British Columbia has declared a public health emergency, as officials announce 83 new cases of the novel coronavirus and three new deaths.
The province has now recorded a total of 186 cases and seven COVID-19 deaths.
Two of the new deaths are linked to the ongoing outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, while the third was a man in his 80s in the Fraser Health region.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told the daily news conference on Tuesday that the surge in new cases reflects a lag in test results as a number of new test sites came online, including in hospitals and urgent and primary care centres in the Lower Mainland.
There was a delay in confirming a number of presumptive cases at the BC Centre of Disease Control, she said. Those cases are now confirmed and part of the official count.
Henry said people who tested presumptive positive in that wave were notified at the time, as were public health officials.
She said the province would continue with attempts at containment, including testing and contract tracing, but that B.C. was now moving to a strategy of outbreak mitigation.
That includes ordering all people entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days, and further increasing social-distancing measures, including the mandatory and immediate closure of bars and night clubs.
“Restaurants and cafes in some cases can meet this criteria for physical distancing, but those who cannot meet the physical distancing will need to close or move to takeout and delivery service.”
Other businesses that do stay open are asked to ensure customers and staff maintain a physical distance of one to two metres.
Resources under pressure
Health Minister Adrian Dix sought Tuesday to allay concerns about reported shortages of health-care equipment, saying B.C. has just received a large shipment of testing swabs.
“We are soon to receive significant new shipments of masks, of N95 masks, which is of concern to a lot of people in the community, obviously in health care,” he said.
Dix said COVID-19 assessment clinics have now been established in all health authorities.
He added that more than half a million people had now used the new online self-assessment tool to help determine whether they need to be tested. People are advised to use the tool before calling 811.
The province has also launched a dedicated coronavirus information line, which can be reached at 1-888-COVID19.
Meanwhile, Henry acknowledged “a number of exposures” have been reported in a group of nurses, physicians and paramedics on Vancouver’s North Shore, and said that’s being investigated. She said paramedics handling suspected COVID-19 cases must wear protective equipment, including gloves and masks.
Langley Township Fire Chief Stephen Gamble also confirmed Tuesday that eight of the community’s firefighters were potentially exposed to the virus on March 9.
One has been cleared, while the other 13 remain in isolation.
Henry said the province had shifted its testing strategy to focus on health-care workers, seniors, hospitalized people, and other vulnerable groups.
B.C. is testing thousands of people per day, but “a number” of test results remained backlogged, she said.
Tests do not work on people who do not have symptoms, she added, and people returning from abroad, even if they have mild symptoms, do not need a test.
“We’re saying … go to the self-assessment tool and it can help support you,” she said. “What you need to do is stay home and stay away from others.”
Around the province, 116 of the cases are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 47 are in the Fraser Health region, 12 are on Vancouver Island, seven are in the Interior Health region and four are in the Northern Health region.
Seven people are in hospital in acute care.
Earlier Tuesday, Premier John Horgan announced the closure of all in-person instruction for kindergarten to Grade 12 students until further notice.
In the last daily update, on Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry directed there to be no gatherings larger than 50 people, as she announced 30 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C., and three additional deaths, all linked to the Lynn Valley care home in North Vancouver.
Ontario recorded its first death Tuesday.