B.C. unveils COVID-19 response plan as it prepares for potential of sustained outbreak
Published Friday, March 6, 2020 12:27PM PST Last Updated Friday, March 6, 2020 6:52PM PST
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government has unveiled its plan for dealing with what could be a sustained COVID-19 outbreak lasting months on end.
Officials said their strategy going forward is focussed on four main areas: protecting the population, protecting vulnerable citizens, protecting health workers, and supporting B.C.’s health care capacity.
The province has also started contacting grocery store chains and other businesses to discourage panic buying and establish contingency plans in the event of a disruption to the supply chain.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Premier John Horgan described the government's response to the virus so far as "robust," noting that health care workers have already tested 2,804 samples from 2,008 people in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
Part of the province's ongoing response will be a major increase in testing capabilities, including new testing machines and locations.
"By the end of next week we will have four additional labs to test for COVID-19," Horgan told reporters Friday. "Everything we can do is being done."
Health Minister Adrian Dix noted the number of tests has almost doubled over the last week, which is the result of officials ramping up their response to the virus.
That ramping up will continue now that the province has recorded its first case of community spread in a woman who caught COVID-19 despite not leaving B.C. or coming into contact with a known carrier. Dix said the government is doing everything it can to "at least delay the onset of widespread community transmission for as long as possible to get us through peak influenza season."
"Our response provincially and federally needs to carefully balance health risks with social risks and economic risks, and be able to adapt quickly as situational changes arise," he said.
When it comes to protecting vulnerable populations – including seniors and people with chronic conditions – the government said it is ready to activate outbreak protocols for long-term care homes and assisted living centres. The same protocols will also apply to people who receive home and community care.
"These include but are not limited to reducing the number of people coming into facilities, screening visitors who do come in, and adding vigilance to respond to any indication of illness," Dix said.
Officials are also working on protocols around tourism and the cruise ship season, and preparing for scenarios like local outbreaks at a hospital or workplace.
The government said its plan to protect health workers focuses on communicating and maintaining best practices at hospitals and other care facilities, plus managing the supply chain for medical supplies at the provincial level.
Horgan took a moment to thank the health workers on the front lines for doing what he described as "truly heroic work."
"We sometimes overlook and neglect saying thank you to those people who put themselves at risk, put themselves in harm's way," he said.
Plans are also in place to bring in or redeploy additional health care staff if hospitals or other community sites come under stress amid an ongoing outbreak.
The government is also looking at things like redeploying hospital beds and potentially creating separate wards and Intensive Care Unit beds to keep respiratory patients away from other patients.
It has also tracked down all ventilators in the province and is ready to deploy and move them as necessary if there’s a localized outbreak.
The province said it's still in Phase 1 of the virus response, and that Phase 2 will be implemented gradually as more cases emerge.