By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, seen here on July 17, 2020, sympathized with the need to socialize but cautioned British Columbians, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, to maintain public health protocols when interacting with others: “Don’t let COVID steal your summer.” /Province of BC Photo

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called a special press conference yesterday to announce 28 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., including three in the North, a baby in a Vancouver neonatal Intensive Care hospital unit, and an expanding caseload stemming from events in Kelowna.

“These flare ups in our communities around the province are a concern,” Henry said from Victoria. “It isn’t necessarily unexpected, but it is a warning to us that we need to do more to keep things in balance.”

Of the three people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Northern Health, one is a worker at BC Hydro’s Site C near Fort St. John, while the two others are from separate communities in the North. None of the cases are connected.

The Site C worker was newly-arrived from Alberta and began self-isolating two days into his shift and immediately on receiving positive test results for COVID-19. A handful of close contacts are also self-isolating at Site C. There was no interaction between the workers and the local community.

The other two Northerners who tested positive were recovering in their homes and had minimal close contacts, said Henry.

“Around Northern B.C., we have very few cases of COVID-19,” said Valemount Mayor Owen Torgerson. “And that’s the way we like it.”

The latest people to test positive, were the first new cases announced in Northern Health in 39 days.

“Low and slow; bigger spaces, fewer faces,” said Torgerson, quoting Henry. “We encourage visitors to be respectful of our community”¦ as we all enjoy our 360 degrees of opportunities.”


COVID-19 reaches neonatal ICU


At St. Paul’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), one baby tested positive for COVID-19 but showed no signs of illness, and several additional babies and families have been exposed, said Henry.

“There is no infant at NICU at St. Paul’s right now who has severe illness or worrisome illness at all,” the health officer said. “So that’s good news.”

While some infants can develop severe illness after developing COVID-19, so far, none have in B.C. or in Canada, said Henry. “Most young children, even infants, and even infants in the intensive care unit do very well with this,” she said. “We’ll obviously be watching very carefully.”

Everyone potentially exposed to the virus is being closely monitored, she said. “But I do believe it is a very low risk scenario for others who were in the NICU with the people who were cases.”

The Neonatal ICU is currently closed, while the hospital’s maternity ward is full-functioning, said Henry.


Kelowna outbreak


Many of the day’s new COVID-19 cases were people in their 20s and 30s who transmitted the virus during social events that began in Kelowna around Canada Day.

“There were a number of parties and different people and then they went to different restaurants,” said Henry.

“We know that gathering helps us feel connected and hopeful in these challenging times,” said Henry. “I empathize. It’s been a rough couple of months.”

As of July 17, 35 people had tested positive to COVID-19 related to what began at a couple of community events in Kelowna on Canada Day.

“We anticipate that there will be more cases in the coming days as people who were exposed are now starting to develop symptoms,” said Henry, who met with City of Kelowna representatives, Minister Adrian Dix, Opposition Health Critic and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, and Interior Health officials earlier in the day. The group came up with a plan to help people ‘safely enjoy the rest of the summer,’ she said.


Dr. Henry asks young people to be her ‘voice’


“This is a time in your life where those social connections are so important,” said Henry, but those connections must be made in a way that doesn’t lead to a rapid increase in numbers of cases.

“Open isn’t over,” Henry said. “It just means we need to take precautions and do it in a safe way.”

While the severity of illness is typically lower in young adults, their ability to spread the virus is just as high, or higher, than older people, Henry said.

“I don’t want COVID to steal our summer,” said Henry. “So that means we all need to do our bit.”

Henry asked young people to be her ‘voice’ on social media.

“Use your influence to share a message with your friends, with your connections around the province,” she said, to help British Columbians maintain the public health measures that have allowed people the freedom to mix this summer.

“We need to play safe and stay safe,” said Henry. “In the same way that we don’t let friends drive drunk, or that we use condoms and sunscreen.”

We can still have fun and enjoy each other’s company, said Henry. “But just do it in a way that that minimizes our risk of having major outbreaks.”

Always know who you’re with when you’re out, she said. That way public health officials can find people quickly and break the chains of transmission.

When hosting a party, keep the number of attendees low and collect their contact details, she said. Then, if there is an exposure event, public health can anonymously send guests messages to let them know of their risk.

“Take steps to protect each other,” she said, “so you can spread kindness and joy, and not the virus.”

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / The Rocky Mountain Goat / [email protected]