British Columbia has announced the first COVID-19-related death in the country, along with five new cases of the virus.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the man is one of two people at a North Vancouver care home who was diagnosed with the virus last week.
Henry said the patient, a man in his 80s with underlying health conditions, passed away Sunday night.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones and also of course to the staff that provided him care, and to his home at the Lynn Valley Care Centre,” Henry said.
Dr. Bonnie Henry announces first coronavirus death in British Columbia
Five new cases
Henry said Vancouver Coastal Health officials have been on site at the care home since they learned that a woman who worked at the care centre had been diagnosed with the virus.
She said two additional residents at the home had tested positive for the virus, and that ongoing testing and monitoring of all residents at the facility is underway.
Another worker at the facility has also tested positive for the virus, a woman in her 40s who lives in the Fraser Health Region. She remains at home in isolation, Henry said.
Henry said officials have also identified close contacts of B.C.’s first known case of community transmission of COVID-19, a woman who worked at the care home, and said both of them are now in isolation and being monitored.
She added that it also now become apparent that the woman had actually contracted COVID-19 while working at the care home, rather than bringing it to the facility. She said officials were working to determine how the virus got into the care home.
Two additional cases related to international travel have also been identified.
One is a woman in her 50s who recently travelled to Iran, and the other is a man in his 30s who recently visited Italy. Both live in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and are in isolation at home.
B.C. has confirmed 32 cases of COVID-19.
Four people have recovered fully from the disease, and Henry said several of the other B.C. cases identified early in the outbreak are now asymptomatic.
Henry said officials are now waiting on tests to confirm that those patients had recovered.
Globalnews.ca coverage of the coronavirus in B.C.
Scammers try to cash in on coronavirus
On Monday, Henry said officials had become aware of a disturbing new scam where someone is calling people and claiming to offer expedited coronavirus testing for a fee.
“We’re telling everybody in British Columbia, COVID-19 testing is done by our lab, which is an accredited lab, we are moving it out to several other labs around the province, but this is all done for free,” she said, noting that B.C. added four new testing labs last week.
“Our turnaround time is very quick, and they do not and should not be asked for money.”
Henry said health authorities around B.C. are looking at how to set up assessment centres in order to ramp up testing if needed.
She said the province is also using its influenza surveillance network to test all suspected flu cases for COVID-19 as well.
Henry credited that measure with catching B.C.’s first case of the coronavirus from Iran, as well as the cluster at the Lynn Valley care home.
She added that the province was also calling in extra staff to help back-trace close contacts for confirmed cases.
“We are asking some retired public health physicians to come back and work with us because we need to augment our public health capacity to do the contact tracing, to do the monitoring,” she said.
With a growing number of cases of the virus, Henry said it is up to the public to help stop the spread.
“Right now we want everybody to stay home if you’re sick,” she said.
“Even if you have the sniffles, you have a bit of a cold, your children are feeling a bit under the weather, keep them home from school, keep yourself home from work if you’re not feeling well. Even if you have no relationship to COVID-19 we want you to do that.”
Henry added that people need to continue to frequently wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough and avoid touching their faces.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said anyone feeling unwell should make certain not to visit the elderly or people with other health problems.
He said evidence from China’s Hubei province shows that the mortality rate could be as high as 14 per cent for people over 80 years old.
“Some people are very vulnerable,” he said.
“People with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable than others, and obviously people who are older, over 80 are particularly vulnerable.”
Henry said people should also consider “social distancing” by foregoing close greetings such as hugs, kisses and handshakes, and where possible look at doing things such as meetings virtually.
Anyone who believes they are showing symptoms should call 811 and speak to a public health official, or be sure to phone their doctor or clinic before going in to get a checkup so that health care workers can take precautions.
Henry said 811 call takers had been extensively trained in how to assess patients, and to walk them through their potential risk of exposure.
Two Surrey schools were open Monday morning after someone who later tested positive for the virus was previously on site. Henry said the schools had been disinfected, but that the risk was low as no one was on the grounds while showing symptoms of the virus.
Dix and Henry said the province was not ready to issue a directive to cancel all major public events.
She said the number of community transmitted cases remained low, and that decisions to cancel events were being looked at on a case-by-case basis.
Henry said transmission of the virus requires close contact, and that indoor gatherings involving family or the sharing of food were the most likely vector.
The federal Public Health Agency of Canada recommended Monday that people avoid all travel on cruise ships.
Henry noted that two Canadians who were aboard cruise ships have tested positive for the virus, and are now in hospital.
“It’s just an environment where people cannot separate from each other sufficiently to prevent transmission of respiratory viruses,” said Henry.
“With the ongoing outbreak we’re having around the world now there’s really no way to effectively screen people out of cruise ships, so it is really taking a chance on your health at the moment.”
Henry said she believes the cruise season should be delayed until concerns about the spread of the virus have decreased.
She said discussions about that possibility are ongoing, with a decision expected in “the coming days.”
“We know that this will impact businesses both here and in Victoria. The tourist industry is being hard hit by this,” she said.
“But my primary concern is the health and safety of people in British Columbia and I have grave concerns about cruises right now.”
Public health officials are now providing daily updates on COVID-19 in B.C.