Taking temperature: BC declares public health emergency

Today, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has taken the significant step to declare a provincial public health emergency in an effort to give BC additional tools to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I felt that, today, this is the tool we need now,” she said. “We’ve taken a number of unprecedented measures in the last few days and this declaration of an emergency enables me to be faster, more streamlined and nimble in the things that we need to do right now.”

The emergency declaration followed Henry’s announcement that there are 83 new confirmed cases in the BC and there have been 3 additional deaths. The provincial total now stands at 186 confirmed cases — 116 of those being in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix highlighted the new powers the public health emergency declaration gives the provincial health officer. These include the ability to issue verbal orders, compel peace officers to enforce those orders and make changes to the Public Health Act without consulting the legislature, among others.

Henry made immediate use of those new powers to order all bars, clubs and any restaurants unable to meet the province’s criteria for social distancing to close or offer delivery or takeout services only.

Speaking on the large increase in cases since yesterday, she emphasized that there were a number of things behind that number, including many more people being tested for COVID-19 and a lag in confirming cases that were previously only presumptive positive.

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Henry’s new orders came only hours after the province announced that K-12 schools would be closed indefinitely.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has also released a new self-assessment tool that people can use to help determine whether they need to be tested for COVID-19 or not. Henry stressed that people with mild symptoms or who are self-isolating with no symptoms do not need to be tested at this time.

The federal government today announced new measures to support Canadians abroad as well as plans to roll out new measures to ease the economic burden of social distancing in the coming days.

These include a Global Affairs Canada emergency loan program to support Canadian travelers trying to get home or who are temporarily unable to return as well as a $25 billion aid package to support individuals and businesses.

At all levels of government today, the message was for people to take social distancing measures seriously to help slow the virus and play their part in keeping their communities safe.

“These are the things that I need everyone in British Columbia to be aware of and to do now so that in two weeks from now, we’re not facing another crisis,” said Henry.

Stay up to date on UBC information related to COVID-19 by visiting ubyssey.ca/covid-19, the websites of the BCCDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada or the World Health Organization. The province has set up a dedicated COVID-19 phone line at 1-888-COVID19 or text at 1-888-268-4319. For updates on UBC’s response to COVID-19, visit ubc.ca/campus-notifications/