B.C. health officer promoting in-province vacations

For the first time in a couple months, Dr. Bonnie Henry was able to get a haircut.

Like many British Columbians, the provincial health officer took advantage of the Phase 2 reopening of businesses which took effect Tuesday to allow hair salons as well as stores, restaurants and pubs to open their doors to customers.

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“I find it really exciting, I went for a walk last night and people were following the rules, they were keeping their distance, people were outside enjoying people’s company from a distance in a safe way so I think things are going mostly really well,” said Henry, at Saturday’s media update in Victoria.

“I went and got my hair done and we wore masks and went through the whole process and it takes a bit of adjusting but I think we’re doing it in a slow and measured way and I’m very grateful for people taking that approach. It is what is going to keep us doing OK through these next few weeks.”

Henry is encouraged by the declining numbers of new cases of COVID-19 provincewide and is optimistic the virus will remain in check to allow B.C.’s ailing tourism sector to recover. She’s looking forward to visiting a few B.C. destinations during the summer for a much-needed holiday.

“If things continue to go well this summer… I will be encouraging people to vacation at home in B.C. to experience what we have here and support our local communities and businesses,” said Henry. “I’m looking forward to maybe getting a break some day and there’s a number of places that I would like to go and spend some time.

“The only caveat I have is that we have many communities, particularly our First Nations communities, who have understandably a greater degree of risk and loss that could happen if this virus is introduced into those communities. I would leave it to them to determine if it is safe for people to travel to their communities and it’s up to them to determine when they’re ready for that, it at all this summer.”

Henry acknowledged that her revision Friday to restrict drive-in public events to no more than 50 vehicles has inconvenienced event planners behind such events as Rooftop Rock, a drive-in concert scheduled for tonight at CN Centre in Prince George. The last-minute changes resulted in postponement of the concert, which was to feature local bands and comedians.

“Yesterday I amended our order on public gatherings to include gatherings of vehicles as well as individuals and I know that was a challenge for some people,” Henry said. “This is the time where we need to careful, and even though 50 cars may seem like a small amount and it is a less-risky environment, we know that if we get people together there will be several people in a vehicle. The chances of more contact, meaning spread of this virus, is very real right now.”

No new cases in northern B.C. were among the 10 new cases reported in the province over the past day and the total remains at 62 for the Northern Health region. There have been no deaths attributed to the virus in the north. Henry said there were two additional deaths in B.C. in the previous 24 hours, both residents of a long-term care home in the Fraser Health region, which raised the COVID-19 death toll to 157.

Since the pandemic began two months ago, 2,517 cases have been detected. The two most populous health regions, Fraser (1,244 cases) and Vancouver Coastal (890 cases) lead the province, followed by Interior Health (194) and Vancouver Island Health (127).

There was one new outbreak at a long-term care or assisted-living facility, which brought the total to 14. Of the 540 cases, 330 are residents and 210 are staff members. Two acute-care facilities are affected.

“I’m actually very happy to say today for the first day in some time that we have no new resident cases to report in our long-term care homes,” Henry said. “We need to remember, these outbreaks remind us, gatherings of any kind increase the risk of transmission and our public health surveillance needs to continue and will continue to quickly identify new cases and find those they’ve been in contact with and prevent transmission to others.

“We must continue with these Phase 2 restrictions. This is our transition period and we need to watch carefully and do it carefully. We know the incubation period is 14 days. We have to watch things carefully over the coming week to two weeks before we start changing anything more. The impacts won’t be seen until early next week.”

There are 330 active cases in B.C., with 39 patients being treated in hospital and eight in critical-care or intensive-care units. Eighty-two per cent (2,057 cases) of COVID-19-positive B.C. residents have made full recoveries.

The importance of contact tracing, identifying who might have come into contact with a COVID-19-positive person, will be stepped up over the coming weeks and B.C. will be utilizing retired doctors and nurses, medical students and environmental health staff to track down and test those contacts to limit community transmission. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has set up a hotline for nurses to report patients whose whereabouts might need to be traced.

“In every community in the province, our public health teams - our expert virus hunters - are working to test, trace and track the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses,” Henry said. “These teams work together to support us in our businesses and our homes, finding and isolating hot spots, and making sure people get the care and support they need, and do not inadvertently pass the virus on to others.”

She said the federal government needs to continue to monitor people who come back to Canada from other countries. Since border restrictions were imposed, more than 18,000 people returning to B.C. have presented their self-isolation plans to border agents.

One new community outbreak was detected at the Nature’s Touch frozen food plant in Abbotsford, where five people have tested positive. Henry said the outbreak was caught early and no closure order is in effect, although the plant did close for the weekend.

As reported Friday, the virus was found in a second federal correctional facility – Mountain Institution in Agassiz – brought by an inmate who spent time at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford. A Mountain staff member has also tested positive.

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