B.C. health officials have announced six new cases of COVID-19, and in a concerning development, two of them are residents of a North Vancouver long-term care home.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Saturday that the residents of the Lynn Valley Care Centre were infected via a care home worker who also works at other care home facilities in Metro Vancouver.
Vancouver Coastal Health is conducting an in-depth investigation to track where else the infected employee may have worked, and the care home is following its outbreak protocol, meaning it will be curtailing the number of people moving in and out of the facility, Henry said.
The long-term care home worker was "identified as part of our community case that we talked about earlier this week," Henry said. That person was the first case identified in B.C. who hadn’t travelled to any of the affected countries, and had not had contact with any of the people already infected.
VCH is also doing a detailed assessment of the staff, residents and any family who may have visited. Elderly people are especially vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, Henry said.
Care home staff often work in multiple facilities in order to make enough money to make ends meet, said Adrian Dix, B.C.'s Minister of Heath, so VCH's investigation will include determining whether other long-term care facilities may have been exposed to the illness.
"The message that I think is so important is, you need to stay home when you're sick," Henry said. "If you've travelled, even if you haven't travelled, we are in an extraordinary situation. We need everybody to be aware, to look after their children, if you or your children are sick, stay home."
Henry said that not everyone who is sick or has respiratory symptoms needs to get tested for COVID-19. But, Henry said, if you believe you have been exposed to the illness, or are having serious symptoms and need to see a doctor, people should call ahead before going in to your doctor's office or hospital so medical staff are prepared.
Henry was overcome with emotion as she spoke about the danger the virus poses to elderly people, and she urged B.C. residents to reconsider planned gatherings, especially if elderly people will be present. She asked people to consider having virtual gatherings.
Dix reiterated that message, saying that if people are planning to go to church on Sunday, to think about keeping "social distance" and foregoing customary greetings like embraces, handshakes and kisses.
The province now has 27 cases of the novel coronavirus.
Two of the six new cases announced Saturday were people who had connection with travel in Iran: a man in his 50s who had recently returned from Iran, and a “close household contact” of that man.
The final two cases were a man and a woman in their 60s who had been passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship that was docked off of San Francisco. The two passengers were on the ship from Feb. 11 to 21. There have been several other people from that same cruise ship found to have been infected in other Canadian provinces, Henry said.
Henry and Dix issued a strong warning to avoid cruise ships altogether at this time.
"People who are considering going on cruises, who have bought tickets, need to seriously consider," Dix said. "If you're asking my advice, I say don't go."
Dix noted that B.C.'s cruise season has not yet started, and he said the federal government and cruise industry are currently in discussions about the upcoming season.
Dix and Henry reiterated the importance of frequent handwashing, not touching your face, staying home when you are sick and disposing used tissues right away.
Dix also warned against false information about the virus that has been circulating on the Internet and has been rampant on social media. He reiterated that British Columbians should seek information from reputable sources such as governments and the news media.
Dix said the health ministry is committing to continue to give regular reports about the COVID-19 situation in British Columbia.
"There's no cure, there's no vaccine for COVID-19. You see on the Internet people claim this, and I have one piece of advice: if you see someone on the Internet claiming that, unfollow them," Dix said. "And if it's not your mother, block them. It's very important we deliver accurate information."