B.C. identifies 8 new COVID-19 infections, including a 'community case'
VANCOUVER -- Health officials have identified eight new COVID-19 infections in British Columbia, including a "community case" who has not recently travelled outside the province.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said all the latest infections were discovered over the last day, and that half of them are "close household contacts" to one previously identified COVID-19 patient who recently returned from a trip to Iran.
But one of the newly identified patients is a woman who hasn't travelled to any COVID-19 affected countries and has no known contact with anyone in B.C. carrying the virus.
"This is a community case and we are doing a detailed investigation right now to try and determine where her source of infection was," Henry said.
The case was identified through B.C.'s annual influenza surveillance program. Officials recently announced they had begun testing people for COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
Henry said health officials are hard at work tracking the woman's movements and personal contacts from the days before she developed symptoms, and that while the process takes time, she's confident they will find answers.
"This is part of our bread and butter – the disease detective work – and we'll find out how she was infected," she said. "And our goal, of course, is to stop that chain of transmission."
Two of the other newly identified patients live in the same household and recently returned from travel to Iran, while the last is a Seattle resident who is visiting family in B.C.'s Fraser Health region, which spans from Burnaby to Hope.
"Clearly that is of concern to us and we are working with our neighbours to the south in Washington state to try and determine where her exposure might have been," Henry said.
Health officials also confirmed one of the new cases is connected to the abrupt closure of a small, private university in downtown Vancouver.
University Canada West announced Thursday morning that it's closing its Pender Street campus until Monday as a precaution, and that staff will be performing a "full disinfection" of the building.
"There was no risk," Henry said. "They took the opportunity to be extra cautious and I understand they're doing some cleaning over the weekend just to allay everybody's fears."
According to the university, a student's father, who recently visited B.C. from overseas, has tested positive for the virus. That student and a roommate who also attends UCW have been placed in isolation.
University vice president Cindy Banks said administrators have also contacted everyone at the school who may have come into contact with the student to alert them about the situation. They are all enrolled in four classes that administrators did not specify.
"Those students have been told not to come to campus and to reach out to medical authorities to have themselves checked," Banks said.
Officials continue to stress that people must stay home from work, school and group social functions if they're sick. Everyone else is encouraged to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face as much as possible.
Earlier this week, Dr. Henry also suggested people might want to reconsider common greetings like handshakes and hugs.
"It's OK to say: I'm going to keep my germs to myself," she told reporters Tuesday. "When I worked a number of years ago in an Ebola outbreak in Uganda, we would tap feet or tap elbows. It's making contact with people without spreading your germs."
The latest cases bring the total number of COVID-19 infections in B.C. up to 21, though four patients have fully recovered and three others are no longer symptomatic. One patient, a woman in her 80s who recently travelled to India and Hong Kong, has unfortunately developed severe symptoms and remains in critical condition at the Intensive Care Unit of Vancouver General Hospital.
Three additional COVID-19 cases surfaced in Ontario Thursday as well, bringing that province's total to 23, and Alberta health officials have announced their first presumptive case of the virus. There are now 46 COVID-19 cases across Canada, including patients who have already recovered.
Meanwhile, the outbreak in Washington state continues to worsen, with nearly 70 presumptive or confirmed cases and 11 deaths, most of which have been linked to one seniors' care home in King County.