B.C.’s top doctor says it’s unclear when life will get back to “normal,” as the province deals with more new cases of the novel coronavirus under a provincial state of emergency.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 45 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 231.
No new additional deaths have been reported, with that total remaining at seven.
Henry told reporters that the province is relying on the “firewall” of social distancing to “get us through the next weeks to months.”
WATCH FULL STATEMENT FROM B.C. OFFICIALS:
But she acknowledged that even if COVID-19 fades as the weather warms up, it could return next winter without a vaccine.
“I think we will fundamentally change some of the ways we are doing things, until we have a vaccine, until we have an effective treatment for this,” said Henry.
Health Minister Adrian Dix called on the public to exercise their “civic responsibility” and be serious about social distancing, including staying home when possible.
“For anyone who hasn’t joined in this effort, who has been reluctant to join in these very explicit measures we can do to help one another, to help protect one another’s heath, I say it’s not too late to join the fight,” he said.
“We need you to join in, we need you to do it now, today, this moment, without judgment.”
The call especially applies to anyone returning from outside the country to self-isolate at home for 14 days, as well as to anyone who is feeling ill.
New cases mount
One of B.C.’s new cases is a resident of the Haro Centre, a long-term care facility in Vancouver’s West End.
Thirteen people are now in hospital with COVID-19, up from seven on Tuesday.
Around B.C., 144 cases have been identified in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 58 within Fraser Health, 16 in Island Health, nine in Interior Health and four in Northern Health.
An estimated 17,000 people in B.C. have now been tested for the virus. Health-care workers, hospital patients, vulnerable people, and those with serious symptoms have been the priority.
“While our testing is becoming more strategic, we are doing more and more of it. And more and more of it is necessary,” Dix said.
People with mild symptoms are being directed to use B.C.’s self-assessment tool, which Dix said has been used by about a million people already. Symptoms include fever and dry cough.
Henry said the virus is now circulating in the community, as opposed to simply coming in from international travel, but that cases of transmission from someone who isn’t showing any symptoms are extremely rare.
She acknowledged the staffing challenges at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre, where several residents and more than a dozen staff have contracted the disease.
She said health-care workers have enough medical supplies to deal with the escalating crisis for the time being, with more on order.
Henry said the next seven to 10 days is a critical time to “slow the curve” of virus transmission.
Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Bars and nightclubs were subsequently ordered to close.
Restaurants, cafes and other businesses are permitted to remain open so long as customers and staff are able to maintain one to two metres of physical distance, said Henry.
“If you’re a grocery store that’s a very large one, it may mean you can accommodate several hundred people without having them come in close contact with one another,” she said.
“If it’s a very small business, it may have to be one at at time.”
B.C. declared a provincial state of emergency Wednesday to bring in additional powers to help slow the spread.
On Wednesday, the federal government also announced a massive $82-billion economic aid package, including an extension of employment insurance benefits.
The federal government is also temporarily closing the U.S. border to all but essential traffic.
On Tuesday, B.C. drastically stepped up its measures to address the crisis.
The province declared a public health emergency and ordered all bars and nightclubs to close.
In-person instruction was also suspended for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
Tuesday also saw the number of COVID-19 cases in B.C. top 100 for the first time and saw the death toll climb to seven.
The province’s worst outbreak of the virus is connected with the Lynn Valley Care Centre, a long-term care facility in North Vancouver.