B.C. announces 30 more COVID-19 cases and three more deaths on March 16, and restricts gatherings to 50 people

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      As expected, B.C.'s provincial health officer has reported a double-digit increase in positive test results for the novel coronavirus since the last briefing on Saturday (March 14).

      Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters that there have been 30 new cases of COVID-19, bringing B.C.'s total to 103.

      Three more residents of the Lynn Valley Care Centre have died, she revealed, bringing the number of fatalities to four.

      Henry delivered her daily briefing alongside Health Minister Adrian Dix, who expressed remorse for the families of those who passed away.

      "This is a very sad situation," Dix said. "We pass on our condolences to their families."

      Six people are in acute care and five are fully recovered.

      According to Henry, there are new cases in four health regions: Vancouver Coastal, Fraser, Vancouver Island, and Interior.

      Henry disclosed that at least four cases, and possibly more, are related to a large dental conference that took place in Vancouver on March 6 and 7.

      "That is very concerning to me," Henry said. "We also know that cases have been detected from that conference in other provinces across Canada."

      She declared that anybody who attended that conference needs to self-isolate immediately.

      "They should not be at work," Henry said. "They should not be at school. They should not be around others. This is the critical time when we're starting to see people turning up with illness related to this conference."

      The province has also restricted the maximum size of public gatherings to 50 people. That's down from the maximum of 250, which was announced last week.

      "This is not forever, but it is is important for now and for the foreseeable future—for the next few weeks," Henry said.

      This comes in the wake of the closure of casinos across B.C.

      Henry and Dix both emphasized again that people who have returned to Canada from outside the country must self-isolate for 14 days.

      "This is incredibly important for us," Henry said. "The vast majority of our cases have been imported cases. And we now recognize that there are no safe places around the world.

      "People are being identified across the United States," Henry continued. "People are being identified in countries that may not recognize that they have transmission of this disease. Additionally, we have people who have been identified with COVID-19 from multiple cruises in many parts of the world."

      The goal, she stated, was to break transmission chains. And Henry said people with the virus can't be helped unless they stay away from others.

      "The good news is that most of the people that we have been seeing who have been travelling internationally—most of them—have relatively mild disease and are staying in isolation at home." 

      Health Minister Adrian Dix says Americans should not visit British Columbia.

      Dix tells Americans not to come to B.C.

      The health minister expressed concern that the federal government is still allowing access from the United States into Canada, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak in King and Snohomish counties in nearby Washington state.

      "It's our strong view and it's our strong message that visitors from the United States not come to British Columbia," Dix said. "Don't come because at this moment, that is the wrong thing to do."

      Dix also talked about "fundamental changes" to the acute-care system to ensure that British Columbians are safe and to prepare for a possible wave of COVID-19 cases.

      "British Columbia health authorities are directed to move all hospitals in province to Outbreak Response Phase 2," he said. "This means hospitals will only undertake urgent and emergency procedures and will postpone all non-urgent scheduled surgeries."

      He said thousands of scheduled surgeries and elective surgeries will be cancelled and that will free up "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hospital beds".

      "In addition, we are working with the extraordinary staff who provide scheduled surgeries in the province to ensure that they are moved over to support urgent needs in the hospital in critical care," Dix stated. "And we'll be working with surgeons and anaesthesiologists, nurses and cleaning staff to see that that happens in the most effective possible ways."

      Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver is moving to Outbreak Phase 3, which means it will only accept emergency patients. The health minister pointed out that it has already had cases of COVID-19, so he described this as an "appropriate response".

      In addition, Dix pledged that the ministry is aiming to gain more access to long-term care beds so that people can be decamped from acute care if they no longer need to be there.

      That's not all. The provincial government has also directed the College of Pharmacists of B.C. to permit pharmacists to refill prescriptions without requiring an additional physician's note.

      "This will save time in doctors' offices and allow us both to protect people in the system and also to ensure that doctors can focus on more urgent matters," Dix said. 

      Doctors will be compensated for providing "virtual services" to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

      In long-term care facilities, only essential visitors will be permitted.