'Zero new cases': Dr. Bonnie Henry shares insight on when B.C. can ease restrictions
Published Wednesday, April 22, 2020 8:53PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, April 22, 2020 8:59PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wants to see "at least a couple of days" without any new COVID-19 cases before officials start easing some of the restrictions that have dramatically impacted people's daily lives.
In an exclusive interview with CTV News at Six anchors Scott Roberts and Mi-Jung Lee on Wednesday, Henry said it wouldn't be safe to begin relaxing the rules while new infections are continuing to emerge in the community.
"We're still having outbreaks that are not being caught early enough," she said, alluding to the situation at United Poultry Ltd. that contributed to B.C.'s biggest jump in test-positive cases since late March.
"What we need to see, what I would really like to see, is going back down to zero," she added. "Zero new cases."
That doesn't mean zero people in recovery, however. Dr. Henry said there could still be some people in hospital when the province is finally able to dial back some of its rigid COVID-19 restrictions, as it can take patients more than a month to recover from the more severe infections.
But the outbreak at United Poultry has shown that community spread is still a major concern for the time being. Earlier on Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan revealed some employees at the food processing plant had gone to work despite feeling sick out of fear they would "lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses."
Officials have stressed that people must self-isolate if they are experiencing even mild cold symptoms.
So far, 28 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, meaning there are 28 new families for health authorities to monitor for infection.
On the upside, Dr. Henry said doing that kind of contact tracing is much more straightforward now that the vast majority of British Columbians are staying home and avoiding unnecessary face-to-face interactions.
"Before we put any of our distancing measures in place, when we had a case in the community they would often have 20, 30 – some of them up to 70, 80 – people that they had close contact with when they were sick," she said. "Now we're seeing that people have two or three."
When the virus has slowed down and there are days with zero cases, officials said they will be easing restrictions gradually and meticulously, balancing the needs of the economy and society at large with the need to prevent explosive new outbreaks.
"We don't want to let things go too far," Henry said. "That's sort of the balance we have to find, the spot where we can open things up, we can get some businesses going, we can get some schooling and child care going, but in a way that is not going to lead to wild transmission."
They said one of the first steps will be to allow elective surgeries to resume, which could happen as early as May. Officials have also hinted at the possibility that restaurants could be allowed to begin dine-in service again, provided they can ensure some level of physical distancing among guests.
While speaking with CTV News on Wednesday, the provincial health officer even went so far as to suggest there could be some hope for families who want to do some travelling over the summer, provided they stay within the country, or perhaps within B.C.
"I do believe we'll have some opportunities for travel within Canada," Henry said.
Whether that kind of travel will be allowed will also depend on the state of the COVID-19 crisis in the coming months, she added.