By Fran Yanor

Local journalism initiative reporter

Mar. 19, 2020 — British Columbians need to take the new coronavirus protocols seriously, stay home when possible, and maintain social distancing in public, said the B.C. Medical Officer of Health.

“This is not optional,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, who earlier this week declared the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency.  “We still are on the upswing, and that’s why it is so, so important that we take… the physical distancing measures.”

The public health emergency declaration gives Henry the power to quickly and verbally order businesses and individuals to comply with her public health directives, which are enforceable by police.

Bars, pubs, theatres, event venues, and casinos have been ordered closed. Gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed, nor are businesses that can’t meet the one-to-two metre physical distancing required between individuals.

Businesses providing essential services such as grocery stores, banks and pharmacies must implement various cleaning protocols to keep surfaces disinfected, as well as, ensure employees and customers can maintain safe distances from each other. The Provincial Health Officer also advises rigorous hand-washing, no face-touching and always coughing into a tissue or sleeve.

Henry took it further today. Except for exercise and to go for personal supplies or help vulnerable people stock up, even healthy people should stay home, she said.

“Make sure that you get some exercise, you get some fresh air, I think that is important for all of our mental and physical health,” she said, but to break the transmission chain, everyone must keep distance from each other when outside the home.

“We want to make sure that we’re far enough apart from each other, that we’re not going to be transmitting this unknowingly to others,” she said, adding that strict adherence to health protocols is the only thing that will slow the spread of the pandemic.

“I want to be very clear that everybody needs to take these actions now,” said Henry.

For the past several weeks, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have held nearly daily press conferences, communicating the progression of the novel coronavirus. Initially, in February, a handful of newly-returned international travellers tested positive. Over the ensuing days and weeks, as the virus continued to spread around the planet, it also gained purchase in Canada and B.C., and has hit the elderly population particularly hard. So far, residents and staff in three long-term care facilities have been infected and people in every health authority have contracted the virus, including 4 people in Northern Health.

The numbers are fast-moving, but as of today, 271 British Columbians have tested positive. Of those, 17 are in hospital (nine in intensive care), eight people have died, five people are full recovered, and the rest are self-isolating at home with mild or no symptoms.

“We know we’re asking a lot of people, and we’re expecting a lot of people,” said Dix. Because on top of the pandemic, all of the other issues people had previously, continue to exist, such as physical illnesses, mental health struggles, and addictions.  “And so, we need to also support each other in every way in this time… (and) why we all have to participate and support 100 per cent what’s been recommended by the provincial health officer.”

“This is not a normal time,” said Henry. “This is what’s going to protect us for the next few weeks. It’s going to protect ourselves, it’s going to protect our families… the importance cannot be minimized.”

For additional non-medical information, call the Ministry of Health COVID-19 line at 888-268-4319.

If you think you have symptoms, complete the BC Centre for Disease Control online self-assessment tool