Luck, timing, lessons from Ontario, Quebec helped B.C. slow COVID-19: doctor

VICTORIA — British Columbia's top doctor is crediting luck and timing for the province's early restrictive measures that helped slow down the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that B.C. learned lessons from Quebec, where spring break began two weeks earlier and travellers returning from France and other countries unwittingly brought back the disease that spread in communities.

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"I think we put the measures on around the same time, but they had a lot more community spread and they were still catching up. And I believe that's a similar situation in Ontario."

The provincial health officer announced 63 new cases over the last two days, including a pair of federal inmates at the Mission Institution, for a total of 1,266 people now diagnosed with COVID-19. A man in his 40s who died at home is the latest fatality in the province, which has recorded 39 deaths.

In contrast, Quebec had 8,580 cases and 121 deaths as of Monday while in Ontario the number of people diagnosed with the virus stood at 4,347, with 132 deaths reported.

Henry urged British Columbians to "keep the firewall strong" by staying home, keeping calm and accessing online or other resources if they are struggling with anxiety.

"There's the anxiety that's being expressed by our children, by our family members," she said. "I encourage people to talk to your physician, if you have one. They can talk to you through virtual care, they can support you, particularly if you're someone who has an underlying illness and needs to have that ongoing care."

Henry joined her counterparts across the country in saying people could wear homemade cloth masks, but they aren't being recommended to stop the transmission of the virus, especially by those who think they won't be able to cover their cough.

"They can protect others around you from your droplets so it's not going to protect you from getting infected with this virus," adding they're similar to coughing into a sleeve or tissue though washing hands and physical distancing are the two proven methods of slowing transmission of the virus.

Medical masks and respirators should be reserved for health-care workers, Henry said.

The province is being inundated with groups offering to source medical supplies and anyone with such offers should provide information via a provincial website so the Health Ministry can validate them, Henry said.

"We have been able to weed out a number of them and actually connect with a number of people who've had some very good ideas and some very good supports that we can use," she said, adding any supplies would have to be assessed for safety.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said supplies are arriving from multiple sources and the province has received some, including ventilators, from the federal government.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there have been 36 deaths.

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