New confirmed cases of COVID-19 are down again since Friday, as are the number of hospitalizations, but it will likely be at least two more weeks before some of the restrictions now in place might start being eased, says provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.
“The easing of the restrictions, when they come, will be gradual and will be slow and thoughtful,” Henry said in her daily pandemic update Saturday.
She added big events, like weddings, parades and festivals “will not be happening this summer.”
"Things like the PNE are not likely to happen this year," she said.
She did offer some hope, and some advice, to businesses that have been shut down of a gradual reopening.
There were 29 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Friday, bringing the total 1,647.
There have been three more deaths since Friday, bringing the death toll in B.C. to 81, but hospitalizations are down slightly to 115. There have been no new cases in long-term care homes and assisted living. A total of 987 people infected with COVID-19 have recovered.
The worst outbreak outside of long-term care homes and assisted living has been the federal prison in Mission. There are now 70 confirmed cases there, 60 of whom are inmates.
There have been no additional cases at a provincial corrections facility in the Okanagan or at a tree nursery in the region where a number of temporary foreign farm workers have tested positive and are in isolation.
The divergence between falling new cases and hospitalizations, and continued deaths, is explained by the two or three weeks it takes from the time of infection to become critically ill from the disease.
Despite some positive signs that new cases of COVID-19 are declining, there is still the possibility of a new outbreak somewhere. Public health officials are waiting, for example, to see if there have been any outbreaks resulting from the Easter long weekend, which saw some British Columbians travelling, contrary to advice.
"What happened on the Easter weekend, for example – we're going to start seeing if there's impacts on our communities in the coming days," Henry said.
She said the easing of restrictions likely won't start happening until mid-May, and that is only if new cases continue to decline.
As for retail businesses that have been shut down, Henry said they should be thinking of how they can reopen while maintaining physical distancing.
She said some retail stores might be able to follow some of the measures that grocery stores have implemented, like limiting the number of people allowed in a store at a given time, and moving to more “hybrid” systems where customers can place orders online or by phone before coming into a store to pick up goods.
“Start thinking like that,” Henry said. “Start thinking about how you can run your business [while] maintaining the physical distances that we need to keep between us. So yes, if you’re a retailer [and] you can operate in the same way as a grocery store is now, that’s a great thing to start planning for.”
She also offered some hope that some students might be able to return to school, perhaps by mid-May.
“I absolutely think we’ll have some children back in schools this year but it may be modified,” she said.
She said it won’t be a blanket return to class, however. Different strategies will likely be implemented, depending on the school district, schools and the needs of students.
Here are today’s COVID-19 numbers for Saturday April 18, with numbers from April 17 in brackets:
New cases: 29 (43)
Total: 1,647 (1,618)
Recovered: 987 (966)
Hospitalized: 115 (119)
Intensive care: 54 (52)
Deaths: 81 (78)
Long-term care, assisted living: 20 (20)
Confirmed cases by region:
Vancouver Coastal Health: 686
Fraser Health: 680
Island Health: 97
Interior Health: 150
Northern Health: 34