British Columbia announced three new deaths due to COVID-19 Tuesday, as it also marked four years since declaring its other public health emergency, the opioid overdose crisis.
More than 4,900 British Columbians have died of illicit drug overdoses since provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that emergency on Apr. 14, 2016.
At her daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Henry said her office had not forgotten those victims and the people still struggling with addiction.
“I want you to know that you are not alone, that we are not slowing down our response or taking our focus off the importance of being able to support people who use drugs, their families and our communities,” she said.
“We’re not letting this (coronavirus) crisis overtake the importance of our response to our overdose crisis and the work we need to do.”
A total of 72 people in B.C. have lost their lives to COVID-19. Another 27 cases were confirmed, bringing the province’s total to 1,517.
But in an encouraging sign, hospitalizations remained essentially flat, with 134 patients in hospital — 58 of whom are in intensive care.
“It is a good, representative number of what’s happening with our pandemic,” said Dr. Henry of the hospitalization numbers.
“Even if we didn’t know somebody had COVID-19, if they had a severe enough illness that requires them to seek medical attention and be hospitalized, we will be able to detect and find them. ”
There were more than 4,700 empty hospital beds in B.C. on Tuesday, said Health Minister Adrian Dix, a product of nearly 14,000 cancelled surgeries.
Earlier Tuesday, the federal government followed B.C.’s lead in announcing a requirement for travellers returning to Canada to have a “credible quarantine plan” or else be sent to a hotel for 14 days.
More than 2,300 British Columbians had returned from outside the country since B.C. began requiring those plans last week, Henry said. Twenty-four of them had to be provided other accommodations to ensure they could safely isolated.
“That, I think, is a big success story and an important part of our firewall for the future,” Henry said.
All three of the deaths announced Tuesday, and 47 of the 72 COVID-19 deaths in B.C., are linked to long-term care facilities.
About 290 cases, or 19 per cent, of the province’s confirmed total stem from seniors’ homes, made up of 165 residents and 124 staff.
The province was still finalizing the implementation of a provincial order to ban care-home staff from working in more than one facility, she said, acknowledging that the situation in the Lower Mainland was particularly “complex” due to the large size of health authorities and multiple care facilities.