Six new cases of the new coronavirus have been identified in British Columbia, two of which are connected to a care home in North Vancouver.
During a Saturday press conference that became emotional at times, chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said a previously announced case of COVID-19, likely contracted in the community, is a care worker at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where two residents have now also tested positive for the virus.
“We are in what we call an outbreak at that care centre,” she said.
“This is one of the scenarios that we have been most concerned about. We know that the risk for elderly people having this disease is very concerning, and they are more likely to have more severe disease.”
Henry said there is an ongoing investigation to determine other workplaces of staff members at the facility, to find out if there are other care homes that need to be screened and tested.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix stressed that care workers often work multiple jobs within the sector in order to make a “family-supporting” wage.
The Lynn Valley Care Centre is currently under an “outbreak protocol,” meaning visitors are restricted and measures are being taken to ensure staff and residents are kept safe.
Two of the other new cases are people who travelled to the province from Iran. A man in the Fraser Health region and a household contact of his, both in their 50s, are in isolation at home.
The final two new cases were passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship currently docked off the shore of San Francisco. The pair, both in their 60s, left the ship on Feb. 21 after travelling to Mexico and back to California. They are now in isolation in the Fraser Health region where they live.
The likely community transmission case — the first of its kind to be announced in Canada — is one of eight cases announced Thursday. The six new cases bring the province’s total to 27.
Henry struggled to hold back tears as she highlighted the likelihood that there could be more points of community contact, and urged people to consider avoiding large gatherings and to keep their distance.
“At this time, I am asking people to consider having virtual gatherings, to consider not coming together, particularly if you have people in your gathering who are elderly,” she said, pausing for several seconds as she worked to regain her composure.
“If you are going to get together, let’s look at refraining from our usual greetings,” she finally continued. “Now’s the time to put some distance between us, to keep our germs to ourselves.”
Henry teared up again as she recounted her past experience with the SARS and Ebola outbreaks, and the stress and emotional impacts such outbreaks can have on communities.
“It’s a very difficult time, and I’m feeling for the families that are dealing with this right now,” she said. “Maybe I’m also a little bit tired.”
Henry and Dix particularly stressed that people should either avoid or limit interactions at religious gatherings, which the province says have been a source of “notable transmission.”
The outbreak at the care home echoes the more severe situation at the Life Care facility in Kirkland, a Seattle suburb, where dozens of cases have been identified and at least 13 people have died. The facility is the epicentre of the outbreak in Washington state.
The cases connected to the Grand Princess are the latest Canadian passengers of that cruise ship to test positive for the virus. Two others were announced in Ontario earlier this week, while Alberta’s first presumptive case was also a passenger of the cruise ship.
Dix and Henry both cautioned against cruise ship travel, echoing warnings from Canada’s top health official Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday.
Dix said briefings like Saturday’s will be held daily starting Monday as cases continue to be confirmed in the province, in an effort to ensure accurate information is conveyed.
“If anyone thinks it is the right thing to do if you’re sick to visit family members who are seniors, to visit care homes, to visit hospitals, let’s disabuse people of that,” he said.
“When we repeat that people should wash their hands and not touch their face and stay home when they’re sick, there may be people who have not heard that message, so we have to continue to deliver it.”
On Friday, Henry, Dix and Premier John Horgan outlined the province’s overall preparations for a likely widespread outbreak of COVID-19.
The plan includes expanding sites where COVID-19 tests can be done, expanding testing capacity, increasing the advice businesses will receive around protecting staff, ensuring resources are in place if health facilities are maxed out with positive cases, and providing support to family physicians and community-based specialists.
—With files from Richard Zussman