As the number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia continues to climb while Italy reels from its largest single-day death count, BC’s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said she does not believe the province is on the same trajectory as the hard-hit European country.
Henry’s comments came on Tuesday afternoon, following an announcement that 145 more coronavirus cases have been identified in BC, bringing the province’s total number to 617, with 59 of those people currently in hospital, and 13 cases resulting in death.
“We’re all very concerned about Italy, obviously, and we’re watching other countries as well,” said Henry. “I think there’s been a lot of social media, a lot of clinicians from Italy, a lot of connections that we’re hearing about what’s happening there.”
Henry said she “will be presenting the modelling in some detail,” but in the meantime, she does not believe we’re on Italy’s trajectory.
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“[BC] put in measures at a point in time that is quite different from when [Italy] put in measures, and I really do believe that our testing strategy early on helped us better understand what was happening in our community and when we started to have community spread.”
By contrast, she continued, “I think both northern Italy and in our neighbours to the south – particularly Washington State – not having access to that testing early on meant that they were trying to play catch-up in understanding where people were in the community.”
In BC, “we now clearly have community spread and have had [it] for some time, and we still have a better understanding of where that spread is and how to manage it than if we had not done the amount of testing that we had done ahead of time,” she added.
Almost 30,000 tests conducted in BC
Henry said BC’s testing strategy has been informed by “looking at what is happening around the world” and “being nimble in our response.”
“To be clear, we are absolutely testing and contact tracing anybody for whom we don’t know the source of their infection, and that’s the important thing,” she said.
For individuals who travelled outside the country and returned, the source of infection is known, added Henry.
“Since we put that order that everyone who has travelled outside of Canada must self-isolate for 14 days, if they do become sick, we know the source of their infection and we don’t need to have them go out of their house to go someplace to be tested, maybe exposing other people,” she said. “We assume that they have this disease and we manage them accordingly, and we make sure that they don’t have contacts and pass it on to others.”
This process allows health authorities to focus on community cases, where the source of infection is not known.
Nearly 30,000 tests have been conducted in BC, and Henry says the backlog of testing has now been cleared up.
“But now this allows us to widely test anybody for whom we don’t have an idea where they came in contact with this. So that’s community cases that are involved with a cluster or outbreak,” stated Henry.
“It also means that we can aggressively test healthcare workers in our health system as well as the long-term care residents … so that we can manage outbreaks and protect our healthcare system.”
Henry and will update the public again on new cases on Wednesday at 3 pm, along with BC Health Minister Adrian Dix.