B.C. has marked a sixth straight day without a death from COVID-19, but Dr. Bonnie Henry is drawing attention to the province’s other health emergency with a tearful statement about the overdose crisis.
On Thursday, the provincial health officer said B.C. has confirmed another 14 cases of the novel coronavirus, to bring the province’s total to 2,694 to date, including 183 that are still active. Thirteen people are in hospital, including five in intensive care.
A total of 167 people have now died of COVID-19 in B.C., but as Henry pointed out, 170 died of suspected overdoses in the month of May alone.
“I cannot express how difficult this news was to hear,” Henry said, her voice breaking. “I share your grief. These are our brothers and sisters, our co-workers … our friends and our community.”
Restaurant restrictions easing
Henry also announced Thursday that she is lifting restrictions on restaurants that required them to operate at 50 per cent of their regular capacity.
A modified public health order requires restaurants to determine how many people they can serve while still maintaining a two-metre distance between groups. Operators are required to monitor their premises to make sure that capacity isn’t exceeded and those distances are maintained, including in line-ups.
The order says there can be no more than six people in any party, and if a two-metre distance can’t be maintained between tables, a Plexiglas partition should be installed.
Buffets and self-serve stations are allowed to operate as long as there is a handwashing facility or hand sanitizer within easy reach and signs reminding customers to clean their hands before touching anything.
Thursday’s COVID-19 update included no new outbreaks in health-care settings or in the community, but public health officials continue to deal with five active outbreaks in long-term care.
To date, 560 people have become infected in connection with outbreaks in long-term care, including 341 residents and 219 staff members. Health Minister Adrian Dix said work on implementing an order limiting long-term care staff to a single facility is now 96 per cent complete.
At least two new clusters of cases announced in recent days have been linked to large family gatherings.
Henry repeats call for decriminalization
As she spoke about the spike in overdose deaths, Henry acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the crisis. More people are using drugs alone because of physical distancing measures, she said, and drug toxicity is increasing.
Henry said fear of the criminal justice system is a major contributor to the problem, and she repeated her call for decriminalization of illicit drug possession for personal use of drugs.
She urged people who use drugs to call 811 for help, to use overdose prevention sites and to seek out the legal prescription alternatives that are now available.
Henry also called for family and friends to reach out to loved ones who use illegal substances and let them know it’s OK to talk about it. She said it’s impossible to help if there’s no communication.
In other news, a World Health Organization-funded study confirms masks are effective both in health care and community settings.
Researchers in B.C. are working at finding another way of testing for COVID-19. The virus has primarily been tested for by nasal swabbing, but if it could be detected in saliva, test results could be obtained in minutes and read on a cellphone.
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