COVID-19 in B.C.: Questions about the Canada-U.S. border, store policies for masks, wet markets, and dating and sex

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      Today, the number of new cases that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced at the daily B.C. COVID-19 update remained among the lowest in recent weeks, and the number of hospitalized cases continues to decrease.

      Both Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix answered questions about travel and border control, mask-wearing policies in stores, wet markets, and dating and sex.

      Daily update

      Today (May 12), Dr. Henry confirmed that there are seven new cases, for a cumulative total of 2,360 cases in B.C.

      There have been 874 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,124 cases in Fraser Health, 125 in Island Health, 180 in Interior Health, and 57 in Northern Health.

      Currently, there are 397 active cases. Dr. Henry also corrected the number of active cases she provided yesterday—there were 504 active cases, not 634.

      In hospitals, there are 63 cases, with 16 of those patients in intensive care units.

      Once again, there aren’t any new community or long-term care facility outbreaks, and there are 482 cases in long-term care facilities (295 residents and 187 staff).

      A total of 1,832 people have now recovered.

      Unfortunately, one individual at a long-term care facility in the Fraser Health region has died, bringing the total fatalities to 131 people who have succumbed to the virus.

      Dating and sex

      When asked about dating during this time, Dr. Henry expressed her understanding of the need to do so, but added that precautions need to be taken.

      “We can do that. We have to do that. We’re social people. We need that,” she said. “But let’s do it in small, thoughtful ways, and also let’s be really concerned about ourselves, and if we’re feeling unwell or under the weather, put it off for another day.”

      She also cited the possibility of chatting or having encounters online, or going to parks to people watch as a substitute for going to bars or nightclubs.

      “There are our opportunities, but we need to be very careful about it and very cautious about it,” she said. “If you are going to start a relationship with somebody, this is not the time to do rapid serial dating. So pick somebody, see if it works, and then take your time. If you’re going to be pulling them into your small circle, then make sure you’re the only one in their circle as well.”

      She pointed out that including someone in your social bubble brings all of their chain of contacts into your world.

      “The people who I have contact with means I’m contacting their contacts too, so if there’s somebody who’s been with a whole bunch of other people, then my risk would go up that they might be infected with this, and we know that people can transmit it early on in their illness when they’re not realizing that they’re sick themselves,” she said.

      When asked about kissing, she said that there are transmission risks.

      “This is a respiratory virus that’s spread through droplets so, yes, we’ve seen it with other diseases that can be spread this way. So, yes, I would expect that if somebody was sick with it and they were kissing somebody else, they could actually quite effectively pass it on that way,” she explained.

      Wet markets

      After the backlash that Canadian rocker Bryan Adams received for his rant about COVID-19 coming from wet markets, the subject of the origin of the pandemic has come once again to the fore.

      When asked about what her concerns are about wet markets, Dr. Henry stated that they are traditional in many parts of the world.

      However, she pointed out that there is a difference between those markets and the illegal sale of exotic animals that sometimes takes place within them.

      “They are very much a source of food for many communities and that is how people get access to protein and other foods,” she said. “I think there’s a difference between that type of market and the illegal trade in exotic animals for food, which is a very different thing, often happens around the same places, and may be that a number of particularly illegal trade happens through the facility of a wet market.”

      She added that they have seen in many countries that if “appropriate infection prevention and control measures” are implemented in wet markets, they can be “very safe”.

      Mask policies in stores

      When asked about stores having policies that require all customers to wear a mask if entering their premises, she said that she doesn’t believe that masks should be required.

      For those with respiratory illnesses, she said, masks can cause breathing problems, and she added that young children can’t wear them.

      She said it is one measure, and can be used in some situations for short periods or distances, but she added that it “is not the most effective measure we have to prevent transmission”.

      However, she said it can also be a part of different cultural traditions.

      “It is, in many cultures, a sign of respect and I think that’s important too,” she said. “So we shouldn’t be stigmatizing people either for wearing them or for not wearing them, as long as we’re able to maintain our safe distances and the other measures that are important to be put in place.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix (with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry)
      Province of British Columbia

      Travel and border control

      The current agreement prohibiting nonessential travel across the Canada-U.S. border is scheduled to expire on May 21.

      Dix said that the ban on nonessential travel has to continue.

      “It would be absolutely unacceptable, after the enormous sacrifice people in B.C. have made, to take this risk right now,” he said, and reminded that we are still in Phase 1 of the pandemic plan.

      Dix said that B.C. has made its position clear to the federal government.

      “With respect to the United States right now, it would make no sense to have visitors travelling either from Canada to the United States and returning, or to have visitors—not essential traffic, but visitors—coming from the United States to Canada,” Dix previously said on May 11.

      Dr. Henry said she has been talking about the issue with her counterparts in the Yukon, Alaska, and Washington state, and she said they are not in favour of cruise ships arriving at ports or in their waters.

      “This is not the time for that type of a risk to be taken in our province and certainly not in our ports, either Vancouver or Victoria or Prince Rupert,” she said. “I do expect the federal government will be looking at the issue and coming up with their recommendations, but the orders that we have here in British Columbia will stand certainly through July 1.”

      She also said she doesn’t see any lifting of restrictions for any arrivals, even for film productions or sporting events.

      “The only thing that I see at the borders that we need to address is looking at how we can facilitate family reunification, but again I would see that in the context of people having to self-isolate when they come here,” she said.

      B.C. survey

      Dr. Henry said that B.C. has launched a survey to help understand the unintended consequences of measures taken to address the pandemic.

      The province-wide survey is asking people to share their experiences.

      Dr. Henry said there is also information about options to participate in other studies, including one about blood-testing and another about using technology for information-sharing and contact-tracing.

      The Your Story, Our Future survey is available at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.


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