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As COVID-19 cases rise in B.C., health officer reassures public

'We're not talking about shutting down society here,' Henry says
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, and health minister Adrian Dix at a press conference on March 12. BC GOV FLICKR

THOUGH B.C. HAS 11 new cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, March 13, (bringing the provincial total to 64), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is reassuring the public that B.C. is still safe.

"We're not talking about shutting down society here. It's still very safe today in B.C., all across B.C., to go out, to go shopping, to go to restaurants," Henry said in a media update on the novel coronavirus.

"This virus does not transmit when people are outdoors, so go outside and play with your family, go up to our ski hills, go up to Whistler, go out and experience what we have here in British Columbia right now."

That said, the public is reminded to wash their hands regularly, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from others when they're sick.

"We can do things to stop the spread of this virus in our communities," Henry said.

"It is not inevitable that we are going to have a major surge in a short period of time, but those are the things that we need to do now to protect our communities, to protect our families, to protect our seniors and elders, and I'm calling on everybody in British Columbia to work with us to do that."

All 11 of the new cases originated in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region, Henry said: three admin staff at Lions Gate Hospital, an additional case at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, five more travel-related cases and two still under investigation (which Henry said she did not have details on).

Of B.C.'s 64 confirmed cases, 39 are in VCH, 23 in the Fraser Health Authority, one in the Island Health region and one in Interior Health.

"Six of those people have now recovered, with two consecutive negative tests, and of course tragically one person has passed away in North Vancouver," said health minister Adrian Dix.

As of last week, health officials had conducted 2,008 COVID-19 tests, Dix said.

"This week it's 6,326—that's 4,318 tests in a week, which is an extraordinary achievement by everybody involved in the system," he said.

That said, both Dix and Henry emphasized that the tests are not necessarily valid for someone who is not sick, that not everyone who comes back from travelling and gets sick needs a test, and that employers should not request physician notes for people to come back to work.

"We don't want people to have to go see a medical practitioner if they've been off on quarantine because they've been travelling or for other reasons," Henry said.

"So we are requesting (employers) not to request physician notes for people to be deemed safe to come back to work, and no, you don't need a test either."

It is hoped that a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people—which Henry made mandatory on March 13—will help slow the spread of the disease.

"We need to stop and slow the spread of this virus in our communities here in B.C. to buy us the time to ensure that we can flatten that curve and protect the most vulnerable people in our society, the people who are in our communities who are more likely to have severe illness or to die from this virus, and to allow our health system to be able to build up and accommodate people both who have this virus and safely look after everybody else who needs healthcare in our system," Henry said.

"So this is the time where we all need to do our part. We need to stay away from others when we're sick in particular, we need to cover our mouth when we cough, we need to clean our hands regularly, we need to enhance our cleaning in our environment."

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Check back with Pique for more as this story continues to develop.