Shoppers are separated by rows of wood pallets to help with physical distancing as they line up to enter a Costco store in Burnaby, B.C., on Sunday, April 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Officials say B.C. could eventually double interactions without causing new COVID-19 surge

Interactions could grow from 30 per cent to 60 per cent of normal

As other provinces began to reopen Monday, B.C. released modelling on how it sees the fight against the COVID-19 going.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix outlined the scenarios that await British Columbians this summer depending on how measures are relaxed, as well as which groups have been the hardest-hit.

“Most of the people who’ve affected have been between the ages of 30 and 60,” Henry said. In total, 57 per cent of COVID-19 cases have been people 50 and over.

More women have tested positive for the virus than men, but although men make up 45 per cent of cases, they make up a disproportionate amount – 72 per cent – of deaths.

People with at least one underlying condition make up 38 per cent of cases, 66 per cent of hospitalizations and 84 per cent of deaths.

Henry went over how the pandemic progressed in B.C., noting an uptick in March as the incubation period from earlier infections ran its course. The province’s case and death rates remained well below the rest of Canada, as well as harder hit countries like Italy, Spain and the U.S.

READ MORE: B.C. records 170 ‘excess deaths’ so far during COVID-19 pandemic

Broadening our ‘pandemic bubbles’

As B.C. begins to reopen and increase contacts between people, Henry said there is a “manageable” level to strive for that would be above the current 30 per cent. Graphs released by the provincial government show that keeping interactions at 60 per cent or below would allow the healthcare system to keep up with demand.

But Henry said that going up to 80 per cent of usual contacts “means that the virus will be able to increase exponentially,” leading to resurgence in cases.

“Our challenge is to find that sweet spots… somewhere around increasing our contacts to twice as many as we have now but without allowing those opportunities for rapid, exponential growth of the virus,” she said.

“When you invite one person outside your immediate household bubble into your home, you’re also inviting all of the people… they’ve had contact with.”

B.C. government figures show the number of patients needing critical care due to COVID-19 could stay fairly flat at 60 per cent of our usual contacts. (B.C. government)

Henry acknowledged that keeping the status quo isn’t an option for the longterm.

“We know that our mental health, our economic health, affects our overall health and our population, as well,” she said.

“It is important for us to have connections both with our households… and our more extended families.”

READ MORE: B.C. records three new COVID-19 deaths in longterm care over past 48 hours

Henry said the focus is to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall, when it would coincide with influenza season in the fall.

“That is something we need to plan for,” she said.

She said physical barriers at stores, arrows showing which way people can walk down the aisles and making sure sick people are not penalized for missing work and school will be key in stopping the virus’s spread.

“Practicing good hygiene, avoiding touching our face, coughing into our sleeve, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces… those are all things that need to stay the same.”

Gatherings of 50 or more people, which are currently forbidden, will likely remain banned. Henry said that means large parades, events, weddings with many guests and a buffet will remain off the table.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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