B.C. health officials announce 42 new COVID-19 cases, one more death

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

British Columbia's provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 42 new positive tests for COVID-19 in the province Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 659 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

Henry also announced that another person who contracted the virus at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver has died. The death toll from the pandemic in B.C. is now 14.

Lynn Valley was the first of now nine care homes where the virus has been identified in B.C. On Wednesday, Henry announced the ninth outbreak: A case discovered in a health-care worker at Broadway Pentecostal Lodge in Vancouver.

Another care home outbreak - at Haro Park Centre in Vancouver - now includes a total of 55 confirmed cases. There are 28 residents and 27 staff members at Haro Park who have tested positive for the virus, Henry said. None of the infected people associated with Haro Park have been hospitalized, she said.

The provincial health officer reiterated Wednesday that she is developing a provincial health order to prohibit all workers at seniors' care homes from working for more than one such facility.

"As well, there are additional measures in the outbreak facilities around personal protective equipment, restriction of visitors and restriction of visitors in all of our long-term care homes across the province," Henry said. "I know this is incredibly challenging, particularly when it's our loved one who's in one of these facilities, and I know staff are going out of their way to try to find ways to keep you connected with your loved ones, and we will continue to do that."

During her remarks Wednesday, Henry dedicated significant portions of her time to each of those three topics: outbreaks at long-term care centres, the need for personal protective equipment among health-care workers and the need for people to continue to connect with each other while maintaining physical distance and staying home.

On personal protective equipment, Henry said the province is in "a critical phase."

"The 'burn rate,' as we call it, is much higher than we would have expected," she said. "We are putting in place measures now to try and control that and be more efficient and effective in how we use PPE."

Henry said the province has had additional equipment on order "for some time." Some of those orders have arrived and others are still on their way, but the province is looking at ways to secure alternative supplies and manage existing supplies more efficiently, she said.

Regarding maintaining physical distance, Henry said the provincial ban on gatherings of more than 50 people is not a scientific limit, but a practical one.

"It is the maximum, but we know smaller is better," she said.

Ideally, no one should be gathering in close proximity with people they don't live with right now, the provincial health officer said. That includes for celebrations and ceremonies, which Henry said are important to acknowledge, but should be acknowledged online rather than in person.

"It is very important, right now, that we come together in our communities and support each other, but we do that in a virtual way and we have a safe space between us to stop the transmission of this virus," she said.

Ten additional people have recovered from the virus in B.C., Henry said Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 183.

Of the hundreds of ongoing COVID-19 cases in B.C., 64 patients are currently in hospital, including 26 who are in intensive care.

A total of 339 confirmed cases in B.C. are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 218 are located in the Fraser Health region, 47 in the Island Health region, 46 in the Interior Health region and nine in the Northern Health region.

Those totals represent cases confirmed through testing. On Wednesday, Henry repeated the province's testing strategy, which is to focus on "where it makes the most difference in protecting the health-care system."

That means testing health-care workers, people in long-term care and people who are in hospital or likely to be in hospital. 

"For the most part, if you have a mild illness and it can be managed at home and you're in isolation and you're not going to pass it on to others, you may or may not be tested depending on whether there's a cluster that's detected around you in particular," Henry said.

Asked if she has an estimate in mind for how many cases there are in B.C. overall - including those that have not been confirmed through testing - Henry acknowledged that she does, but said it changes regularly and she's hesitant to share it without providing proper context.

The province will work to provide such an estimate - and the desired context - at its COVID-19 briefing on Friday, Henry said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel and Alyse Kotyk

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