Measures to fight spread of COVID-19 will be in place for months

Months of COVID measures

While the next couple of weeks are “really, really critical” in British Columbia's fight against the COVID-19 virus, measures to slow the spread of transmission could be in place for months to come.

During Tuesday's daily press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said we are currently in the “first wave” of the virus in B.C., which is expected to last through to at least May.

“I do think it's more and more less likely that we're going to be able to get back to full normal life, which I miss a lot, before at least the summer and then we need to start preparing ourselves for the potential of a second wave in the fall,” she said.

“I haven't given up entirely the hope that we might get a reprieve during the summer as we do with influenza and some of the other respiratory viruses. Though, how much of a reprieve is yet to be seen.”

While there might be a slowdown of cases come summer, Dr. Henry says until a vaccine is developed, there will have to be some form of control measures in place for the foreseeable future.

“Realistically, we are going to be in some form of having to monitor and prevent transmission of this virus until we have a vaccine, or until enough of the population is immune to it that it's no longer infecting people, but we know that that is a very high number,” she said.

“So a vaccine is something that we really really need to push for ... we need to put every possible effort into development of a vaccine.”

There have been 1,013 confirmed cases in B.C. so far. Twenty-four people have died from the virus, while 507 have fully recovered. More than 43,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said there is “zero chance” that any of the orders that have been put in place, like limits on the size of gatherings and the banning of in-house dining at restaurants, will be lifted by the end of April, and there is “little to no” chance they'll be lifted in May.

“This is going to be a challenge for a long time,” Dix said.

Despite that, Dr. Henry said she doesn't think the province will need to be “this locked down ... for many, many months" into the future, but what that future looks like depends on people's actions today.

“The next few weeks are really, really critical,” she said.

BC Premier John Horgan addresses public on COVID-19

Premier Horgan on virus

BC Premier John Horgan will be addressing the province on the latest news regarding COVID-19 pandemic.

Horgan's speech will begin at 6:15 p.m. PST.

Castanet will be broadcasting the address live right here.

Accent Inns partner up with the United Way to provide free rooms for front line workers

Donated rooms for workers

Sarita Patel

What started as a plea for help has turned into the local community banding together to help essential workers find a safe space to sleep and self-isolate while they continue to work the front lines. 

“It was two weeks ago when we got a call from a nurse on the verge of tears because nurses that she works with were sleeping in their cars to avoid bringing the virus home to their families and that’s what started all of this,” explains Trina Notman, vice president of marketing and communication for Accent Inns. 

That’s when the motel chain across the province started offering the rooms at cost to frontline workers, reaching out to nurses unions, paramedics, grocery stores and the media to let people know what they were providing. 

“Once it hit the media, our phones started lighting up and people were flooding our Victoria property with calls saying they wanted to pay for part of the stay of an essential service worker.”

“We were so inspired when we started getting calls from community members who wanted to donate,” said Mandy Farmer, president and CEO, Accent Inns.

The community donated tens of thousands of dollars over the weekend which led to the company creating the Hotels for Frontline Workers program in partnership with the United Way. 

“We partnered with United Way, which came to our rescue and set up this hotel for the front line workers fund for us. We were just inundated with so many generous offers it was just so inspiring,” Notman said. 

“This is another example of a leader in our business community really stepping up and showing its local love,” said Mark Breslauer, CEO, United Way Greater Victoria.

As a third-generation family-run business, they know how important it is to work together as a community. 

“I have my GMs calling every essential worker that is currently staying with us and telling them that their stay is covered. People that are calling us today, their stay is covered because of this fund. There are just hundreds of heartwarming stories.”

If you’d like to get involved to donate visit their website, or Notman encourages you to call in, because they love hearing all stories of why people are donating. 

As of Tuesday, they have enough donations to cover 500 free rooms. All front line workers are eligible and are encouraged to call 1-800-663-0298 to book a stay. 

There are Accent Inns in both Kelowna and Kamloops.

Kamloops paramedic organizes nightly emergency vehicle drive-by

A salute to hospital staff

If you see and hear lights and sirens in downtown Kamloops tomorrow night, don't panic.

Local paramedic Terry Jessup has organized for a parade of emergency vehicles to drive by Royal Inland Hospital at 7 p.m., as a salute to health-care workers.

"I think it’s important. People are working very, very hard and we need to show them appreciation, that we are all one big team," Jessup tells Castanet.

The idea is to have the parade of cars (Kamloops Fire Rescue, Kamloops RCMP and BC Ambulance Service) swing by every night until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. 

How many emergency responders show up all depends on the call volume that evening, Jessup explains.

"It’s going to be folks that are actually working. We’re going to make sure that the city is still covered, and we’re going to get as many members out as we can."

H was inspired to start the nightly event after seeing similar initiatives pop up in other cities.

"We’ve seen a few clips of it on social media, some from the Lower Mainland some from across Canada. It is gaining momentum."

If you're around and want to watch the parade, Jessup reminds people to mindful of social distancing guidelines. 

Interior Health confirms cases of COVID-19 at Bylands Nurseries

75 Bylands workers isolating

UPDATE: 4:40 p.m.

Seventy-five employees of West Kelowna's Bylands Nursery are self isolating, after 14 of them recently tested positive for COVID-19. 

The outbreak at the nursery was discovered over the weekend, and as such both Bylands Nurseries and their Garden Centre have closed. 

Of the 75 people who are now self isolating, 63 are temporary foreign workers while 12 are local employees. 

Interior Health says the positive cases "may be linked to a group of workers who arrived in Kelowna from outside of Canada on March 12."

UPDATE: 4:10 p.m.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the outbreak of COVID-19 at West Kelowna's Bylands Nursery the province's "first large community outbreak" of the disease. 

Over the weekend, Interior Health tested a group of temporary foreign workers at the business who were experiencing symptoms. Dr. Henry would only say that "a number of them" tested positive, but the exact number is unclear

Interior Health continues to investigate the outbreak, but it's believed the people contracted the virus while they were in Canada. The group of workers arrived in Canada in early March, before there were any COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Interior Health said the cases "may be linked to a group of workers who arrived in Kelowna from outside of Canada on March 12."

"They did an investigation, a public health follow up, of all of the people who had been in the premise and where they were working," Dr. Henry said. '"Finding out who was in contact with whom."

Dr. Henry said the people who tested positive hadn't been going out in the community since their arrival in Canada.  

"These people were being isolated, in that they weren't going out into the community because they had come in from another country, but there was some considerable mixing on the farm when they were working together," Dr. Henry said. 

"It is a community outbreak that was caught relatively early, we hope, but we will see over the next coming two weeks. There are people right now who are not sick who have been exposed to some of those people who are and they have a probability of becoming ill over the next two weeks. 

"It will be two to four weeks before we understand the extent of this outbreak."

ORIGINAL: 2:40 p.m.

Interior Health has announced an outbreak of COVID-19 at West Kelowna's Bylands Nurseries involving a group of temporary foreign workers.

The group involved is currently residing in on-site housing at the business, and was ordered on March 27 to remain in quarantine on the property until further notice.

A number of the workers have now tested positive for COVID-19. 

Interior Health says the medical health officer who made the order remains confident that the risk of exposure to the public is low because none of the workers interacted with customers and have had very little contact within the community. The business is currently closed.

Interior Health says the workers who are quarantined on site have good housing accommodations which allow for safe self isolation. The company has been fully co-operative with Interior Health.

"These cases may be linked to a group of workers who travelled to Kelowna from outside of the country on March 12," Interior Health says.

"Under order of the medical health officer, Bylands Nurseries and Garden Centre has undertaken several measures including enhanced cleaning of all nursery, housing, sanitary and other facilities accessed by employees as well as denying access to all visitors to the site."

Vancouver police officer tests positive for COVID-19

Police officer tests positive

A Vancouver Police officer is recovering at home after testing positive for COVID-19. 

VPD Media Relations Officer Cst. Tania Visintin tells Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone call that the officer is managing their illness at home and is recovering. However, the identity of the individual will not be released.

Visintin adds that any officer who came into contact with the individual is practicing self-isolation at home. With this in mind, she says she cannot comment on how many officers are at home as a result. 

"To be clear, the officers that have been sent home in addition to the individual that tested positive have not tested positive for COVID-19," states Visintin. "They have been sent home as a precaution."

The VPD are also taking measures to reduce the risk of transmission in the city. For example, Visintin says that officers have access to gloves and masks, but that they utilize them on a "case-by-case" basis. In addition, she notes that VPD will take low-priority calls over the phone in order to reduce risk.

Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on B.C.'s COVID-19 situation

43 new cases, 5 deaths

Five more people have died from COVID-19 in British Columbia, bringing the total deaths in the province to 24. 

The announcement comes as the total number of cases in the province exceeds 1,000, hitting 1,013 after 43 new confirmed cases were announced Tuesday.

Another 13 confirmed cases have been identified in the Interior Health region, after an outbreak of the virus was declared at West Kelowna's Bylands Nursery. Currently, there are 107 confirmed cases in Interior Health, and seven of these patients are being treated in ICU. 

There are 128 COVID-19 patients in hospital across the province, 61 of whom are being treated in ICU.

Of the 1,013 positive tests in B.C., 507 of these people have now fully recovered. 

Interior Health confirms virus case at Cache Creek Subway

COVID-19 in Cache Creek

A case of COVID-19 has appeared at the Subway restaurant in Cache Creek, Interior Health announced today (March 31).

Anyone who visited the dining establishment, located at 1209 Hwy. 97, from March 25 to 27 is being asked to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms until April 10 or for two weeks from the time of their visit. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other milder symptoms may include: runny nose, fatigue, body aches (muscles and joints aching), diarrhea, headache, sore throat, vomiting and red eyes

"As long as customers remain healthy and do not develop symptoms, they can return to their routine activities 14 days after the date of their visit," states Interior Health in the announcement.

"If customers develop respiratory symptoms, they need to self-isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days from the time their symptoms develop and until symptoms resolve."

The health authority notes COVID-19 testing is not required for those who have mild respiratory symptoms. If symptoms worsen, customers are asked to call 911 or their health-care provider. They can access B.C.'s online assessment tool

Vernon restaurants clobbered by COVID-19 isolating measures

Revenue down 90 per cent

Slowing the spread of coronavirus is coming at a heavy cost to area restaurants, some of which may not survive the temporary closures.

Katie and Sherman Dahl are on the restaurant front lines, owning and operating the Italian Kitchen and Wings in Vernon, and the Italian Kitchen in Lake Country.

They say revenues are down as much as 90 per cent for some operators, even with a push for takeout and delivery.

“We are doing our best to balance whatever is right for our employees, our guests and our communities,” said Katie, adding the situation has an impact not only on restaurant owners, but landlords and vendors as well.

“As a small business, like many others across Canada, we will be looking to the government for economic support. We’ll aim to fully reopen all of our businesses when the time is right, but without the help of our landlords, lenders and suppliers aiding us to alleviate this financial burden, it’s possible they may not all make it.”

Dahl said when the storm passes, support for local businesses will be vital to help get communities back on their feet.

But, in the midst of the economic and health worries, the Dahls have a message for everybody:

"For years, I have been telling all my friends and family who I love, 'Don't worry, be happy.' This is how we run our business and this is the way others should be and how they should approach life in general. This tough time will pass,” said Katie.

“We are here to make sure our guests can still get great food for take out and delivery in a safe manner.”

This Kamloops trucking company is making sure truckers get fed

Providing meals to truckers

The owner of a Kamloops trucking company wants to ensure truck drivers get a decent meal while on the job.

Greg Munden of Munden Ventures Ltd. tells Castanet it's getting increasingly difficult for truck drivers to find food amid the pandemic, which has forced the closure of all dine-in restaurants in B.C. 

Some restaurant chains like McDonald's have adjusted their mobile apps to include curbside pickup, he says, but it's still slim pickings.

As a solution to the problem, Munden pitched Parkland (owner of Chevron) on having food trucks parked at their cardlock properties. The food truck industry could get some business and truck drivers could have another option when it comes to filling their bellies.

Parkland agreed, says Munden. Not just Interior cardlock stations, but all of them across the province.

"(The idea) was brought to me from a concerned business owner in Kamloops not directly involved in trucking," he says. "He had heard and he had seen the need."

The pilot project launches this Saturday (April 4). Cookshack Cravings will be parked at the Versatile Drive cardlock station every day for the foreseeable future, says Munden. There will be another food truck in Chilliwack and Abbotsford, and there are plans to get one up and running in Vernon. 

"We are discussing with another food truck operator, setting up at the Mount Paul location," he says. "We're confident there's a good need and we're just trying to find a way to keep these professional drivers doing what they’re doing. They're risking their own health and still making sure we get everything we need at the stores and at the hospitals and everything else."

Munden adds he'll see how the pilot project does and adjust it accordingly. 

"We’re really going to gauge it. Obviously, it needs to be effective for the food truck operators as well as for industry."

Buyers can't get out of home purchase contracts because of virus

No easy out for buyers

If you’re in the process of buying a home but have lost income due to COVID-19, don’t assume that you’ll be able to get out of your signed purchase contract, a leading real estate lawyer has warned.

Home buyers who have paid their deposit and signed a purchase contract, who may now want to get out of the purchase since the pandemic hit, do not have a standard “Force majeure” or “Act of God” clause that will let them walk away, said Richard Bell of Bell Alliance in Vancouver. Such a clause would need to have been specifically written into the purchase contract to be applicable, which is unlikely, he said.

What’s more, if the buyer walks away from a purchase contract, even if they have lost their job and can no longer afford the home, they could be liable for much more than simply losing their deposit.

“If a buyer loses their job – well, that could happen any time,” Bell told Glacier Media Real Estate March 30. “If they can’t complete the deal, they become liable for at least the deposit. But there could be a further, knock-on liability, if the seller then resells for less than the original amount. The buyer who caused the original deal to collapse could also be liable for the difference.”

Bell added, “Then the question becomes, if the collapse of the original deal causes a series of deals in a chain to collapse, how remote is the original buyer’s liability? How many links in that chain is the buyer liable for? That’s when you get into a legal battle.”

A purchase contract can, however, be rendered void under the doctrine of “frustration” whereby the deal can’t go ahead and collapses under extraordinary circumstances, through no fault of either party. However, this requires the explicit agreement of both parties to the contract, explained Bell.

For example, a buyer may not want to go ahead with a home purchase due to lost income, and the vendor may equally not want to sell anymore because they can no longer afford to upsize, also due to lost income. Under such circumstances, the buyer and seller can come to an agreement whereby the contract is cancelled and the buyer’s deposit returned.

Cold feet a symptom of COVID-19

Vancouver realtor Kevin Skipworth of Dexter Realty is seeing a lot of nervousness among buyers who have signed purchase contracts. He told Glacier Media Real Estate March 31 that he had one buyer with cold feet because of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated concerns about the economy, but after discussion with their conveyancing lawyers, the deal finally went ahead.

“There’s really nothing in the contract that allows for a buyer to walk away from a transaction because of the virus pandemic, but that doesn’t stop anybody from trying. For us as realtors, it’s not our place to try to negotiate out of a contract, that’s where legal advice is the first place to go.

He agrees with Bell that there can be much pricier ramifications than merely a lost deposit. “Everybody seems to think you can walk away and just lose your deposit and that will be fine, but that’s not the case. Sellers can go after you for damages, and more.”

Bell said he is seeing some collapsed home purchases at his law firm, but this is not currently his key concern in terms of real estate conveyancing. He pointed to rules of social distancing and quarantining making it virtually impossible to comply with legal requirements that home buyers and mortgage consumers be present in person to sign contracts, along with their government ID.

“It’s a major roadblock to closing home purchases right now,” said Bell. “Different lenders require different things. But some are literally requiring that we go round to quarantined clients’ homes and have them show their ID to us through the window. It’s ridiculous. Hopefully it will change before long, so we can do it by video. We’re trying to get this up the chain of command.”

‘Force majeure’ in construction

One sector that may have some luck in claiming “force majeure” when failing to complete a contract due to COVID-19 is the construction industry, where sites have had to close due to the outbreak – depending on such a clause being in the contract.

Whether or not a judge under Canadian common law would grant “force majeure” varies greatly from case to case, said Sahil Shoor, a Waterloo, Ontario-based civil litigator for Gowling WLG, in a legal bulletin to the construction sector on March 20.

That is because while some contracts include “force majeure” clauses that clearly states diseases, plagues, epidemics or quarantine restrictions as applicable conditions (beyond the typical “acts of God” events such as natural disasters, fires, floods and wars), other make no such distinctions. Some other contracts yet, Shoor said, may not have a “force majeure” clause at all, further complicating the issue in court.

“In order to successfully rely on a force majeure clause, the relying party [contractor] has the burden of establishing Force Majeure Event and proving that the Force Majeure Event has effectively prevented the party from fulfilling its obligations under the construction contract,” Shoor said in the bulletin, adding the court will assess the merits of the case based on whether the COVIC-19 outbreak qualifies as a force majeure, whether the risk of not being able to complete the contract was “foreseeable and able to be mitigated,” as well was whether it was really impossible to complete the contract.

In cases where there is no clear description of an epidemic or disease as force majeure, a judge will often hinge decisions on the availability of an “alternative method of performance” – even if the alternative is significantly more expensive for the contractor applying for relief.

“As an example, are the party’s employees ill due to the virus and unable to work, or simply afraid to work and choosing not to attend?” Shoor said, adding that cases without a force majeure clause will follow similar lines of legal logic under the doctrine of frustration.

COVID-19 case confirmed in small Rocky Mountain town

IH confirms COVID case

Anyone who attended the Elkford Drug Store in the small Rocky Mountain town on St. Patrick's Day may have come into contact with the COVID-19 virus.

Interior Health put out a warning that a person who later tested positive for the virus attended the drug store on Elkford's Front Street on March 17.

Due to this, IH has asked anyone who was at the store that day to self-isolate and monitor themselves for symptoms.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, along with a runny nose, fatigue, body aches, diarrhea, headache, sore throat, vomiting and red eyes.

If those who attended the store have not developed symptoms by today, 14 days after March 17, they can return to their daily activities.

Elkford is a small town of just 2,500 people near the Alberta border. Due to “staffing challenges that cannot be addressed at this time,” the emergency department of the Elkford Health Centre will be closed Wednesday, until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Those in the community needing emergency medical attention must now travel to the Sparwood Health Centre, located 30 minutes away and open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., or to the Elk Valley Hospital in Fernie, located 45 minutes away and open 24 hours a day.

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