British Columbia

B.C. 'not on same trajectory as Italy,' says top doctor as cases climb to 617

B.C. provincial health officer  Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 145 new coronavirus cases in B.C. on Tuesday, bringing the total to 617.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says numbers represent 2 days of new reported cases: 67 on March 23 and 78 in last 24 hours

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry listens during a news conference regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in Vancouver, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 145 new coronavirus cases in B.C. on Tuesday, bringing the total to 617.

Henry says the numbers represent two days of new reported cases: 67 on March 23 and 78 in last 24 hours.

No additional deaths were reported.

As of Monday, 13 people have died in B.C., with 10 of those deaths associated with the Lynn Valley Care Centre.

Henry used Tuesday's briefing to assure people the numbers do not indicate that the province is headed in the same direction as some international hot spots for the virus, like Italy.

"I do not believe that we're on the same trajectory as Italy. We've also put in measures at a point in time that is quite different than when they put in measures. Our testing strategy early on helped us better understand what was happening in our community," she said.

Henry drew comparisons to Washington state and Italy, saying both jurisdictions were still playing "catch up" to locate where community transmission was happening when the virus was already spreading widely.

"We have seen in other countries, sometimes the number of people who are infected [can rapidly increase.] That's what we're holding our breath on. The measures that we're doing on a community basis and continuing the testing is what we're trying to do is break the chains of transmission."

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why not everyone in B.C. with symptoms is being tested:

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explains that testing is focused on those cases where the source of transmission is unknown. 1:23

In B.C, 59 people have been hospitalized to date; 23 of them are in intensive care.

Of the total number of cases, 330 are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 194 in Fraser Health, 44 in Vancouver Island Health, 41 in Interior Health, and nine in the Northern Health region.

"We know that there is circulation and there is risk across the province right now," said Henry.

"No community in this province is immune."

Henry said 173 people, representing 28 per cent of the total cases, have fully recovered.

Henry also acknowledged the death of a dentist who attended the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver in early March. Dr. Denis Vincent, who was in his 60s, died of suspected COVID-19-related complications this week.

His death raised concern among his patients over whether they were treated while the dentist was infected.

"That person was known to public health," Henry said Tuesday. "The public health investigation had been done, so any close contacts of that person were identified and put into isolation — anybody who was at risk from exposure to this individual was identified.

"It is tragic that he passed away and I understand the coroner is investigating. We do not have any more information at the moment about his death, but once the circumstances are confirmed, I'll be able to share that with you," she said.

2 new long-term care homes report infections

Two additional long-term care homes now have outbreaks: Little Mountain in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and Evergreen Heights in the Fraser Health region. 

Henry also addressed fears that the death rate in B.C. has been high.

"Most of our deaths, tragically, have been related to the one long-term care home," she said.

"When we look at the overall numbers ... we consider that as one event rather than 10 individual events." 

Increased testing capabilities, hospital bed capacity

Health Minister Adrian Dix said that 3,500 tests are now being done in the province every day.

He said there has been an "escalation" in the number of people who have been hospitalized, adding that B.C.'s critical care beds are currently at 55.3 per cent occupancy.

B.C. currently has 3,866 available hospital beds — room created by cancelling elective surgeries and other measures —creating a 66 per cent occupancy rate, compared to the normal occupancy rate of 103.5 per cent.

Dix said B.C.'s hospitals have never seen such low levels of occupancy as the system braces for a potential flood of patients.

"The number of cases we're seeing will continue to rise. The next few weeks will be very, very difficult," he said, stressing the importance that "100 per cent" of B.C. residents maintain social distancing by keeping two metres away from each other and staying at home as much as possible.

"It will be sometime before we see the change that we're all working toward ... What happens today matters in April, and in the months that follow that. Defeating this virus demands that we stay physically apart from each other."

Health minister explains why 100 per cent compliance with social distancing matters:

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province needs social distance compliance from everyone all the time to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 0:20

Henry echoed Dix's warning that many more COVID-19 cases will be identified in the coming weeks, and said the province is trying to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

That's why it's so important for people to stay at home when they can, keep a distance of at least two metres from other people when they need to be out and practise good hygiene, including vigilant hand-washing, she said.

"We want them to come in a trickle, not a flood," Henry said of the new cases. "What we want to make sure is that as people are going into hospital, into ICU, that we're able to manage the load so that as people recover and get out of hospital, those beds are available for others."

B.C.'s testing strategy explained

Henry also provided further details on B.C.'s testing strategy, which is based on testing protocols implemented internationally. People with symptoms who have travelled outside of Canada are not tested, freeing up testing capabilities for community cases where the source of transmission is unknown.

"This allows us to continue to widely test anybody for whom we don't know where they were exposed to this. It also means that we can aggressively test health-care workers," she said.

"To be clear, we are absolutely testing and contact tracing anybody for whom we don't know the source of their infection."

Henry said the hope is that flattening the curve and reducing the speed at which the virus spreads will prevent the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed.

"We know that we can't prevent transmission of this virus for everyone who's out there," she said.

"We want them to come in a trickle, not a flood ... If that doesn't work, we need to plan for the worst. We need to make sure that we have the capacity — that we have the beds and we have the ventilators, and most importantly, that we have the people."

Dix said that since the province launched an app for information on COVID-19, it has been downloaded around 1,000 times per hour.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

With files from Bethany Lindsay

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