The first two weeks of restricting social gatherings to household groups has started to show results in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Lower Mainland, prompting the expansion of private home and other restrictions across B.C. until at least Dec. 7.
“We have seen a decrease in the number of people who have been infected from attending social gatherings,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said as she announced the province-wide expansion of restrictions this week. “So, it is making a difference in the Lower Mainland. Now we need to focus on some of the workplace settings where we’re seeing increases and long-term care where we’re seeing increases.”
Social gatherings, indoors at home or outside at private, sporting or cultural events, are suspended for two weeks at least under Henry’s latest public health orders. Masks are now required for indoor retail and public shared areas, such as apartment and office building hallways and elevators.
B.C.’s coronavirus testing and contact tracing effort reached its limit in recent weeks, although with recent hires and reassignments, the daily tests completed reached a new record of 13,792 on Nov. 18. Since late September, the daily tests reported by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control have averaged about 10,000 a day, as positive tests climbed past 600 and then 700 a day in November. Thursday’s total of 538 new infections was the first decline in a week, but still much higher than B.C.’s first surge in the spring, when capacity for testing was much lower.
Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to calls for more localized community data on virus spread, which continues to be reported by health region, except for specific locations of community and school exposures around the province. Dix and Henry have maintained that community data can give a false sense of security, as seen with the recent surge in the Fraser Health region.
“In the middle of the summer in Fraser Health, a disproportionate number of our cases within Fraser Health were in the Abbotsford area,” Dix said. “Now it’s in Surrey, but we have cases throughout the province,” Dix said Nov. 19. “And just to put it in context, I think the number of cases today outside of the Metro Vancouver health authorities is 51. Well, four weeks ago that averaged about four or five.”
It’s the regional and provincial “spillover” that prompted the return to essential-only travel in the province, a further blow to tourism and accommodation operators who have struggled to survive on local or regional business only.
“What does this mean? It means yes, you can move about within your region,” Henry said. “If you live in Penticton, you can go to Summerland. If you live in Victoria and want to go to Tofino – not such a good idea right now.”
A key public health concern is not only the high number of daily cases, but the rising portion that have not been traced to any specific exposure site. Dix said contact tracing staff have been transferred from other areas to Fraser Health, and new hires are also being assigned to B.C.’s most populous health region.
Community cases get into the health care system as staff members are infected in the community, and there are currently more than 50 long-term and acute care facilities dealing with confirmed exposures.