British Columbia

B.C. preparing to ease some COVID-19 restrictions in May

B.C. could ease some COVID-19 restrictions next month if active cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, based on new projections. 

But only if cases keep falling. Province preparing for 2nd wave in the fall

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to the press on March 27. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

B.C. could ease some COVID-19 restrictions next month if active cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, based on new projections. 

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement Friday morning, after the release of statistics showing B.C. has so far succeeded in reducing the number of cases and avoided overwhelming the health-care system.

"We have flattened that curve," Henry said.

Activities that could return in a few weeks include elective surgeries. Other changes would help reactivate sectors of the economy that aren't contingent on large gatherings of people.

Some activities in schools could resume, but no decision has been made on whether that will happen before the end of the academic year. 

"I believe this summer, we will have the opportunity to have way more social opportunities … but we're not quite there yet. So I'm asking for patience," Henry said. 

However, Henry cautioned that significant restrictions would still be in place for some time — likely until a vaccine has been developed for the virus — and that B.C.'s continued success in avoiding a large outbreak would continue to rely on public health measures rather than developing herd immunity. 

"We are going to develop an evidence-based and thoughtful plan for our way forward," Henry said.

"It is essential for everyone in B.C. to maintain what we have been doing … [but] it is perhaps, maybe, the end of the beginning."

New modelling

Originally, B.C. relied on comparisons with Italy, South Korea and China's Hubei province to develop models of what worst-case scenarios for hospitalizations could look like.

However, the province says it will no longer rely on comparisons with Italy and Hubei. 

"B.C.'s cases have begun to plateau," Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

"We have cautious optimism about a downward trend, but only cautious optimism."

Henry said the province is developing two new models to help with decision-making — one predicting new cases in the short term, assuming no change in current measures; and one simulating what could happen if levels of physical distancing change. 

Using data collected in a partnership between the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Google Mobility Reports, the province estimates current contacts between British Columbians are around 30 per cent of normal.

They currently estimate that COVID-19 hospitalizations could remain relatively stable if B.C. went to between 40 and 60 per cent of regular contacts — but anything more would likely result in a new outbreak. 

Preparing for the fall

Health officials also are concerned about the virus returning in the fall, and have begun ordering more ventilators and adding to its number of acute care spaces as a precautionary measure. 

Much like the province's first release of modelling information three weeks ago, officials did not release projections for the number of deaths in B.C. Henry has argued that would not be "useful" to officials' planning.

Dix said finding a balance where British Columbians could resume some activities while containing the virus would be a huge task for officials in the weeks ahead. 

"We must find a healthy way forward for the next 12 to 18 months … a healthy new normal that sustains us and keeps us safe," he said. 

"We need to find a way forward that allows us to socialize. Whatever actions we take, we know there's a significant human cost if we get it wrong. The situation is complex, and it is without precedent in our lifetimes."

A model released by the B.C. government of how critical care cases for COVID-19 could develop over the coming months based on the level of restrictions in place. (BC Centre for Disease Control)