A 13th presumptive case of novel coronavirus has been identified in B.C. The patient is a woman in her 80s who is in critical condition at Vancouver General Hospital.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the woman had recently returned from travel in India and Hong Kong, and officials are investigating where she might have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
“The timing of her symptom onset is much more likely to be related to Hong Kong,” Henry said at a news conference Wednesday, but she added that the province is also looking into a tour group that the woman travelled with in India.
The patient is currently in isolation in the intensive care unit, and Henry said “all precautions” have been taken to protect staff and other patients.
This is B.C.’s first severe case of the novel coronavirus. Henry said the sick woman has several underlying conditions that put her at risk of serious illness.
All of the previous 12 patients were able to stay in isolation at home and four have recovered completely. Three other patients are currently asymptomatic and are awaiting test results to clear them to return to normal life.
All COVID-19 patients must test negative for the virus twice before they can leave isolation, said Henry.
Of the previous 12 cases, seven have been connected to an outbreak in Iran and five have been connected to China.
Henry said that while B.C. has experience dealing with disease pandemics, each outbreak is different, and it takes some time after the initial chaos to work out an effective response.
“I am confident that it will never be easy,” she said. “There’s a lot of unknowns at the beginning … but we’re putting the puzzle together and breaking the chains of transmission.”
She pointed out that China, which was the epicentre of the outbreak, has managed to significantly slow the spread of the virus, which gives hope to officials here in Canada.
Drop the doctors’ notes for sick days, Dix says
B.C. officials continue to ask members of the public to be vigilant about washing their hands, and to stay home from work or school and avoid large gatherings if they’re feeling sick. People who’ve recently returned from trips to Iran and China are asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said he’s asking employers to be understanding when employees ask for sick days and to consider dropping any requirements for doctors’ notes.
In nearby Washington state, 10 people have now died from the virus. B.C. is not recommending against travel south of the border, except for those who are feeling ill.
Henry pointed out that most of the cases in Washington are linked to an outbreak at a long-term care home, and said everyone needs to be cautious about visiting elderly loved ones right now.
“This has been a devastating disease for older people,” Henry said. “If you are sick and you absolutely have to see your loved one in a long-term care home … then call ahead, talk to the staff.”