British Columbia has confirmed 145 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the provincial total to 617.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the large jump in new confirmed cases Tuesday was due to the province reporting cases from both Sunday and Monday.
Two new long-term care facilities have reported cases of COVID-19: Vancouver’s Little Mountain Place Residential Care Centre, where a staff member tested positive, and White Rock’s Evergreen Heights assisted-living facility, where a resident has tested positive.
There are now outbreaks in eight such facilities in the Lower Mainland.
At North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre, 42 residents and 21 health-care workers have tested positive. At Vancouver’s Haro Park Centre, 15 residents and 25 staff have tested positive.
B.C. has implemented strict regulations limiting access to seniors’ facilities to essential visits only. Henry said she is also preparing to issue another public health order that would bar staff from working at more than one such facility.
Henry said she has also written a letter to all health regulators, which govern workers such as chiropractors, massage therapists, and nurses, directing them to minimize physical contact and provide emergency services only.
Health Minister Adrian Dix has said provincial health orders in response to the pandemic would remain in place until at least the end of April.
Those orders include the closure of bars, restaurants and personal service businesses, as well as a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. People are required to keep two metres (six feet) apart when out in public.
Dix said the province expects the number of confirmed cases to continue to rise, adding that the next few weeks will be “very, very difficult.”
He said it remains imperative that there be “100-per-cent compliance” with Henry’s orders, noting it will likely take days or weeks before we see their effects.
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“Health-care workers frequently get COVID-19 in the community, so we need to take those steps so that they are protected to the maximum,” he said.
B.C. has 59 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 23 of them in intensive care. However, 173 people have now fully recovered, accounting for 28 per cent of cases.
The number of deaths in the province remained unchanged at 13.
B.C. won’t be the next Italy
The province will soon release data showing B.C.’s anticipated trajectory of infection, but Henry said we aren’t “on the same trajectory of Italy.”
She said officials were confident that the province had implemented social-distancing measures early enough.
“Our testing strategy early on helped us better understand what is happening in our community, and when we started having community spread,” she added.
“I think both in northern Italy, and in our neighbours to the south, particularly Washington state — not having access to that testing early on meant they were trying to play catch up.”
She acknowledged that community spread of the virus was now a very real concern in B.C., particularly in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
Dix said the province had been working to free up acute-care beds in anticipation of a significant surge of new cases.
As of Tuesday, there were 3,866 available beds in the system, for an overall occupancy rate of 66 per cent, and critical-care bed occupancy rate of 55.3 per cent.
B.C. has now tested close to 30,000 people for COVID-19, Henry said, and is testing about 3,500 people per day.
Testing is being prioritized for health-care workers, people in long-term care homes, people with severe symptoms, and cases with an unknown community origin.
People returning from travel with symptoms are not being tested.
“We know the source of infection for people coming in from outside of Canada,” said Henry.
“We don’t need to have them go out of their house to go some place to be tested, maybe exposing other people. We assume they have the disease and we manage them accordingly.”
On Monday, B.C. unveiled a $5-billion aid package to keep businesses and individuals afloat during stringent social-distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the virus.
The package includes a $1,000 tax-free benefit for people out of work due to the pandemic, and tax deferrals and cuts for businesses.