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How do B.C. health authorities decide when to issue a COVID-19 exposure advisory?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2020 at 11:03 am PDT

Vancouver Coastal Health issued a COVID-19 exposure advisory for Levels Nightclub in Vancouver. (Courtesy Google Maps, Mingyao Jinang)
Summary

B.C. health authorities issue COVID-19 exposure advisories when they are unable to reach potential contacts

A public notice doesn't mean an establishment has broken the rules

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are responding to your questions in a segment we call NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

Many NEWS 1130 listeners have called in with questions about the criteria for COVID-19 public exposure advisories.

They’ve asked how health authorities decide to issue advisories, especially considering how coronavirus cases at public places such as grocery stores and malls have come to light in the media despite no official advisory being issued.

Answer:

B.C.’s regional health authorities issue public advisories when they are otherwise unable to contact people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

As of Aug. 19, Vancouver Coastal Health had advisories for eight different locations, specifying dates and times when someone with the virus had been there. The advisories include nightclubs, a hotel, a restaurant and a park.

Fraser Health, meanwhile, had four advisories – two each in Surrey and Coquitlam.

But some cases at public spaces, including grocery stores and malls, have come to light despite no such public advisory being issued by officials.

“When Vancouver Coastal Health learns of a potential public exposure, VCH public health and environmental health officers will work with the operator of that business to determine if there was any risk to others, identify and provide guidance to close contacts and review its COVID-19 safety plan and ensure it is being implemented,” VCH spokesperson Carrie Stefanson told NEWS 1130.

If officials determine members of the public were put at risk, they will try to contact them to inform them and instruct them to monitor for symptoms.

Bars and restaurants are required to collect contact information from at least one person per party if they already collect such information in the regular course of business (such as for taking reservations).

“Vancouver Coastal Health only makes public notifications in the event of a declared outbreak or when Public Health determines they are not able to reach all close contacts and it is necessary to inform people about a potential exposure,” Stefanson said.

She said “the vast majority” of B.C. businesses have developed and implemented COVID-19 safety plans that meet provincial requirements.

“A public notification does not mean that a business was violating any of the [provincial health officer] orders or that they did not have an adequate COVID-19 health and safety plan; exposures can still occur in these settings for other reasons,” Stefanson said.

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