Three more people have died from COVID-19 in B.C., health officials said Saturday while announcing 29 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The deaths are all linked to long-term care facilities, 20 of which are continuing to see outbreaks across the province, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
Yet the number of people in hospital has continued to fall: 115 patients are now hospitalized, down four from Friday. Of those, 54 are in intensive care.
“We are not at a point yet where we can let down our guard,” Henry said. “The storm is still raging, and tragically we see that in the fact that people are still dying from this virus in B.C.”
B.C. has now seen a total of 1,647 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, while the province’s death toll is now at 81.
The three new deaths broke a brief respite from the daily reports of fatal cases Friday, which saw no new deaths for the first time since March 26.
Henry said 984 people have now recovered from the disease.
No new outbreaks have been detected at other seniors’ homes, Henry added, but new cases have been detected within existing outbreaks. As of Saturday, 288 residents and care workers have been infected, she said.
She also noted 70 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the federal Mission Institution, including 60 inmates. One inmate is believed to have died due to the disease.
On Friday, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix released new modelling data that suggests B.C. is “flattening the curve” of infection, as the number of new cases reported each day has trended downward over the past week.
That’s despite an increase in daily testing, Henry said, with plans to continue expanding testing as cases keep declining.
However, the officials said even with those encouraging signs, B.C. won’t be able to start reopening its health-care system beyond essential services until mid-May at the earliest, while physical distancing measures could remain in place for over a year.
Henry said on Saturday that B.C. continues to be “in a hurricane,” but repeated that the province has made “considerable progress” thanks to people’s efforts to follow those measures and public health orders.
“The risk of a spike or another outbreak or more clusters in our community is something that’s of very real concern to me, and we know that it continues to happen,” she said, pointing to new clusters in neighbouring Alberta that she said could easily lead to more spread into B.C.
“What happens there affects us, so we need to make sure that we continue to take the measures we need to do here in B.C. to protect our families and our communities.”
Henry said when restrictions are lifted, it will be a gradual process conducted in a “slow and thoughtful” way by health officials. She said the province must think of reopening in two-week increments, based on the known incubation period for the virus.
Once some restrictions are eased, officials will monitor the effects for two weeks at a time to ensure cases don’t explode again.
“We don’t want all the sacrifices that we have been doing across the province to be for naught,” she said, adding the “new normal” of frequent hand washing and physical distancing will continue to last as the province’s health-care and economic sectors start to reopen.
“What we need to do is hold our line.”