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Seven new COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island; elective surgeries cancelled

• Non-urgent dental procedures postponed • Everyone coming from out-of-country must self-isolate for at least 14 days • OK to stay in cars on B.C. Ferries’ enclosed decks • All B.C.
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B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry listens to a question during a news conference in Vancouver. March 2020.

• Non-urgent dental procedures postponed
• Everyone coming from out-of-country must self-isolate for at least 14 days
• OK to stay in cars on B.C. Ferries’ enclosed decks
• All B.C. casinos ordered to close
• No gatherings of more than 50 people
• Americans urged to not visit B.C.

B.C. hospitals have been directed to postpone all non-urgent scheduled surgeries to free up hospital beds in the coming weeks, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Monday.

“This will result in the cancellations of thousands of scheduled elected surgeries in B.C. and free up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hospital beds,” Dix said at the daily coronavirus update for B.C.

Cancelling thousands of surgeries is necessary to prepare for an expected increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, said Dix, who acknowledged there will be an initial period with empty beds,

“We don’t need it for today. We may not even need it for Friday, but we need to have it in place so we’re ready for that circumstance and it will allow ministry to redeploy medical staff for more urgent priorities.”

Health officials will move people from acute-care beds to long-term-care beds to provide more acute-care spaces, and surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and cleaning staff will be redeployed to work in critical care.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said 30 additional cases of COVID-19 had been identified as of Sunday night, bringing the total to 103 in B.C. Many tests remain in the works.

Four people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., Henry said, including three residents of the Lynn Valley Care Centre who died over the last few days.

Island Health has seven new cases in various locations on Vancouver Island, said Henry, who declined to say where the individual cases are located.

“With the exception of outbreaks where we have identified facilities in particular, we have kept it very general to the health authority region for a variety of reasons,” said Henry. “What we want people to do and what we need people to do is the same across the health region. And so anybody who is sick needs to stay home and stay away from others.”

Island Health issued a statement saying anyone who could be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 is contacted by public health officials dealing with confirmed cases and their close contacts. Specific locations of confirmed cases won’t be identified unless public health providers can’t be certain they have reached all those who need to be contacted, the health authority said. “We want people who have symptoms to contact us, and to feel safe contacting us, knowing their privacy will be protected so the steps to protect the health and safety for all can be taken.”

There are also more cases in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions.

In B.C., six patients are in acute care in hospitals, while the others are in stable condition being managed at home, said Henry. Five people have fully recovered, although there are many more whose symptoms have resolved, she said. “We’re just waiting for testing to confirm they are fully recovered as well.”

Four of the new COVID-19 cases were contracted at a large dental conference in Vancouver on March 6 and 7, which Henry called “very concerning.”

The College of Dental Surgeons of B.C. on Monday recommended that “all elective and non-urgent dental services be suspended immediately.” As a result, many dental offices have temporarily closed. Henry said anyone who attended the Pacific Dental Conference needs to self-isolate immediately.

“They should not be at work or school or around others. This is the critical time we are seeing people turning up with illness related to this conference in B.C., across Canada and internationally.”

Henry said the ministry was not aware of the dental conference and was not consulted. The conference was held at a time when she was advising that medical conferences should not be held. “I was very disappointed,” she said.

Dental offices have been notified and people who attended the conference received a letter saying they might have been exposed to the virus.

Last week, Henry issued a provincial health officer order cancelling all gatherings of more than 250 people. That has now been reduced to gatherings of more than 50 people. “It’s aligned with what we’ve seen in the U.S.,” she said.

The provincial health officer suggested cafés and restaurants keep people separated or shift to take-out services. “Right now, we need to take these extra precautions. Don’t congregate, particularly if you are vulnerable to disease.”

Decisions are still being made about how to best manage schools to protect students and staff, and to make sure child services are available where they are needed, said Henry. An announcement is expected today about schools following spring break. The ministry is still discussing what to do about daycare.

Henry emphasized that anyone coming to B.C. from outside Canada must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. “I know there were challenges with the messages being given out at the airport, but I understand that has been changed so people are being directed correctly that they must stay in isolation,” she said.

Henry called the step “incredibly important,” noting the vast majority of B.C.’s cases have been imported from other countries. “We now recognize there are no safe places across the world. People are being identified across the U.S. and in countries where they may not recognize they have transmission of this disease, and additionally, we have people identified with COVID-19 from multiple cruises in many parts of the world.”

Anyone who comes into B.C. from outside the country needs to stay home, away from work and school, and needs to stay out of the community in order to stop transmission, she said.

The good news is that most people who contracted the disease while travelling internationally have mild illness and are staying in isolation at home, where they are able to manage it, she said.

Henry advised that all casinos in the province should close. The government issued an order that casinos be closed as of noon Monday.

The federal government has also indicated that people will be able to stay in their cars on enclosed decks on B.C. Ferries, said Henry.

She made an appeal to people to communicate with seniors and connect with those in isolation who aren’t able to have visitors

“In this challenging time, this is what we need to do now to keep people safe, to keep our families safe and to stop this virus from having the impact that we’ve seen in many other countries around the world.

“So I’m asking everyone in British Columbia to do our part to support each other as we get through this crisis in the next couple of weeks.”

Dix said he remains concerned that Americans continue to be allowed into Canada, given the situation in King and Snohomish counties in Washington state. More than 900 cases of the virus have been reported in the state.

“It’s our strong view and it’s our strong message that visitors from the U.S. do not come to B.C.,” said Dix. “Don’t come. At this moment, this is the wrong thing to do.”

Other new measures being introduced:

• Pharmacists will be able to refill prescriptions without requiring an additional doctor’s note, saving time in doctors’ offices and allowing them to focus on more urgent matters.

• Doctors will be compensated for virtual-care services.

• The Health Ministry is restricting visitors in long-term care to essential visitors only.

• Dix has asked all health regulators to begin emergency registration of non-practising or retired health-care professionals and other health-care professionals from other jurisdictions and the armed forces.

• The province has also created its own health-response line at 1-888-COVID19 or text 604-630-0300. Information is available in more than 110 languages.

“These measure are being taken in the acute-care system and primary-care system to ensure that we are ready as the situation continues to evolve and develop,” said Dix. “We have to prepare our hospitals in all health regions.”

Dix reminded people of the importance of washing your hands and not touching your face, disposing of tissues, not visiting the elderly — who are most vulnerable — and most importantly, staying home if you’re sick.

“This is critically important. It is our civic obligation. It is our duty to our community and to the ones we love,” said Dix.

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