Dr. Bonnie Henry says it’s time for British Columbians to worry.
During a press conference Monday, B.C.’s chief medical officer said the province could face “explosive growth” in new COVID-19 cases if people are not careful.
B.C. confirmed 102 new cases over the weekend, the highest three-day total in months. The province now has a total of 3,300 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
“We are at a turning point, we right now show some concerning upward bending of our curve,” Henry said.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that three-day number, in particular, is much higher than officials are comfortable with.
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“102 new cases over the weekend in the context of Canada and in the context of the world may not be many, but it is a lot more than we are comfortable with and it is something we must respond to,” he told reporters.
Dix said the province escaped many of the harshest impacts of the virus in previous months because of hard work from everyone, and called on B.C. residents to “recommit” to having smart “COVID” sense when it comes to social distancing and limiting contacts.
“We need to recommit right now to what we know has made a difference in our B.C. efforts,” Dix said.
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Health officials said many of the new cases were linked to Canada Day parties in Kelowna. People from B.C.’s interior, the Vancouver area and Alberta gathered and attended multiple events over several days, leading to community transmission in the city. At least 60 cases are currently linked to Kelowna events.
“We are reacting to what has happened over the two weeks or three weeks,” she said. “We’ll see more cases in the next couple of weeks. What we can do is stop those people from exposing anyone else.”
Henry said we can expect more as attendees of those events have returned to their home communities.
“What we have seen with the Kelowna outbreaks are a series of parties, small groups that intermingle, people in one group one night, a different group another night,” Henry said.
Henry said people are becoming complacent with the number of close contacts they have, with some confirmed cases with 20 or 30 close contacts that have to be contacted by B.C. Health. Currently, the provincial health authority advises residents to have no more than six close contacts in their “bubble” and keep contacts to less than 65 per cent of “normal.”
Henry estimated that many people are hovering between 65 and 75 per cent of “normal” contacts, which is leading to spread of the virus.
“Now we can contain this, but we need people to be aware of it and to take those prevention measures that stop that next party from happening where somebody inadvertently brings it in,” she said.
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Henry warned that while young people may not face the same serious COVID-19 health impacts, they risk bringing into high-risk spaces.
“We will get spillover, either into hospitals, into long-term care homes, into other areas where other people at risk may be, and that’s what we need to prevent now,” she said.
Henry said the province wants to avoid another complete economic shutdown unless absolutely necessary. She said shutting down bars and restaurants would just encourage underground, improperly run operations.
“We need to do things that allow us to have our economy and have our social connections in a safe way,” Henry said.
The province is working with the bar and restaurant industry to come up with restrictions to help limit spread in those settings, and we can expect an update later this week.
“What we want to do is look at where these transmission events are happening more commonly and what we can do to limit transmission in those settings,” she said. “Our plan from the very beginning has been to gradually open things, to revise and adjust as specific issues arise.”
She also advised that individuals only socialize directly with people they know, and continue to work to keep their close contacts down. And if you are having a social gathering, Henry said to have one person keep track of everyone’s contact information to aid health officials with contact tracing if necessary.
Henry said that ultimately, it is the responsibility of every British Columbian to be careful and make smart choices in the coming weeks, and those choices will impact which way the curve goes.
“We’re on the edge — we’re on the edge that might go up, but it is in our hands to control,” she said.