By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“You might not feel it in your living room, but everyone in BC is pulling together,” B.C. Premier John Horgan told British Columbians last night in a rare direct-to-camera address from his office.
“There are early signs that our actions are making a difference, but we can’t stop now,” he said, citing the need to continue strict public health measures like social distancing, staying home, washing hands vigorously, and only going out for essential supplies or work.
“We all need to take this very seriously,” said Horgan, extending the provincewide state of emergency until Apr. 14. “These are not suggestions. They’re the law.”
Over the past several weeks, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency, ordered schools, bars, private practices and non-essential businesses either closed or dramatically altered to follow social distancing, increased sanitization practices and other public safety protocols.
“While I can call on peace officers to help enforce orders, it is a last resort,” said Henry yesterday. “We know that most people are doing what we’re asking them to do, and are doing the right thing.”
Last week, the province released scientific modelling showing that British Columbians’ collective efforts to social distance, avoid crowds, and stay home have begun to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections.
“This next two weeks is a critical two weeks, we have to be 100 per cent all in, every one of us has to be committed to it,” said Dix yesterday. “The good news is that we can see when that happens, that not just the healthcare system is breaking the links of transmission, but all of you are.”
About a week after the first measures took effect, B.C.’s rate of infections reduced from an expected 24 per cent increase, to 12 per cent. The first bending of the so-called curve.
“Tonight, I’m asking you to recommit,” said Horgan, in an unusually formal message. “Recommit to our health care workers and to each other.”
Around the world, nations have seen their health care systems and workers inundated by too many patients needing hospitalization all at once during COVID-19 outbreaks.
While health officials have been testing, tracking and battling the virus on multiple grounds in B.C., they have also been planning and prepping the health care sector for various levels of worst case scenarios should the province, too, be hit by a sudden influx of patients needing acute and critical care.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we do have hope,” said Horgan. “Hope that the steps we have taken are working. Hope that together, we can prevent the worst-case scenario.”
So far, the hospitalization numbers in the province are low. But every other jurisdiction started out that way as well.
As of Mar. 31, nine weeks after the first confirmed case in the province, 1,013 people had tested positive to COVID-19 in B.C., 507 people were recovered, 128 people were in hospital, 61 of them in Intensive Care. In Northern Health, 15 people had tested positive, and at least five had recovered.
Currently, as a precaution, more than 4,000 hospital beds have been emptied and hundreds of staff redeployed to stand ready for the potential COVID-19 need. Every health authority in the province has been mobilized.
“No one is immune to this virus, but everyone can make a difference,” said Henry.
While the majority of people who become infected experience mild, moderate, or no symptoms, about 20 per cent of people will develop serious complications, and a small portion of those will die. The most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, the virus that attacks the respiratory system and causes COVID-19, are the elderly and those with health problems such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and cancer.
“If you’re older, and you’re more likely to have severe illness from this, please stay at home to reduce your risk,” said Henry. “And we as a community will support you to do that.”
Seniors needing help to get groceries, medication and supplies, can contact bc211.ca or call 2-1-1 to get matched to government-vetted volunteers in their area.
To younger people, some of whom are still having trouble avoiding groups and socializing in person, Henry advises, “Stay apart. That is our duty, to make sure that we’re not connecting and transmitting this virus between us and bringing it home to those that we care about in our family, in our community.”
The next 14 days are critically important in curbing the spread of the virus, said Horgan.
“What we do today will affect what our doctors, nurses and first responders face in the days and weeks ahead,” the Premier said. “Do your part. Stay home, stay safe, and we’ll bend this curve together.”