B.C. now has had 103 cases of the virus and a total of four deaths, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Bonnie Henry announced March 16.
That is up from Saturday's tally of 73 cases and one death. The new deaths are all at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, which is the largest cluster of cases of the disease in the province with at least 16. Six people are in acute care in hospital, with the rest being in self-isolation. Five people have fully recovered.
"A significant number of new cases are related to the Pacific Dental Conference 2020 held at the Vancouver Convention Centre on March 6 and 7, 2020," the two said in a statement. "We are asking anyone who attended to self-isolate until March 22."
Dix and Henry also outlined what they "additional steps" to address the changing situation in B.C. and ensure that the province's healthcare system is best positioned to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They directed B.C.'s health authorities to immediately move all hospitals in the province to an alert level known as Outbreak Response Phase 2. That means that hospitals will only conduct urgent and emergency procedures. All non-urgent scheduled surgeries will be postponed. Hospitals will review operating-room capacity daily to prioritize urgent and emergency cases, they said.
"Lions Gate Hospital in the Vancouver Coastal Health region is directed to move to Outbreak Response Phase 3," the two said. "This means the hospital will accept only emergency patients. Lions Gate Hospital is also preparing to open a dedicated COVID-19 unit to provide care to those with the virus. These measures will assist hospitals to redeploy and train essential service health-care providers on critical care related to COVID-19 to ensure sufficient medical supplies for patients and staff who need them most, and to further increase capacity to respond to the potential for a surge of COVID-19 patients requiring acute care."
They said that they are working with the College of Pharmacists to advise pharmacies to provide patients with a prescription refill or an emergency supply of their medications if needed. This will give physicians more time to care for patients with acute care needs, they said, adding that they are asking B.C. residents to respect this temporary arrangement, and are reminded that there is no need to stockpile medication.
"To further enhance the availability of physicians for all British Columbians, the province will provide physicians compensation for providing virtual-care services," they said. "We have also requested all health regulators to begin emergency registration of non-practising or retired health-care professionals, including professionals from other jurisdictions and the armed forces."
The two added that they are also moving to restrict visitors in long-term care to essential visits only. Essential visits include compassionate visits for end-of-life care and visits that support care plans for residents based on resident and family needs, for example, families who routinely visit to provide assistance with feeding or mobility, they said.
Earlier in the day, the two held a news conference and Dix made a passionate plea to the public.
Dix referenced Michael Ryan, a doctor at the World Health Organization, who has spoken about pandemics.
"He said that the most important thing wasn't the pandemic, it is how we respond to it," Dix said. "We in British Columbia, and Canadians, and people in British Columbia are prepared to fight. That is what we are doing in the system."