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BC Extends COVID-19 Restrictions Indefinitely | The Star – Toronto Star

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Restrictions on social gatherings and public events will continue indefinitely as British Columbia ramps up vaccinations and efforts to track variant COVID-19 cases, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today.

Overall cases numbers are stable or trending down in all health regions, Henry reported, and reproductive rates — the number of new cases stemming from each original infection — are hovering slightly below one on a provincewide basis.

But as hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline, Henry offered some hope.

If people protect the progress made so far, she said, then restrictions could be eased to allow socializing among one’s “safe six” contacts, sports and some in-person faith services to begin as early as the end of this month.

“We are bending our curve, slowly and steadily. But we need to protect the progress we have made since the start of this year,” she said.

Henry flagged an issue of “great concern,” noting that the number of cases involving two more easily transmissible variants, originally identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, have doubled from 14 to 28 in the last few weeks.

Of the nine cases of the South African variant, five have no identified exposure link, suggesting there is wider community transmission. No cases of the variant first identified in Brazil have been identified.

“This is something we are watching,” Henry said.

“Right now, we need to stay the path, we need to buy time… to understand whether these variants of concern are going to affect transmission in our community and… to get our immunization program back up to full speed.”

Variants result when the virus multiplies, and its genetic material mutates slightly in the process.

Sometimes these mutations can lead to these emerging variants being more easily transmitted.

There is some evidence they may cause more serious illness, and some early data suggests both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could be less effective on the South African variant.

But Henry says it’s difficult to know yet if the variants cause more serious illnesses.

This uncertainty raises the risk that rapid spread could take hold even faster if restrictive measures don’t remain in place.

“So far those variants seem to be relatively contained, but it is concerning to us that we have transmission of these variants in our communities,” said Henry.

“If we slip a little bit, the potential for transmission goes up, and that is of particular concern right now.”

Currently about 750 positive cases are tested for the variants’ genetic sequences each week.

But Henry said the BC Centre for Disease Control is developing an indicator test the province hopes to use to screen all positive COVID-19 samples for any variant. If the test is positive, a full genetic sequencing would be done to determine which variant is involved.

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Maintaining restrictions will buy time for the province to ramp up variant testing and catch up on its vaccination plan, which has been slowed by delayed shipments from both vaccine manufacturers.

“This will allow us to respond quickly and rapidly to any surge in variants of concern that may come up quickly,” said Henry. “Just one superspreader event can quickly counteract our progress and work.”

But cases, hospitalizations and deaths among seniors, particularly those over 80 and in long-term care, are decreasing, signalling the impact of prioritizing residents for vaccination.

Henry said 87 per cent of eligible long-term care residents and 89 per cent of staff have been vaccinated. The majority of those who have not are currently ill and will be eligible for their first dose when they have recovered.

So far, 525 of 26,895 vaccinated residents and 5,676 of 34,658 staff have had their second doses.

“Reduction of vaccine supplies creates some challenges,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said. “It’s very important we finish second doses in long-term care, so we can take the other sets of steps elsewhere.”

Adults aged 20-29 continue to make up a disproportionate number of cases, which Henry attributed to social gatherings and workplace exposures.

But school-aged children, particularly under 10, continue to transmit the virus and become ill at a lower rate.

Henry and Dix said the numbers are promising, but B.C. must continue its hard push to reduce transmission so that variants can be tracked and vaccines distributed to those who need them most.

“The difference is still down to each of us,” said Dix.

Henry said progress is being made toward eased restrictions.

“We all want to get to the day where these orders are lifted,” she said. “We’re not quite there yet, but we are getting closer every day.”

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COVID-19 on Vancouver Island: Health officials to provide case update – CTV News VI

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VICTORIA —
Health officials have confirmed 26 more cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Island region Friday.

The cases were among 634 found across the province over the last 24 hours, health officials said in their final COVID-19 update of the week.

There are now 305 active cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Island region, including 17 people in hospital and two in critical care.

Island Health has identified the locations of 256 of the active cases. There are 139 in the Central Island, 62 in the North Island and 55 in the South Island.

Four more people have died of the virus in B.C., bringing the province’s death toll to 1,380. No deaths were reported in the Island Health region, where the death toll has reached 27.

“We offer our condolences to everyone who has lost loved ones to COVID-19,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a joint statement.

The Island Health region has now confirmed 2,515 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

B.C. identified four new COVID-19 variant cases Friday. The province has now confirmed 250 variant cases, 12 of which are currently active.

Meanwhile, health-care teams have administered 12,357 more vaccine doses over the past 24 hours, for a total of 311,208 doses, including 86,865 second doses.

Health officials say the province’s vaccine rollout plan is gaining momentum, and remind British Columbians aged 90 and over that they can begin booking vaccine appointments on Monday.

Indigenous people over the age of 65 can also arrange for a vaccine appointment starting March. 8.

“In addition to our immunization program, we are regularly reviewing the public health restrictions to assess when we can safely ease them,” said Henry and Dix.

“We know many are keen to resume activities and we will open what we can when we have the confidence it is safe to do so.”

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B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results – Victoria News

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B.C. has completed 39 pilot projects on its available COVID-19 rapid testing technologies, including at seven outbreaks in long-term care facilities to screen employees who are not showing symptoms.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry responded this week to repeated calls for more widespread use of rapid testing, describing how nasal swabs and rapid result machines have been used in provincial prisons, workplace outbreaks and in B.C. schools where exposures have taken place. Results have not been encouraging.

“Of the thousands of tests that have been done, two of them have been positive, and both of those cases were in facilities that were having an outbreak,” Henry said at a COVID-19 briefing March 4. “So if our community transmission rates are low, screening with these less sensitive tests is not very effective. It doesn’t help us because the yield is so low and they have a very much higher false-negative rate. In those areas where we have an outbreak or where community transmission rates are higher, that’s when they might have more utility and those are the areas that we are looking at more closely.”

RELATED: COVID-19 Rapid tests not effective, use restricted, Dix says

RELATED: Rapid tests deployed for B.C. homeless shelter outbreaks

B.C. started receiving Health Canada-approved rapid tests in late October, but each batch required validation by a B.C. Centre for Disease Control lab, before pilot projects could be done. The first school test was at Garibaldi secondary in Maple Ridge, where a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus turned up in the more accurate genetic testing used for diagnosis.

“There are two situations that we use them in,” Henry said. “One is for testing of people with symptoms to determine whether they might have COVID or something else. This has been very helpful in situations where people have had a test three days before they go for surgery and the day of their surgery they have a bit of a cough or runny nose.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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Dentists, teachers, bus drivers want Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in B.C. – National Post

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VANCOUVER — Dentists, teachers and bus drivers are among the essential workers who hope to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in British Columbia, as a provincial committee decides who should be prioritized for the shot.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said her members should be included in the plan expected to be released by the B.C. Immunization Committee around March 18.

Education staff have had the second-highest number of COVID-19 claims accepted by WorkSafeBC, behind only health-care workers, and teachers have faced challenging conditions, Mooring said.

“It’s been a very difficult and stressful environment for teachers in B.C.,” she said Friday.

“Teachers have not, from the very start, been satisfied with the preventative measures that have been in place in classrooms. What we see is one of the most lax mask policies in all of Canada.”

The province does not require elementary students to wear masks, unlike in Ontario and high-risk areas of Quebec. B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said young children don’t get as sick from COVID-19 or pass it on as well as others.

Henry has said the immunization committee will use public health principles, vaccine science and an ethical framework to reach its decision on which essential workers and first responders should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Once the plan is finalized, the vaccine will be administered in a parallel program to the province’s age-based strategy for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement Friday that the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become another tool in its program to accelerate the protection of more people in the province.

The officials reported 634 new cases and four more fatalities, pushing the death toll to 1,380 in B.C. Four new cases were confirmed to be variants of concern, bringing the total to 250.

The BC Dental Association said in a statement it would be “extremely pleased” if its members were included in the group to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot. Dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely, work in very close proximity to the mouth and often use aerosol-generating procedures, it said.

The association also pointed out that dentists, dental hygienists and certified dental assistants are included in Henry’s recent order to help administer the vaccines.

“We would expect that any dentist choosing to participate in mass vaccination clinics would be required to have been vaccinated themselves prior to providing them,” it said.

Balbir Mann, president of Unifor Local 111, which represents Metro Vancouver bus drivers, said his members should receive the vaccine because they have been at risk throughout the pandemic.

“When people get on the bus to pay their bus fare, they’re literally a couple feet away. Our members, day to day, they’re scared of the sneezes and coughs they have to deal with on a daily basis.”

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Henry has suggested that workers in food processing plants will be prioritized because there have been a number of outbreaks in the facilities that have led to broader community transmission.

James Donaldson, CEO of BC Food and Beverage, said his organization has been advocating for food production workers to receive priority access to vaccines since they became available.

“Our industry is essential as it ensures the continuity of the food supply for people in B.C. and around the world,” he said.

Kim Novak, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 1518, represents food plant workers including those at Grand River Foods in Abbotsford who recently grappled with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s because of the nature of the work. People are working in close proximity. Even with enhanced (personal protective equipment), staggering breaks and other health and safety protocols that have been implemented, there is still a high level of exposure,” she said.

Novak’s union also represents grocery store workers and she hopes they will be included in the plan for the vaccine.

“In grocery stores in particular, there is a lot of exposure to different people in the public,” she said. “That exposure not only is a risk for our members … but also the public who interact with them.”

BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle, meanwhile, said his group represents both long-haul truckers and local drivers who return home every night. He wants to hear from the province about where the COVID-19 hot spots are in the transportation system.

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For example, in B.C., there are 300,000 people with a Class 1 licence allowing them to operate a semi-trailer truck, Earle said.

“Not everybody with a Class 1 licence operates a heavy truck at the moment and many of those who do don’t do it in an environment where they’re at any greater risk than you and I just going about our daily lives,” he said.

In some European countries, people have been hesitant to receive the AstraZeneca shot because of fears it is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has also not recommended AstraZeneca for people over 65, while Health Canada has approved it for all adults.

Henry sought on Thursday to assure essential workers that the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely effective. The clinical trials for all three vaccines were done under different conditions and cannot be fairly compared, she said.

The groups representing essential workers said Friday they hadn’t heard any concerns about the AstraZeneca shot from members.

Earle said his association takes guidance from public health officials and they’ve been abundantly clear.

“Whatever you’re offered, take it. Let’s get out of this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

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