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B.C. could see COVID-19 surge in summer if people expand social circles: top doctor

Last Updated Jun 24, 2020 at 6:23 am PST

FILE -- Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (Courtesy B.C. Government)
Summary

Cases of COVID-19 increased in B.C. early in June after the province loosened health and safety restrictions

But increasing of contacts is still being done in a safe way: top doctor

B.C. Centre of Disease Control working with other jurisdictions to develop a method to test wastewater for COVID-19

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Cases of COVID-19 increased in B.C. early in June after the province loosened health and safety restrictions and more people started visiting parks, going back to work and using transit, according to new modelling data presented Tuesday by the province.

But increasing the number of contacts among people — while having reached 65 per cent of normal — has been done in a safe way, as B.C. is not seeing increases in hospital or intensive care admissions, according to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Going forward, we need to continue to keep our bubbles small, and maintain the protection measures we have,” adding those include keeping a safe distance, utilizing barriers, and wearing masks, when distancing is not possible.

These rules for safe social interactions must continue to be maintained as part of our everyday life. We know that if we go too far, and let that number get too high, we risk a resurgence, and we have seen that happen in other parts of the world.”

Henry said the ban on gatherings of 50 people or more will remain in place. Any more increases the risk of transmission, she added.

Regarding Phase 3 and increasing travel within the province, she reiterated that being aware of health and safety measures will be key.

According to Google mobility data provided in the report, visits to parks increased as much as 100 per cent in May and into June, on par with totals seen in early March.

The data also shows slight increases in people going to work and visiting retail and recreation spaces, as well as using transit.

“Mobility metrics are generally increasing from post-intervention lows, but many remain below seasonal norms,” based on 2019 data.

“Mobility data indicate a continued movement towards pre-intervention activity levels with higher park usage, decrease in time spent in residential spaces and increase in other activities such as groceries/pharmacies, retail, workplace, and transit stations.”

The modelling not only shows a slight increase in new cases during June, but the possibility of continued growth of those during the summer, with recent contact rates estimated to be at 65 per cent of normal.

The modelling suggests a decrease in contact rate to 50 per cent of normal would see the pandemic curve trend downward again through July.

Maintaining a rate of 60 per cent would result in a continuation of the moderate increase in new cases.

Henry warns that increasing contact rates to levels exceeding 70 per cent, however, would result in a sharp spike in cases.

The report also shows that, with the recent increase in daily infections, B.C. is close to the level for sustained growth of new cases, with one person passing it on to at least another.

“Our models suggest that contact rates since mid-May are roughly 65 per cent of normal, which is roughly the threshold for a rebound in new cases,” says the report.

The report adds the increase in cases was expected with the re-opening of some businesses that had been ordered closed.

“To maintain epidemic control, physical distancing, self-isolation for those who feel sick, and a continued focus on hygiene measures are critical,” it says.

“Complete contact tracing helps to ensure epidemic control when population-level restrictions are relaxed.”

The report also says contract tracing is more effective and done more quickly with moderate over weak social distancing.

“We need to find 75 per cent of contacts within two to three days to keep outbreaks at bay,” Henry said.

“More contacts make this more challenging.”

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According to the report, as distancing measures are relaxed further, the completeness and rapidity of contact tracing will be even more important for controlling transmission, in combination with self-isolation by sick individuals and strict hygiene practices.

The report also shows some parts of B.C. are largely untouched by the virus.

In the past 14 days, the Fraser South health service area has had the most cases, 42, in the province.

The Vancouver area had the second most cases, with 36.

The Richmond area had two cases in the 14 days ending June 21, while Fraser North recorded just one case.

Outside of Greater Vancouver, the Okanagan recorded just two cases in the past 14 days, while the northeast sector of the province and southern area of Vancouver Island had one case each.

In the latest modelling data, B.C. still ranks among the low end of provinces when comparing total cases. Quebec and Ontario have the most — although case totals have flattened in both of those provinces — followed by Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

B.C. is also at the low end of provinces for total deaths related to COVID-19.

According to the report, the B.C. Centre of Disease Control is now working with other jurisdictions to develop a method to test wastewater for COVID-19.

The research could become an early detection tool, according to the report.

The province reported one new COVID-19 death and 13 cases on Tuesday. The death occurred at a long-term care home in the Vancouver Health region.

Deaths related to the virus in B.C. now total 170, while cases number 2,835. Of active cases, 16 people remain in hospital, including seven in intensive care.

Premier John Horgan is expect to discuss Phase 3 of the restart plan further on Wednesday.

Phase 3 includes hotels and resorts, according to B.C.’s restart plan released in May.

It pegged a broader opening for parks in June, including some overnight camping.

It also outlined plans to allow the film industry to begin domestic productions in June or July.

The plan was for select entertainment, such as movies and symphonies, to stat in July, but not large concerts.

The third phase also includes a resumption of post-secondary education in September, with mix of online and in-class instruction.

K-12 education is also proposed to resume in the fall under the third phase.

The restart plan describes reopening night clubs, casinos and bars as a more complicated consideration.

The third phase also maintains the ban on large gatherings, including conventions, concerts, and live audiences at events such as professional sports.