Starting this week, workers in British Columbia's long-term care, acute care and assisted-living facilities will be limited to working in a single facility, following a new order by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The order aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19 between such facilities, which have been particularly hard-hit by the growing crisis.
Residents and workers at several long-term care facilities in the Lower Mainland have experienced COVID-19 infections, among them the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, the Haro Park Centre in downtown Vancouver, Delta View Care Centre in Delta and Broadway Pentecostal Lodge in Vancouver.
On Wednesday, Henry said the outbreak at Haro Park Centre is worsening, with 28 residents and 27 staff members testing positive.
Of the 14 deaths from COVID-19 in British Columbia, 11 are linked to the outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, and one to Haro Park.
Infections among health-care workers at long-term facilities are also on the rise, with 55 testing positive as of Wednesday.
The new order comes into effect this week, but Henry emphasizes it couldn't happen overnight, because there are so many different types of workers in long-term care — nurses, care aids, food service workers, cleaning staff — and they all have different types of contracts.
Some facilities are also owned and operated by the health authority, while others are private, and some workers are unionized while others are not.
"The types of subcontracts they have are myriad and complex. So it's not as simple as saying, 'OK everybody, you just need to go to one facility only,' because that would have left other facilities potentially with an extreme shortage," said Henry in her daily briefing Wednesday. "So it had to be managed in a centralized way."
Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health had already put in place similar orders requiring workers to be limited to one facility.
Announced March 21, the Vancouver Coastal Health order prohibits long-term care staff and volunteers — with the exception of physicians, paramedics and lab technicians — from working at more than one health-care facility.
It also prohibits transfers of residents between health-care facilities, unless approved by the medical health officer, and limits visitor access to immediate family members, as well as to spiritual advisers for those at the end of life.
Henry says the new province-wide measures are being introduced in the care facilities that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks first, then will be broadened to include all long-term care facilities over the coming days.
"So we are coming up with a provincial, central strategy that provides a consistent approach to all facilities across the province focusing on the Lower Mainland right now," she said Wednesday. "And it has been a very complex program. But it is starting."
British Columbia currently has a total of 659 confirmed cases, with 64 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospital, including 26 in intensive care. Henry said most of those hospitalized have been over the age of 50, although one child under the age of 10 also required hospital treatment.
To date, all 14 deaths from the virus in B.C. have been in patients over 70.