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Coronavirus cases in Alberta and B.C. are linked. What does that mean for further spread?

Click to play video: 'First presumptive case of COVID-19 in province is now confirmed: Alberta Health' First presumptive case of COVID-19 in province is now confirmed: Alberta Health
The first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Alberta has now been confirmed, after testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg – Mar 8, 2020

One of B.C.’s confirmed cases of the new coronavirus is responsible for a presumptive case in Alberta, health officials in that province announced Sunday — marking the first instance of spread between provinces.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the Edmonton-area case first announced Friday, a man in his 40s, had visited Michigan, Illinois and Ohio and was travelling with a companion from B.C.

READ MORE: 2 new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Alberta: 1 in Calgary, 1 in Edmonton

The B.C. man had been on the Grand Princess cruise ship, where COVID-19 has spread to several passengers on a previous sailing, including multiple Canadians.

B.C.’s Ministry of Health confirmed Sunday that the B.C. case is one of six new cases announced in the province Saturday. Both the man and another woman who tested positive for the virus after leaving the ship are now in isolation at home in the Fraser Health region. They are both in their 60s.

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Hinshaw said the Edmonton case contracted the coronavirus from that male B.C. case.

Click to play video: 'B.C. announces six new COVID-19 cases including two at North Vancouver care home' B.C. announces six new COVID-19 cases including two at North Vancouver care home
B.C. announces six new COVID-19 cases including two at North Vancouver care home – Mar 7, 2020

Tom Koch, an adjunct professor of medical geography at the University of British Columbia, says while the spread of the virus directly from one province to another is an “interesting” development, it’s not unusual.

“This is what you expect a virus like this one to do,” he said. “This is the way microbes get around. They don’t travel on their own. There’s no microbe bus, there’s no microbe plane, there’s no microbe army. They just wait for us to carry them to new sites.

READ MORE: B.C. declares COVID-19 outbreak at North Vancouver care home, 6 new cases announced

“What this emphasizes is that the virus is present and active in Canada, and is active in places where we didn’t expect it until we find a new infection.”

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Koch says COVID-19 is acting similarly to influenza outbreaks that occur every year, which spread across provincial and national borders easily, but with “qualities that make it seem like it’s going farther and faster than otherwise would have been expected.”

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“It’s doing what we would expect, but it’s doing it more efficiently than we’ve seen in a while,” he said. “We’re used to it (in) influenza, but we weren’t expecting it with this cousin of influenza.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. officials confirm 6 new cases of COVID-19 in province' Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. officials confirm 6 new cases of COVID-19 in province
Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. officials confirm 6 new cases of COVID-19 in province – Mar 7, 2020

While the connection between the Lower Mainland and Edmonton isn’t cause for alarm just yet, Koch says he’s more concerned about localized outbreak areas like Washington state, or the North Vancouver care home that was put under an “outbreak protocol” Saturday due to at least three cases there.

Of particular concern to Koch is the potential spread from an outbreak zone or large population area to more remote communities in the north, particularly Indigenous reserves, where little to no medical infrastructure exists to handle an outbreak.

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READ MORE: B.C. premier outlines province’s COVID-19 response plan

We have the advantage in Canada of being a huge country geographically, so while we have a lot of travel between cities, that’s a lot of distance between Vancouver and Toronto, Regina to Halifax,” he said. “But it’s far shorter between Vancouver and Prince George, or Vancouver and 100 Mile House.

“We still have time before [northern spread] happens, which means we have more time to prepare. But it may still become a particular concern if they don’t have the same resources.”

B.C.’s response plan for the new coronavirus, announced on Friday, includes precautions and preparations that are underway or will be launched if the outbreak grows in the province.

Click to play video: 'Premier Horgan outlines B.C.’s emergency response plan for possible COVID-19 pandemic' Premier Horgan outlines B.C.’s emergency response plan for possible COVID-19 pandemic
Premier Horgan outlines B.C.’s emergency response plan for possible COVID-19 pandemic – Mar 6, 2020

The plan directs the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to work as a liaison between Indigenous communities and the Ministry of Health to ensure those communities are properly engaged and notified in the event of a pandemic.

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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.

Alberta has yet to release a similar plan, although several measures have been taken by the province including mobilizing health care resources and providing regular updates.

—With a file from Richard Zussman

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