Efforts to stop coronavirus 'greatest fight of our time,' says health minister as B.C. cases rise to 424

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 76 new coronavirus cases in the province on Saturday, bringing the total to 424.

Henry also announced one new death, bringing the total number to ten. That case is linked to an outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.

Henry also ordered that personal service establishments close, including spas, salons, tattoo parlours and massage parlours, because maintaining social distancing in those services is impossible. On Friday restaurants were ordered to stop providing dine-in services and move to delivery and takeout only.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province has provisions to work with peace officers to enforce the orders, stressing everyone must comply.

"This is really for all of us, as individuals and as a society, the greatest fight of our time," he said.

Twenty-seven people are now in hospital, and 12 people in intensive care. There are now 230 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 126 in Fraser Health, 37 in Vancouver Island Health, 27 in Interior Health, and four in Northern Health.

'This is our chance'

Henry said the number of cases has sharply increased this week as the province works through a backlog of tests, adding that the date new cases are announced does not reflect when those people became sick. She said testing capacity continues to increase and the province continues to test thousands of cases.

"When we start talking about flattening the curve, it's not necessarily the tests per day that are important, it's the number of people getting infected, and making sure we can look back at those days ahead and isolate people before they can transmit it to others," she said.

"If and when we flatten this curve we'll be changing our testing strategy again."

Henry once again stressed the importance of social distancing, saying "this is our chance to alter the course of this epidemic, and we can do it … it's in our hands right now."

Dix said the provincial health line at 811, which has fielded thousands of calls over the past few days, has added seven nurses and 30 patient navigators. Upwards of 530,000 people have used B.C.'s online self-assessment tool.

Additional measures have also been brought in to protect people living in care homes, including prohibiting non-medical long-term care staff and volunteers from working in more than one facility.

Despite the deluge of orders and increasingly strict measures announced in B.C. over the past days, reporters at the daily briefing observed that crowds of people continue to gather in public places.

"I know there's some anxiety about the measures that have been taken … they require 100 per cent compliance," said Dix.

"Most of these measures are orders. And they are enforceable."

Community transmission among healthcare workers

Henry said that while most people affected in the province are older, there is also a cluster of affected people in their 30s and 40s, who are primarily health-care workers.

She said the primary concern for health-care workers is exposure in the community, not in health-care settings — part of the reason that social distancing is so key. 

"We're in that period of time where we're going to see people who were exposed a week or 10 days ago becoming ill. And we can't control that. What we can control is what happens [going] forward," she said.

Henry also responded to calls from some B.C. doctors to institute a full lockdown, like those implemented in Italy and New York City.

"The term lockdown is a nice one to hear, but I believe that the measures that we're doing equate to what they're asking. There are still some problems and still some concerns … particularly with young people," she said, adding the province is considering using emergency text services to reach everyone in the province.

"Young people feel that they're immune to this ... But people are not immune."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.