Surrey is “ground zero” for COVID-19 in B.C.
That’s what Health Minister Adrian Dix told a virtual business crowd this week during a Surrey Board of Trade-hosted digital townhall Tuesday with Dix and Victoria Lee, Fraser Health President and CEO.
Dix said that of the province’s more than 6,000 active cases on Tuesday, roughly 75 per cent were in the Fraser Health region “with the largest share of those in Surrey.”
According to new region-by-region statistics released by the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Surrey health region is responsible for at least 27.7 per cent of the province’s total COVID-19 cases while being home to only 11 per cent of the B.C.’s population.
The most recent map, created Nov. 10, shows that 3,993 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Surrey from January to October, dwarfing surrounding municipalities. Surrey has more than four times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford (880). Surrey also has more cases than Vancouver (3,444), when all Vancouver health regions are combined.
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) November 17, 2020
However, Dix said the disproportionate infection rate in Surrey doesn’t hold true when considering B.C.’s COVID-19-related deaths.
“It should be said that if you look at overall people who passed away from COVID-19, Fraser Health is not leading the province,” he said Tuesday. “Under half of the people who passed away from COVID-19 live in the Fraser Health region which indicates two things: I think, the excellent performance of the authority, but also the fact that in general Fraser Health is younger than other other health authorities… and in Surrey.”
With rising rates of infection in B.C’s largest school district and beyond, Dix was asked what the threshold would be to close schools again.
The health minister said “there is no number” and that it’s his government’s “strong intention to keep schools open” as “there’s not a lot of transmission in schools.”
Instead, he said, community transmission must be reduced.
Dix asked what threshold is for closing schools.
He said it's gvt's "strong intention to keep schools open" as "there's not a lot of transmission in schools."
But to do so, community transmission has to be reduced.
"There is no number," he says about a threshold.#surreybc
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) November 17, 2020
Lee echoed that schools aren’t seeing high levels of transmission.
She told the business crowd that much of the infections are starting with private gatherings, which then results in “spillover” into schools, worksites and vulnerable settings like health care.
Lee said there are a few reasons Surrey’s infection rate is so high, including the city’s density being a setting that allows for faster spread of the virus; Surrey being home to a large number of essential workers that have a high level of exposure to the virus; as well as a high number of private gatherings in Surrey.
During the townhall, Dix and Lee also fielded questions on why B.C. has opted not to enact a mandatory mask order.
It’s something the SBOT called for just hours before hosting the Tuesday townhall, with the business group’s CEO Anita Huberman saying “we cannot afford to go into another economic lockdown.”
“We are past a critical time to get serious and need immediate and dramatic action,” she stressed in the release.
Lee said B.C.’s top doctor Dr. Bonnie Henry has been “very clear that her clear expectation that in public places that people wear masks.”
“She’s not calling it mandatory but that is her expectation across the board and there are many reasons why she’s not opting for mandatory masking,” said Lee, noting there is reasoning behind not creating a mandate such as impacts on vulnerable populations, those with medical reasons, as well as enforcement.
“From my perspective there are ways we can achieve the outcomes we’re looking for which is to have people masked if we don’t have other control measures available,” Lee added.
Dix echoed that.
“I’ve heard (Dr. Bonnie Henry) say it dozens of times, I’ve said it dozens of times. Wear a mask,” he said. “Wear a mask in indoor public spaces. Masks are mandated in many places in B.C. because COVID-19 safety plans are mandated and obligatory for all businesses.”
— SurreyBoardofTrade (@SBofT) November 17, 2020
Several outbreaks have been declared in Surrey in the past week.
This past weekend an outbreak was declared at a gym in Surrey, with at least 42 cases of the virus being linked to Platinum Athletic Club (7653 King George Blvd.). Anyone attended the fitness centre from October 21 to November 7 is being told to self-isolate for 14 days.
According to a social media post made by the gym, the virus was likely spread by a person who attended the fitness centre while waiting for their COVID-19 test results.
Also last weekend, Fraser Health declared at outbreak at Cambridge Elementary school after seven positive COVID-19 cases there. A Nov. 14 news release stated it would close for two weeks.
In North Delta, an outbreak was declared at Jarvis Traditional Elementary after six positive cases of the virus there. That school was also closed two weeks.
How do you follow something you can’t see? Fraser Health’s virus detectives work together to learn how COVID-19 spreads. Take a look at three Fraser Health examples using real data. https://t.co/R5dIdIvwcw pic.twitter.com/ZPNXvUGTcf
— Fraser Health (@Fraserhealth) November 11, 2020
Meantime, outbreaks at senior care homes continue in Surrey.
Fraser Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at PICS Assisted Living in Surrey.
A staff member and a resident at the Newton facility have tested positive for the virus, according to a news release from the health authority on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 15).
Meantime, a senior died at the White Rock Seniors Village this week, as an outbreak there grew to nearly 40 people infected as of Tuesday morning.
One other Retirement Concept facility on the Semiahmoo Peninsula has an active outbreak. At Peace Portal Seniors Village (15441 16 Ave.), one resident and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19. The resident is showing no symptoms and the staff member is self-isolating at home, a Nov. 16 update states.
Last week, Lee called on celebrants of Diwali, Karwa Chauth and other festivals to celebrate only at home with members of their immediate households as COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly rise in this region. This year Diwali fell on Saturday, Nov. 14.
The B.C. government is expected to provide an update on regional restrictions on Thursday afternoon. Visit surreynowleader.com for the latest news.
-With files from Tracy Holmes, Tyler Olsen, Aaron Hinks, Tom Zillich, Tom Zytaruk