VANCOUVER — British Columbians could see a “gradual… slow and thoughtful” easing of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in the middle of May, but the province remains in the “eye of the storm,” said the provincial health officer.
“We really are in a hurricane, in a major storm,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry during her Saturday update on the coronavirus pandemic.
“But we have made considerable progress in our province and it is because of what everyone has done together.”
The province saw three more deaths from people who tested positive for COVID-19 — all from long-term care facilities — to bring the province’s death tally to 81, she said.
B.C. also added 29 new cases for a total of 1,647. One hundred and fifteen patients are hospitalized with 54 in critical care ICUs, while 987 people are considered fully recovered.
The province has 20 ongoing long-term care or assisted-living facility outbreaks, and one in acute care, said Henry. Some of the new cases are in these environments, bringing the total number of cases in long-term care or assisted living to 288.
B.C. is also dealing with outbreaks at correctional facilities, including one at Mission Institution.
Up to 70 people, including 60 inmates, have been affected by COVID-19 at the Mission, B.C., facility.
Health models released Friday showed the province’s response to the outbreak has flattened the curve and slowed spread.
“The easing of restrictions, when they come, will be gradual and will be slow and thoughtful,” said Henry.
The province will have to think in two-week increments as that is the incubation period for the virus. In the coming days, for example, authorities will assess whether there’s any impact on communities from Easter weekend activities.
If B.C. continues to see sustained improvement over the next two weeks, she said, it may be able to take actions in the middle of May to help increase people’s social connections, as well as industrial and business activities, and further open the health care system.
Some children may also return to school in some capacity this year, Henry said, adding she “absolutely” does not believe children will be off school and out of the classroom for the next 18 months.
The province needs “to find a sweet spot.”
It’s unlikely big social events, such as Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition, will happen this year, she added. Around the world, she expects large events, such as parades, will not be occurring this summer.
“That is a much riskier prospect than ever before. We do not have enough herd immunity or community immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen.”
Henry acknowledged that it is a challenging time for groups looking to hold smaller functions, such as family parties or weddings.
“I would tell people to think small.”
The middle of May is a best-case scenario rather than a hard date, she said. First, the province needs to see things like the number of new cases per day go down to zero.
“What we need to do now is to hold our line, and please keep doing what you’ve been doing.”