COVID-19: B.C. smashes daily record, new powers granted to shut down businesses

Move came as B.C. set a record daily case count of 1,293 and Henry warned the more contagious B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant was taking over

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The provincial health officer has given WorkSafeBC inspectors the power to shut down non-essential businesses for at least 10 days if there has been COVID-19 transmission at the business premises.

Under an expedited workplace closure order that comes into effect on Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said health authorities would be able to direct WorkSafeBC inspectors to serve closure notices and then work with businesses on their COVID-19 safety plan once they have reopened.

The move came as B.C. set a record daily count of 1,293 cases and Henry warned the more contagious B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant was taking over.

Henry said that by using targeted workplace closures, she could avoid issuing more sector-wide restrictions like those preventing restaurants, bars and cafés from serving food indoors.

“This is a more targeted approach to workplaces across the province to help us ensure that we are keeping things functioning as safely as possible and to avoid the need to have sector closures that are really a blunt tool,” she said.

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“Where we have seen widespread challenges, in restaurant dining for example, we have had to take the more blunt approach to stopping risky behaviour.”

A WorkSafeBC spokesperson said the agency had been given the role because of “capacity challenges in the public health system amid rising COVID-19 case numbers.”

Henry said there were 9,184 active cases of COVID-19, of which 336 were being treated in hospital, including 101 in intensive care. B.C. is in its third wave of infection, with the seven-day average daily case count accelerating and now past 1,000.

“We are starting to see a lot of the B.1.1.7 strain. And that is not unexpected. By the time we recognized that this was a strain that had increased transmissibility, it had already increased in British Columbia. We knew that this was likely to spread more easily and to cause more people to become infected and we have indeed seen that,” she said.

Based on current cases, Henry said people with B.1.1.7 were not more likely to end up in hospital than with the main variant over COVID-19. However, the increased case counted caused by the variants means more people are in hospitals.

She said health authorities would stop genome sequencing all positive cases that are identified using a special PCR test for variants of concern.

This PCR test can identify whether a case is a dangerous mutation of the original COVID-19, but it can not reveal what type of more contagious variants it is. Right now in B.C. there are three variants of concern circulating – B.1.1.7 first detected in the U.K., B.1.351 first detected in South Africa and P.1 first detected in Brazil.

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“Our strategy moving forward, given this high rate of VOCs that we’re seeing in B.C., will be to no longer routinely sequence for confirmation. We just assume that those screen-positives will be the variants. We assume that anybody who is positive for COVID-19 needs to be treated as if they have one of these highly transmissible viruses,” Henry said. 

“We don’t need to test so much any more to understand if we have the U.K. strain here because it is here. It’s increasing and it is causing more transmission in communities around the province. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of it particularly in the Fraser Health region.”

Henry said two people had died over the past day, bringing that toll to 1,493.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said that B.C. had 418,509 doses of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines on hand and that 897,437 people in B.C. had received vaccine (including 87,564 who have received a second dose).

“We are capable and able and are delivering vaccine at a rapid rate here in B.C.,” Dix said. “The only thing constraining that is the amount of vaccine we have.”

Dix said there were 730 ventilators in B.C. and 40 were being used by COVID-19 patients.

“At the moment, for all reasons, about 146 of those are occupied, 40 of them occupied with patients positive for COVID-19. So our occupancy of our total in-service ventilators in B.C. is 20 per cent at the moment,” he said.

However, if a person who was COVID-19 positive is ventilated, and remain ventilated despite no longer testing positive, they wont be counted as a COVID patient on a ventilator. Instead, they will be counted in the general pool of people on a ventilator.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com


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