henry announces that a resident with underlying health conditions at the Lynn Valley Care Centre is Canada’s first COVID-19 death.

      March 10: Air Canada suspends all flights to and from Italy, which declares a nationwide quarantine. 

      March 12: B.C. limits all public gatherings to a maximum of 250 people, which leads to cancellations of numerous events.

      Meanwhile, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is revealed to have tested positive for the coronavirus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau goes into a 14-day self-isolation. On March 28, Grégoire Trudeau announces on social media that she has recovered.

      March 13: The federal government postpones the start of cruise ship season that was originally slated for April 2.

      March 15: As B.C.’s school spring break (March 15 to 26) took place later than Quebec (March 2 to 9) and Ontario (March 16 to 20), reports of infected travellers returning to Quebec prompts B.C. to warn citizens not to travel during the break, which is thought to have helped prevent additional case numbers in B.C.

      Mid- to late March: Panic buying begins, resulting in empty store shelves. High demand for items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer makes them difficult to find. 

      Numerous venues and places begin to close, including tourist attractions like Science World and Whistler; museums and art galleries, such as the Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Art Gallery; performing arts venues; cinemas, from Vancity Theatre and the Rio Theatre to Cineplex movie theatres; and fitness centres and yoga studios.

      Also, post-secondary institutions—UBC, SFU, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and more—shift to online instruction. Numerous TV and film projects suspend production. Live music concerts and festivals are cancelled.

      March 16: B.C. surpasses the 100th-case mark for total cases.

      Henry restricts public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people. All casinos, gaming centres, and bingo halls are ordered to close.

      The City of Vancouver closes all libraries, theatre, and park board facilities.

      Trudeau announces Canada will close its borders to anyone who isn’t Canadian or American.

      B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth
      Province of British Columbia

      March 17: Henry declares a public health emergency, and orders all nightclubs and bars to close.

      In the U.K., British screen star Idris Elba tests positive, and his wife, Sabrina Dhowre from Vancouver, later tests positive too. 

      March 18: B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth declares a provincial state of emergency.

      March 19: The City of Vancouver declares a state of emergency. With a cumulative total of 271 cases, B.C. has the highest case count in Canada.

      March 20: Both the City of Vancouver and Henry order all restaurants to stop dine-in services and shift to takeout or delivery.

      The Vancouver Park Board closes all of its 166 playgrounds, with other Metro Vancouver municipalities following suit.

      Also, B.C. Parks suspends all camping in its provincial parks, which it later extends until May 31.

      Meanwhile, TransLink suspends all fare payments and all passengers must board through rear doors.

      The Canada–U.S. border is closed to all non-essential travel.

      Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart

      March 21: The City of Vancouver orders all eateries to stop dine-in services.

      Henry orders all personal-service businesses—including hair salons and barbershops, nail bars, massage parlours, tattoo parlours, and more—to close.

      March 22: The Vancouver Park Board closes all public outdoor recreation facilities and spaces at parks and beaches, removes logs from beaches to discourage people from sitting close together, and closes parking lots at its busiest parks.

      March 23: Henry announces a change in testing criteria to focus on healthcare workers, longterm care, and case clusters that aren’t linked to travel. The new strategy sparks concerns that not all cases are being identified.

      March 24: Henry confirms that a North Vancouver dentist who attended the Pacific Dental Conference (held from March 5 to 7), where an outbreak developed, has died.

      Meanwhile, Dix says over 3,600 beds in acute care in hospitals have been prepared for increasing case loads.

      March 25: B.C. Parks and Metro Vancouver begin closing specific parks.

      As the epicentre of the epidemic shifts from Europe to North America and the U.S. surges past Italy and China to have the most cases in the world, the Canadian government begins requiring any travellers entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.

      Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam

      March 26: B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth uses emergency powers to stop panic-buying and hoarding, to prohibit the resale of goods, and for enforcing provincial health orders for business closures and social gatherings.

      "This is not a drill—it's a pandemic," Premier John Horgan says at a news conference.

      March 27: Henry says that she is cautiously optimistic that restrictions have begun to have an impact on case numbers.

      Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces he has tested positive.

      March 29: After a spike in break-ins at closed businesses, many businesses, particularly on Robson Street, cover up their storefronts with boarding or construction hoarding.

      Also, a cheer for healthcare and essential workers begins being held every night at 7 p.m.

      Meanwhile, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she hopes that provinces like Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec follow the example of B.C. in lowering its case numbers.

      Many stores on Robson Street covered up their storefronts to protect themselves from break-ins during the initial health restriction period.
      Craig Takeuchi

      March 31: B.C. passes the 1,000th-case mark for cumulative total cases confirmed.

      March: By late March, an emergency hospital with 271 beds is created at the Vancouver Convention Centre for any potential surges in hospital patients that exceed hospital capacities. To date, this makeshift hospital intended for patients who don't have COVID-19 and don't have acute care needs, has remained unused. However, it remains ready to be operational within 48-hours notice. 

      April: Several Asian Canadian organizations, including the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, and Vancouver marketing agency Hamazaki Wong each launch their own awareness campaigns to counter anti-Asian attacks. Meanwhile, municipal, provincial, and federal politicians speak out against the discrimination and attacks.

      April 1: Henry issues health guidelines for businesses and social gatherings.

      April 2: Windows of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Chinatown are found defaced with racist graffiti. On May 1, Vancouver police release images of the suspect.

      April 3: Due to significant decreases in demand for travel, B.C. Ferries announces service reductions, route cancellations, and layoffs.

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

      Meanwhile, after U.S. President Donald Trump says he will stop the export of ventilators and masks from the U.S. into Canada and Latin America, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says Canada and the U.S. need to work together for our collective benefit, and that any response to the U.S. measures should be based on science and as Canadians, rather than “tit for tat”.

      April 6: Application open for Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

      April 8: The Vancouver Park Board closes Stanley Park to vehicle access to prevent illegal parking and to ensure enough room for physical distancing by park users. Meanwhile, B.C. Parks closes all of its provincial parks.

      April 17: Henry presents statistical data to show British Columbians have made a difference in reducing case numbers. Modelling shows B.C.’s pandemic situation more closely resembles South Korea’s than those in Hubei, China, or Northern Italy. A total of 1,517 cases have been confirmed by April 14. 

      April 18: Downtown Eastside housing activists hold a news conference to announce an encampment has been formed at Lord Strathcona school to protect homeless people from COVID-19, drawing attention to lacking health measures for those without housing by the City of Vancouver. 

      Housing activists form a new encampment to protect homeless people from COVID-19.

      April 20: After losing $75 million per month and ridership down by 83 percent, TransLink announces layoffs of about 1,500 employees and service cuts. On May 8, TransLink announces it will suspend the cuts as it continues talks with the provincial government.

      April 21: Air Canada announces it will suspend all flights between Canada and the U.S. as of April 26, with plans to resume flights on May 22.

      April 26 and May 11: Anti-lockdown activists march through Vancouver to protest COVID-19 health restrictions—even though B.C. announces its reopening plan.

      April 28: B.C. passes the 2,000th-case mark for total cases. 

      May 1: The Vancouver Park Board reopens VanDusen Botanical Gardens and begins reopening golf courses (pitch and putt follows on June 9). 

      May 4: At a modelling update, Henry says B.C. is reaching the end of the beginning phase of the pandemic and has seen a “dramatic and sustained decrease in the number of new cases” since implementing restrictions.

      May 5: The outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre is declared over—there are 76 cases (52 residents and 26 staff) and 20 residents who have died in this outbreak.

      At the B.C. COVID-19 update, Henry says there are only eight new cases—the same number as March 5, which was (at that time) the highest case count for one day since the pandemic began.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announce the province's restart plan on May 6.
      Province of British Columbia

      May 6: B.C. unveils the four phases of its reopening plan.

      May 14: B.C. parks reopen for day use with health restrictions.

      May 15: The B.C. government announces its five-stage plan for reopening schools, beginning on June 1.

      May 19: B.C. begins Phase 2 of its provincial reopening plan, in which limited social interactions can resume and schools reopen for voluntary attendance.

      Meanwhile, lion sculptures at Chinatown’s Millennium Gate are defaced with anti-Asian graffiti.

      May 22: The Vancouver Park Board begins reopening parking lots at beaches and parks that were closed on March 22.

      Also, Henry announces restrictions for drive-in movie theatres, with a maximum of 50 vehicles.

      Meanwhile, the Vancouver Police Department announces at a news conference that there are 29 anti-Asian case files under investigation, with another 10 files that could be classified as hate crimes at a later date, and increases its measures to address these assaults.

      Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow

      June 1: Schools reopen for voluntary in-class attendance. Approximately 30 percent of all students attend the first day.

      Meanwhile, after numerous protests held around the world—including marches across North America after the death of George Floyd, clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police in Hong Kong, and rallies about working conditions in Paris—including in B.C., health officials fear that these gatherings may turn into superspreader events.

      However, Henry later reveals that public health is surprised to learn that there aren’t any cases linked to Vancouver protests. Although the reasons why remain unclear, Henry says one possibility may be because people were primarily facing one direction rather than interacting face-to-face, while also outdoors.

      June 4: Countering the initial worldwide preoccupation with the virus coming from China, Henry reveals in a pandemic analysis of virus strains that the vast majority of cases in B.C. have come from Washington state (75 percent of cases in Vancouver Coastal Health), Eastern Canada, and Europe (the latter two are the source of over 50 percent of cases in the Fraser region)—not Asia.

      Also in contrast to misperceptions that Asians are contributing to COVID-19 case transmission, Richmond—which has one of the region's largest Asian populations—is revealed to have had the lowest number of total cases among five Metro Vancouver regions.

      June 17: White Rock Pier reopens after being closed since March 23.

      June 18: B.C. Parks closes Peace Arch Park at the Canada–U.S. border, after reports of people using the area for reunions between those separated by the border.

      June 23: For the 100th B.C. COVID-19 briefing, Henry reports that B.C. has managed to flatten its curve and that there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in hospitalizations since the restart plan began. However, Henry says that beginning Phase 3 makes her feel “nervous”.

      Province of British Columbia

      June 24: B.C. begins Phase 3 of the provincial restart plan, which includes the reopening of hotels and resorts, parks, film and TV industries, and entertainment venues like movie theatres.

      June 25: Vancouver Canucks announce that the NHL is no longer considering Vancouver as a hub city for the NHL Playoffs.

      June and July: Several exposure events take place at nightlife venues in Downtown Vancouver, including Brandi’s Exotic Show Lounge (June 21 to 25), the Belmont Hotel (June 27 and 29), and No. 5 Orange (July 1).

      July: Private parties from June 25 to July 6 at resort hotels in Kelowna involving eight people from Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, Interior Health, and Alberta lead to an outbreak.

      June 30: During a period of low case numbers, Henry announces the news many have long waited for: visits to longterm healthcare facilities can resume with protective measures in place.

      On the same day, Henry takes over the social media account of Hollywood star Olivia Munn (as part of the Pass the Mic initiative) to spread messages about health measures.

      July and August: Private parties become a persistent problem, and a source of transmission for numerous cases.

      B.C. Premier John Horgan
      Province of British Columbia

      July 2: Henry says that Canada Border Services Agency informed her that the majority of American license plates appearing in B.C. belong to Canadians returning from the U.S.

      However, after hearing from numerous concerned British Columbians, Horgan says at a news conference that he spoke with deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland to address the “Alaska loophole” that allows Americans to travel through B.C. between the U.S. and Alaska.

      July 16: The Vancouver Police Department reports that there have been 155 hate-related incidents, including anti-Asian attacks, compared to 69 incidents in the same time period in 2019.

      July 20: With numerous flareups across the province and a cumulative total of 3,300 cases, Henry warns that B.C. is at a “turning point” and “explosive growth” is possible.

      July 21: North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre reveals that it had received a hoax phone call on March 8 that appeared to be from health authorities, prompting staff to take action immediately. Staff learned the next day the call was a hoax, but it had diverted time and resources away from other issues. North Vancouver RCMP launched an investigation and arrested a suspect.

      July 21: Social media images and videos of a large drumming gathering without masks or physical distancing at Third Beach on July 21 sparks criticism. Horgan says examples like these are “an opportunity for people to give themselves a bit of a shake and act better”.

      July 22: Henry introduces new health guidelines for nightlife, including designated seating, no dancefloors allowed, and measures to reduce lineups and congestion.

      On the same day, Henry says there are over 70 cases linked to an outbreak from parties in Kelowna on the Canada Day long weekend.

      The same week, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control issues guidelines for sex during the pandemic, which include wearing masks during sex, avoiding face-to-face positions, using physical barriers like glory holes, and that the safest sex is masturbation and virtual sex.

      July 24: A suspected outbreak on Haida Gwaii is confirmed with 13 cases.

      Former B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming, with Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      July 29: B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming announces that schools will restart on September 8. However, teachers, staff, parents, and stakeholders raise concerns that more time and health precautions are needed to address various issues.

      July 30: The Canada Border Services Agency introduces new travel restrictions for those travelling through B.C. between Alaska and the U.S., including using only specific points of entry and displaying a tag that includes their departure date.

      August 5 and 6: TransLink and B.C. Transit announce that masks are mandatory on all transit vehicles.

      August 11: After much public pressure, Minister Fleming announces that the province will shift to a phased approach for restarting schools.

      As positive cases increase among younger populations across Canada, Henry asks all British Columbians to be her voice on social media; Horgan asks to Vancouver-raised celebrities Seth Rogen and Ryan Reynolds to use social media to appeal to youth to practice health precautions; and B.C. starts a social influencer campaign. 

      Ryan Reynolds

      August 21: B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth empowers officers to issue fines ($2,000 to owners, organizers, or operators and $200 to individuals who fail to follow directions or respond with abuse) to those violating provincial health orders.

      September 8: Henry orders all nightclubs and banquet halls to close until further notice.

      On the same day, teachers return to schools to prepare for students to return two days later on September 10. While Fleming faced much criticism for the restart of schools, this time frame also marks a period in which Henry faced heightened criticism as teachers, parents, and others involved in schools continued to express concerns and fears about returning to schools.

      September 9: The B.C. government announces a $1.6 billion plan to bolster healthcare during flu season.

      September 22: Henry reveals that she had received death threats, in addition to abusive letters and phone calls.

      September 26: The Vancouver Park Board reopens Stanley Park to full vehicle access.

      October 15: B.C. confirms its first case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in a child, under the age of five years old.

      October 22: Interior Health declares an outbreak at École de l’Anse-au-sable in Kelowna—the province’s first outbreak at a school.

      Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump and Melania Trump test positive.

      October 31: Social media images and videos of crowds of maskless Halloween partiers gathering without social distancing on Granville Street draws criticism and concerns.

      Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      November 7: In response to a “steady…and worrisome increase” in case numbers, Henry announces new temporary health orders for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

      The orders restrict social gatherings to household members, limit travel to essential trips, a requirement for all workplaces to conduct screenings of employees, and suspend indoor group physical activities.

      In addition, all limousines, party buses, and similar vehicles must stop operating.

      November 19: With a cumulative total of almost 25,000 cases, Henry orders all high-intensity indoor physical activity to remain cancelled for the autumn and winter seasons, and both extends her previous order to December 7 and expands them to all of B.C. 

      After long resisting calls for making masks mandatory and facing criticism for not doing so, Henry finally makes masks required to be worn in all public places, after hearing from those in public and retail sectors who had been having challenges in asking customers to wear masks.

      In addition, Henry bans all indoor and outdoor social gatherings, including religious services and previously approved events. Socializing is limited to household members. 

      November 20: Days after the Yukon's chief medical health officer advises Yukoners against travel into B.C. due to escalating numbers here, Yukon ends its travel bubble with B.C.—anyone entering the Yukon has to self-isolate for 14 days.

      December 6: Fraser Health declares an outbreak at an unnamed mink farm in the Fraser Valley. On December 9 Fraser Health confirms that minks test positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns that it could be the mutated virus found at mink farms in Europe.

      Getty Images

      December 7: Henry further extends her previously expanded health orders until January 8.

      December 9: At a daily briefing with the commander of the Immunize B.C. Operation Centre, Dr. Ross Brown, B.C. unveils its vaccination program.

      December 13: Approximately 4,000 vaccines arrive in B.C., and vaccinations for healthcare workers begin in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health on December 15. Residential care aide Nisha Yunus becomes the first person in B.C. to receive the vaccine.

      December 15: After a weekend of 49 deaths, B.C. announces increased enforcement in an attempt to prevent transmission amid level but high case counts.

      Meanwhile, updated guidelines on permits low-intensity indoor physical activity to resume with updated safety plans.

      December 17: French President Emmanuel Macron tests positive after meeting with several European leaders.

      December 20: Canada suspends all flights from the U.K. for 72 hours after a variant form of COVID-19 is detected in southern England.  

      December 23: As B.C. approaches the Christmas and New Year holidays, Henry and Dix report a cumulative total of 48,027 cases and a total of 796 deaths.

      Nisha Yunus receives B.C.'s first COVID-19 vaccine in Vancouver Coastal Health.
      Province of British Columbia
      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.