Health officials in British Columbia are underlining the importance of "social distancing" as the province deals with seven new cases of COVID-19.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix made the announcement at their daily virus update in Victoria Wednesday afternoon. Among the new cases was the first one to be reported in the Island Health region, which covers Vancouver Island and parts of the B.C. coast.
Two of the new cases are associated with a North Vancouver seniors' care home where B.C.'s first community case of the novel coronavirus was recorded. Those two people are both workers at the Lynn Valley Care Centre - a man in his 20s who lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and a woman in her 50s who is in the Fraser Health region.
Three others are related to people who recently returned from travel to Egypt, Henry said. A man in his 70s related to the traveller from Egypt reported Tuesday has also tested positive for the virus. He lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region.
Another man in his 60s from the same travel group has tested positive for the virus in the Island Health region, which covers Vancouver Island. The remaining case from Egypt is a man from that country who is visiting family in the Fraser Health region, Henry said.
The final two cases are community cases in the Fraser Health region. Those cases are a man and a woman in their 60s, Henry said.
These new developments come on the day the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
"The pandemic declaration is something that's important," Henry said. "It's something that we've been talking about for several weeks."
The provincial health officer stressed that the pandemic declaration does not mean it's impossible to prepare for or contain the spread of the virus.
"It's not inevitable that everybody is going to be infected with this," Henry said. "It's not inevitable that our systems are going to be overwhelmed. We do not have to be in that position."
Henry emphasized the importance of social distancing: Increasing the space between yourself and others, staying home if you're feeling sick, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, covering your mouth when you cough and avoiding large gatherings of people.
"This is not forever," Henry said. "This is for the coming weeks when we know we have to do everything we can to prevent transmission of infection in our communities, to protect those people who are more likely to have severe illness and particularly our seniors and elders."
Though they encouraged social distancing, B.C. health officials did not issue any blanket statements against travel or large gatherings.
Sporting events in some U.S. states and in Europe have been played in empty stadiums, and numerous gatherings around the world and in B.C. have been cancelled because of concerns about the virus.
Henry said health officials are assessing such events on a case-by-case basis in B.C., adding that the virus tends to be transmitted more easily in close quarters, where people are sharing meals or meeting together in small spaces. Sporting events don't necessarily carry a high risk of transmission, she said, particularly if there's room to spread out people's seating.
Similarly, Henry did not recommend cancelling school province-wide, and said people with travel booked to the United States or elsewhere need to make a personal decision about whether to cancel.
"Right now, we need to think about it as a personal risk assessment," Henry said. "If you are older, if you are somebody who has underlying illnesses, in my opinion, you should seriously (re)consider travel internationally. You should seriously (re)consider attending events where there might be a possibility of transmission. Those are things that people need to make choices for themselves."