British Columbia

9 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in B.C. as major prison outbreak declared over

One of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in B.C. has been declared over as the total number of confirmed cases across the province climbs to 2,558.

2 more people have died in long-term care homes for a total of 164 deaths to date

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily update on B.C.'s COVID-19 numbers on May 28, 2020. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

One of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in B.C. has been declared over as the total number of confirmed cases across the province climbs by nine to 2,558.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she was pleased to announce the outbreak of COVID-19 at Mission Institution has ended after 120 inmates and several correctional officers tested positive for the virus and one inmate died.

However, B.C. has recorded two more deaths from the coronavirus in long-term care homes in the Fraser Health region. One hundred and sixty-four people have now died from COVID-19 in B.C, including 93 residents of long-term care homes.

Health Minister Adrian Dix described the deaths of so many of B.C.'s elderly and vulnerable residents as a "blow to everyone."

He said operators of care homes around the province are still working to implement a public health order limiting employees to working at a single facility, describing that process as "challenging."

A total 2,153 patients have recovered from their illness, leaving 241 active cases across B.C. Of those, 33 patients are in hospital, including six in intensive care.

B.C. hospitals are now at about 70 per cent of capacity after 30,000 non-urgent elective surgeries were cancelled beginning in March to clear space for COVID-19 patients.

Now that the peak of the crisis appears to have passed and surgeries are being rescheduled, Dix said nearly 18,000 patients have been contacted about finding new dates for their procedures. The province hopes to have all operating rooms in the province — including those in contracted private facilities — working at full capacity by June 15.

Also on Thursday, Henry announced one new outbreak in long-term care at Nicola Lodge in Port Coquitlam, where one person has tested positive for the virus. There are currently 15 active outbreaks in long-term care or assisted living and one in the acute care unit of a hospital.

B.C.'s other public health emergency

Henry also took time to address the spike in suspected overdose deaths in April. She said the deaths of 117 people — mostly men — demonstrate that COVID-19 isn't the only health emergency facing the province.

"We also are mindful of this other public health crisis that continues … and we are working hard to address that emergency as well," she said.

Henry said health officials are working to ensure a safe supply of drugs for those who use illicit substances, but the overdose crisis remains a "complex problem" with no easy solution.

Drug toxicity seems to have increased in recent weeks, according to Henry, while access to overdose prevention sites has been interrupted for some. Calls for physical distancing and self-isolation have also led to more people using alone, which increases the risk of fatal overdoses, she added.

"This is a very risky situation for people who end up using alone because they are afraid or ashamed to talk to their family … about their drug use," she said.

Once again, Henry called for decriminalization of drug possession and elimination of the stigma around drug use.

Earlier this week, Premier John Horgan extended the provincial state of emergency by another two weeks, making it the longest state of emergency in B.C.'s history.

The provincial government has announced a new job portal to find up to 8,000 agricultural workers needed to deal with a major employee shortage created by the pandemic. Without those workers, there could be a backlog in food production.

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With files from Courtney Dickson