British Columbia has announced seven new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total in the province to 46.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said two were health-care workers diagnosed in connection with the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.
One is a man in his 20s who lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, the other is a woman in her 50s who lives in the Fraser Health region. Both are in isolation at home.
Three of the cases are linked to Egypt, including B.C.’s first reported case in the Vancouver Island Health Authority. Two are new community cases, she added.
Of B.C.’s 46 identified cases, 22 have been reported in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 22 in the Fraser Health region, one in the Interior Health region and one in the Island Health region. Nationally, Canada has seen 117 cases.
There has been one death and four people have fully recovered.
The majority of B.C.’s cases remain linked to travel from China and Iran.
More community transmission
Henry said Wednesday that health officials had identified two new cases of community transmission through B.C.’s influenza surveillance testing, bringing the total number of community cases to five.
The province is currently testing every suspected influenza case for COVID-19.
Both new cases are in the Fraser Health region. One is a woman in her 60s who has been hospitalized, and the other is a man in his 60s who is in isolation at home.
“A detailed public health investigation is being done on both those cases, as well as the two we identified yesterday, to try and determine the origin of their infection,” said Henry.
Washington state, which is dealing with a large outbreak and multiple cases of community transmission, banned all public gatherings of more than 250 people on Wednesday.
Henry said that while B.C.’s situation was different than Washington’s, with only a handful of known cases of community transmission, it was incumbent on people to increase “social distancing” to help break the potential chains of infection.
“I’m asking everyone to take those measures, to increase your distance between people, to look at gatherings where you can stay apart from others, to clean your hands regularly, to cover your mouth when you cough, to stay away from others even if you have the sniffles right now,” she said.
She acknowledged those measures could be difficult in intimate family gatherings such as weddings or funerals, but asked that people look at things like foregoing hugs and increasing the spacing of seating.
“Transmission is in groups where you have a lot of close contact, where droplets can be spread,” she said.
“Often that’s when you’re in contact with somebody when you’re sharing meals, when you’re living in a household, when you’re having meetings in a closed area.”
She added that there was currently no directive to shut down mass gatherings, and that every major event was being assessed for risk on a case by case basis.
Henry added that there were no plans to close public schools.
In the wake of the first case detected on Vancouver Island, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said her city was in close contact with health officials and was stepping up cleaning at civic facilities such as pools.
Long-term care homes
With 10 cases now linked to the Lynn Valley Care Centre, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province would be rolling out new measures for long-term care homes and assisted living facilities around the province in the next 24 hours.
“Those that are most vulnerable from this are those with underlying medical conditions and those that are older,” he said.
Henry said those measures include enhanced screening of visitors, restricting anyone with a potential illness from entering, and limiting visits to one-on-one encounters.
Henry said health-care workers were also being “cohorted” to ensure they’re only working at one facility to prevent potential threat of illnesses.
But she said such facilities would remain open to visitors, noting that it was important to make sure residents have human contact and feel valued.
At the Lynn Valley facility, Henry said an infection control specialist remains on site and concerns over staffing levels had been addressed.
Investigators are still working to determine how the virus got into the facility, which also accounted for B.C.’s first known case of community transmission.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak a pandemic.
Henry said that designation would not significantly change B.C.’s response.
“China bought us time and we now understand a whole lot more about this virus than we did even two weeks, four weeks, six weeks ago when we were first watching what was happening there,” she said.
“What we do know is that it’s not inevitable that everybody is going to be infected with this, that it’s not inevitable that our systems are going to be overwhelmed.”
Henry said despite the declaration, B.C. remained focused on isolating cases and slowing the spread of COVID-19, a measure she says will allow the health-care system to absorb the impact of infections.
Just one person remains in the ICU due to the coronavirus, but Dix acknowledged that the province’s hospitals were already operating at 100 per cent.
“This is a challenging time of year, and it’s challenging for everyone, but it’s why we are acting so aggressively,” said Dix. “To push it back as close to the end of the flu season as we can and contain it.”
However, he said hospitals do have options should the number of severe cases ramp up, including slowing down scheduled surgeries and re-purposing space in hospitals.
Henry added that three COVID-19 patients who had been hospitalized have now been discharged: a woman in her 60s who had been aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, a man in his 90s, and a health-care worker who was exposed at the Lynn Valley Care Centre.
Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things to know:
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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