British Columbia

Low COVID-19 rates make this 'perfect time' to reopen Vancouver, Coastal Health's top doctor says

The relatively low COVID-19 infection rate within the Vancouver Coastal Health region gives the authority's chief medical health officer confidence the next phase of reopening the city — which includes many businesses and playgrounds — will go smoothly.

Dr. Patricia Daly says opioid crisis is the more pressing health emergency in Downtown Eastside

'The opioid overdose emergency is the more serious public health emergency in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where we haven't had any COVID-19 outbreaks,' Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The relatively low COVID-19 infection rate within the Vancouver Coastal Health region gives the authority's chief medical health officer confidence the next phase of reopening the city — which includes many businesses and playgrounds — will go smoothly.

Dr. Patricia Daly says of the 898 patients within the region who have contracted the virus, the vast majority have recovered.

"This is the perfect time to reopen," she said.

"Now is the best time to begin the reopening because our levels are so low."

The other health crisis

But while Daly's tone was mostly optimistic at a Thursday morning news conference at Vancouver City Hall, she also said she is extremely concerned about a recent spike in overdose deaths.

The city had 32 overdose deaths in April, its highest total in several months and roughly double the monthly totals reported earlier this year.

"The opioid overdose emergency is the more serious public health emergency in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where we haven't had any COVID-19 outbreaks," she said.

"We are concerned because we are seeing fewer people use the overdose prevention services that have been made available down there."

A worker paints a display at Hudson’s Bay on Granville Street in Vancouver on March 11. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Financial woes

Mayor Kennedy Stewart also raised several concerns about the state of the city's economy at the news conference.

Stewart says nearly 14,000 businesses in the city have closed either temporarily or permanently since the pandemic hit and the financial toll of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come.

"It's 90,000 jobs that have been laid off," he said. "This is a really tough time."

Stewart is calling on the province to expand its property tax deferment program to help businesses cope.

"The city has offered a 90-day grace period, but businesses need more flexibility with regards to paying their taxes," he said. "Property tax deferment would provide peace of mind and could save many of them from closing permanently."

Stewart says he's also concerned about the fees delivery app services, such as DoorDash and Uber Eats, charge restaurants.

He'd like to see those fees temporarily capped at 15 per cent. 

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says more than 14,000 businesses have closed in the city, either permanently or temporarily, during the pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Questions over $95K social media position

Stewart also got into an exchange with reporters about the city's decision to spend $95,000 on hiring a social media coordinator at a time when money is tight and 1,800 city employees have been laid off due to the pandemic.

"OK, look, this city has a budget of $1.6 billion, we have 10,000 employees and you're talking about one position," Stewart said.

"The focus on one position, a person who hasn't been hired yet, I think is a weird story to follow."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

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

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

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