British Columbia

B.C. health officials encourage wearing of masks, as 21 new cases of COVID-19 announced

Health officials are urging those who can to wear a mask on transit and in other confined spaces, including grocery stores, after confirming 21 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday.

No new deaths have been recorded, leaving province's total at 189

Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry walk through the basement of the legislature on their way to Thursday's COVID-19 briefing in Victoria, B.C. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Health officials are urging those who can to wear a mask on transit and in other confined spaces, such as grocery stores.

It's advice they've offered up before, but on Thursday Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made a point of repeating it, as new COVID-19 cases in B.C. continue to tick upwards, with the announcement of 21 new cases for the second day in a row.

That follows the announcement of 62 new cases over the weekend.

Henry said the new cases announced Thursday include 18 test positives and three epidemiologically linked cases. To date, 3,170 people have had confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in B.C., including 192 active cases.

There are 15 people in hospital with the disease caused by the virus, including three in intensive care. No new deaths have been recorded, leaving B.C.'s total at 189.

There are now four cases related to an outbreak at the Krazy Cherry Fruit Co. in the Okanagan, and 27 cases that have been linked to community exposure events in Kelowna in late June and early July.

On Thursday morning, more details were released about a serology study, the first of its kind in Canada, which suggests fewer than one per cent of British Columbians were infected with coronavirus by the time first wave restrictions were eased in May.

Henry said the rates of infection are most likely much lower outside of the Lower Mainland, and numbers are far too low to allow for herd immunity protection. Still, she said the results speak to the success of measures taken to curb the spread early in the pandemic.

"This tells us that we still have very low levels of this virus," Henry said. "We have done a good job at preventing community spread here in British Columbia."

Mask wearing encouraged

During Thursday's briefing, Henry also addressed the use of face masks on public transit as well as other confined spaces where physical distancing isn't possible.

"We should be wearing masks on public transit all the time. I do and I expect others to as well," she said.

She added that enforcement of any mandatory mask rules is tricky.

"We know it's sometimes hard to tell when someone cannot wear a mask. It may be around physical disability — not being able to put one on or off — [and] there are very few medical reasons why people can't wear masks," she said.

But Henry stressed that masks are safe to wear for most people — they don't deprive the wearer of oxygen or exacerbate asthma or other lung conditions.

'A tragedy for all of us'

Henry also spoke to the latest numbers on overdose deaths in B.C. June marked the deadliest month ever in B.C.'s ongoing opioid crisis after 175 British Columbians died of an illicit drug overdose, the second record-breaking month in a row.

"This ongoing crisis reminds us we need to put as much time, effort, kindness, for caring for people who use drugs as we have responding to the pandemic," Henry said.

"This is a tragedy for all of us."

She said the toxicity of street drugs has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and she urged all British Columbians to reach out to friends and family who use drugs to make sure they're OK.

"This is a very dangerous time for people who use drugs," Henry said. "We need to not assume that our friends are OK. We need to reach out and have those conversations."

Once again, Henry urged the federal government to decriminalize people who possess small amounts of drugs for personal use. Both she and Health Minister Adrian Dix said it's time to stop viewing addiction as a choice.

 

With files from Roshini Nair

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