British Columbia has launched a provincewide plan in preparation for an escalation of novel coronavirus cases that, if needed, could redeploy health-care workers, guide businesses through extended employee absences and offer supports for grocery stores, schools and public transportation.
The cross-ministry Pandemic Provincial Co-ordination Plan will use the same basic framework as those used in B.C. during the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks of 2003 and 2009, respectively, putting contingency plans in place for various public services and institutions for the possibility of a three- or four-month outbreak.
It comes as Canada’s top health officer issues a strong new warning, advising anyone who has travelled outside of Canada to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and stay home if they feel sick – even if symptoms are mild.
A deputy ministers committee co-chaired by Lori Halls from Emergency Management BC and Stephen Brown from the Ministry of Health will oversee the plan, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Friday. That committee will report to a new cabinet committee co-chaired by Mr. Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“We are ready to respond as conditions change,” the Premier said. “This deputy ministers committee will ensure that we are as topical and timely with information to you as we can possibly be. There are already actions in place to address the spread of this disease, and I want you to have every confidence that we’re doing what we can to protect public services.”
As of late Friday afternoon, B.C. had recorded 21 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including Canada’s first confirmed case of community transmission, announced Thursday.
Community spread is significant because it means there is no clear link to the source of the disease, and that the virus could be spreading undetected.
Four of B.C.’s 21 confirmed cases have fully recovered and one is in critical condition, but is improving.
Mr. Dix said the plan will prioritize protecting the general population, vulnerable citizens and health-care workers, while also supporting health-care capacity.
In practice, this means preparing for outbreak events of different scales and ensuring readiness to implement hospital-wide protocols to safely triage anyone presenting with respiratory illness.
In the event of an outbreak, it could mean discharging low-risk patients at hospitals and deferring scheduled surgeries. At long-term care or assisted-living facilities, visitors could be limited or screened. As well, the province is establishing a list of health-care workers that can be redeployed across the province on short notice if need be.
Mr. Dix said that the province will also co-ordinate with key business and tourism sectors to ensure that there are supplies for daily living at grocery-store chains and to reduce the risk of infection spread on public transportation and cruise ships.
“All of these plans have been put in place because we know that we must prepare for the situation as it develops,” Mr. Dix said.
Until recently, health officials have targeted warnings to individuals who travelled to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, such as China and Iran. But on Friday, Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, cautioned anyone who has travelled outside of the country, reflecting how quickly the virus is spreading around the world and the fact that cases are being imported from new countries, including the United States, almost daily.
“All travellers have to be very vigilant,” Dr. Tam said. “At the first sign of even mild symptoms, stay home.”
As of late Friday afternoon, there were 54 COVID-19 cases across Canada: 28 in Ontario; 21 in B.C.; three in Quebec; and two in Alberta. Two of the Ontario cases, announced Friday, are linked to travel to Italy and Iran, while a new Alberta case involves a man who travelled to Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Dr. Tam is also advising Canadians to reconsider boarding cruise ships. More than 230 Canadians are stuck on a cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco after a man who had been on the ship last month died of COVID-19.
Ontario’s health ministry said Friday that a husband and wife who had been on the ship last month tested positive for the virus. On Thursday, Alberta said it had identified its first case of COVID-19 in a woman who had also been on the ship last month.
With reports from Carly Weeks in Toronto and James Keller in Calgary
What is monkeypox, and is it in BC? | CTV News – CTV News Vancouver
Hours after the country’s top doctor suggested there could be a “couple” of cases of monkeypox in British Columbia, provincial officials said it’s been determined those people do not have the disease.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said Friday afternoon that there were two reported cases that could have been the disease, but that public health officials interviewed those people.
It was determined that they were not considered contacts of known cases and had not been exposed.
“No suspect cases or contacts of monkeypox are under investigation in B.C. at this time,” the BCCDC said in a statement.
“B.C. continues to work closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and public health will follow up with anyone thought to be exposed to monkeypox.”
The news came hours after Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in a news conference that officials are investigating what could be the disease in a couple of people who live in the province.
“Right now I would say just under a couple of dozen people under investigation by local authorities mainly in Quebec but a couple of contacts being followed up in British Columbia as well, but only two cases confirmed (in the country),” she said.
“There are samples under processing at the National Microbiology Lab as we speak so we might expect to hear more confirmations in the upcoming hours and days. “
She said local authorities are doing contact tracing, so right now, they don’t know the extent of the spread in Canada.
“So far we do know that not many of these individuals are connected to travel to Africa, where the disease is normally seen. So this is unusual,” she said.
WHAT IS MONKEYPOX?
Monkeypox was discovered in the late 1950s, and is a disease caused by a similar virus as the one that causes smallpox.
Symptoms are similar as well, including fever, chills, exhaustion, and head, muscle and back ache. Unlike smallpox, it can also cause lymph node swelling, and it’s considered to be more mild.
Later, those who’ve been infected get a rash and raised bumps filled with fluid. Those bumps turn to scabs over time and fall off.
Anyone who has developed signs or symptoms, including these blisters, should get advice from their doctor.
The name comes from its discovery – it was first found in colonies of monkeys that were being used for research.
A number of countries including the U.S. and U.K. are experiencing an outbreak of the disease, which is more commonly found in central and western Africa.
“It’s unusual for the world to see this many cases reported in different countries outside of Africa,” Tam said Friday.
Health officials say the virus is transmitted through close contact with an infected person, and while it’s generally transmitted through large respiratory droplets, Tam said Friday it may even be transmitted through contaminated clothing.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Alyse Kotyk and CTV News’ Solarina Ho
Canada’s first two monkeypox cases confirmed in Quebec, others under investigation
MONTREAL — The Public Health Agency of Canada says two cases of monkeypox in Quebec are the first confirmed cases in the country.
The agency said in a release late Thursday that it is working with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and public health officials in Quebec to investigate potential exposure and contacts of a case of monkeypox recently identified in the U.S.
It says a U.S. citizen recently travelled to Canada by private transportation and may have been infected before or during his visit to Montreal.
“Tonight, the Province of Quebec was notified that two samples received by the National Microbiology Laboratory have tested positive for monkeypox,” the release said. “These are the first two cases confirmed in Canada.”
The agency said the investigation into monkeypox is evolving and ongoing in Canada and around the world.
“More information is needed to assess if there are increased health risks to people in Canada.”
Earlier Thursday, the Quebec Health Department confirmed the province’s first two cases of monkeypox and said 20 other suspected cases are under investigation.
In a news release, the department said people should be alert to symptoms of the rare disease but stressed that it is spread through prolonged close contact with someone who is infected.
“Its contagiousness is thus considered limited compared with other viruses (flu, COVID-19, etc.),” the release said.
Montreal public health authorities urged calm as they confirmed they are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox, saying the disease isn’t likely to spread through the community.
Montreal’s public health director said that based on recent outbreaks in Europe and a case reported in the United States, there is a “strong possibility” that the infections in the city involve the virus linked to monkeypox.
“We do not have to panic. At the time that we are speaking, it is not something that is going to go to community transmission that is going to be sustained,” Dr. Mylène Drouin told a news conference.
Drouin said the first suspected cases in Montreal were reported on May 12 from clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, although symptoms had begun appearing around April 29. She said the cases are seen mostly in men between the ages of 30 and 55 years old who have had sexual relations with other men.
Most cases identified in the city are not severe, and symptoms involve a period of fever and sweating followed by the appearance of a painful rash in the genital area, Drouin said. All of the suspected cases are isolating and they have been instructed to cover their lesions until they heal. Those considered significant contacts — people in the same household or sexual partners — have been asked to monitor for symptoms for 21 days.
“There is no specific treatment currently available,” Drouin said. “It is painful, but mainly the forms we have right now are not severe forms of the illness.”
Drouin said the disease is transmitted by prolonged close contact and by droplets, adding that there is no risk from activities such as taking public transit, eating at a restaurant or shopping.
“This is not something we can acquire by going to the grocery store,” she said.
Although the infections were likely acquired through sexual activity, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
“We do not want to stigmatize any segment of the population,” said Dr. Geneviève Bergeron, the medical officer for health emergencies and infectious diseases at Montreal public health. “We want people to be aware of the concern but also to keep it in perspective that what we’re worried about is prolonged close contact, and that can happen in any sort of different type of setting.”
She said there are likely other cases in the city that haven’t been identified, and she called on people who are showing symptoms to contact a doctor.
Monkeypox is typically limited to Africa, and rare cases in the United States and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
On Wednesday, health officials in Massachusetts reported a monkeypox case in a man who had recently travelled to Canada. The man was in Montreal at the end of April to meet friends and returned home in early May.
Montreal health officials initially thought they were dealing with cases of chancroid, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection, until they received word of the U.S. case and changed the focus of their investigation.
“The case that we have in Boston was linked to a few of the suspected cases (in Montreal) but not all of them,” Bergeron said, noting some had travelled to Mexico and Belgium, while other cases weren’t linked to travel at all.
Bergeron said there is evidence that those who received the smallpox vaccine as children may have better protection against monkeypox. It was routinely offered to those born before 1972 in Canada. Drouin said any decision about reviving vaccination would come from the federal and provincial governments.
Monkeypox typically begins with a flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, followed by a rash on the face and body. In Africa, people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, and it does not usually spread easily among people.
Monkeypox comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox. Most people recover from monkeypox within weeks, but the disease can be fatal for up to one in 10 people, according to the World Health Organization.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Quebec coroner says many people share blame for high death toll in COVID first wave
MONTREAL — Quebec authorities share blame with the owners of a private Montreal-area long-term care home where 47 residents died during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province’s coroner said Thursday.
The owners of the home, the Quebec government and a Montreal health authority “passed the ball around” while vulnerable people died alone, coroner Géhane Kamel told reporters.
“There were a lot of emails that were sent, but during that time, people died,” Kamel said. “There were people who were dehydrated; there were people who were in their excrement and no one came …. Everyone failed.”
Thursday’s news conference was the first time Kamel spoke publicly since she released her report on Monday regarding her investigation into 53 deaths at several long-term care homes during the pandemic’s first wave.
She said that on March 29, 2020, officials at the local health authority were sending lawyer’s letters to the owners of the Herron care home, writing to the Health Department and deciding whether to call the police.
“While all this was happening, people were dying,” she said.
In August 2021, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office says the Herron’s owners wouldn’t face criminal charges. The office said that after an “exhaustive” investigation, the evidence did not meet the high bar for criminal charges, adding the decision not to lay charges did not minimize the “tragic events” that took place at the home, nor did it rule out that civil or ethical violations could have been committed.
Kamel said one death in particular at the Herron still haunts her — that of Leon Barrette, who died March 29, 2020, two days after he had been transferred to the facility. His body was cold when it was found, according to her report. He had died alone, apparently forgotten in his room.
“Did we leave the people to die without care?” she said.
While Kamel said her mandate wasn’t to blame specific people, her report was highly critical of Lynne McVey, the CEO of the health authority. Kamel refused to comment on an announcement that McVey would step down at the end of her mandate in July.
The coroner thanked Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais for her honesty at the inquest. Kamel said Blais’s testimony made it clear how little was done to protect older people living in long-term care.
Kamel’s report said that residents of Quebec long-term care homes were kept in a blind spot while the provincial government focused on protecting hospitals as it prepared for the first wave of the novel coronavirus in the spring of 2020. Almost 4,000 long-term care residents died between March and June of that year.
Her report included 23 recommendations intended to prevent future deaths. “Ultimately, what I hope we remember is that this report is supposed to be used so that this never happens again,” she said.
Patrick Martin-Ménard, a lawyer who represented some of the families of people whose deaths were investigated by Kamel, said her report is a good first step but that a full public inquiry is needed.
“We know that there were a number of shortcomings by a number of people in decision-making positions, from the top to the bottom of the health-care system, that led to significant casualties during the pandemic,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s not so much about pointing the finger, it’s about learning the lessons of what went wrong.”
Martin-Ménard said long-term care facilities are still seen as a place where elderly people are sent to die and that “sustainable” change is needed.
“There was an issue with the culture, the approach with which we take care of our most vulnerable elderly people, and this approach, unfortunately, has not changed; we’re seeing the same mentality prevail today,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
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