COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC) COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

Surrey ‘ground zero’ for COVID-19, but has seen less than half of B.C. deaths: Dix

Surrey Board of Trade calls for mask mandate in B.C. amid rising cases

Surrey is “ground zero” for COVID-19 in B.C.

That’s what Health Minister Adrian Dix told a virtual business crowd this week during a Surrey Board of Trade-hosted digital townhall Tuesday with Dix and Victoria Lee, Fraser Health President and CEO.

Dix said that of the province’s more than 6,000 active cases on Tuesday, roughly 75 per cent were in the Fraser Health region “with the largest share of those in Surrey.”

According to new region-by-region statistics released by the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Surrey health region is responsible for at least 27.7 per cent of the province’s total COVID-19 cases while being home to only 11 per cent of the B.C.’s population.

The most recent map, created Nov. 10, shows that 3,993 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Surrey from January to October, dwarfing surrounding municipalities. Surrey has more than four times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford (880). Surrey also has more cases than Vancouver (3,444), when all Vancouver health regions are combined.

READ MORE: MAP: Surrey’s home to more than 27% of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

However, Dix said the disproportionate infection rate in Surrey doesn’t hold true when considering B.C.’s COVID-19-related deaths.

“It should be said that if you look at overall people who passed away from COVID-19, Fraser Health is not leading the province,” he said Tuesday. “Under half of the people who passed away from COVID-19 live in the Fraser Health region which indicates two things: I think, the excellent performance of the authority, but also the fact that in general Fraser Health is younger than other health authorities… and in Surrey.”

With rising rates of infection in B.C’s largest school district and beyond, Dix was asked what the threshold would be to close schools again.

The health minister said “there is no number” and that it’s his government’s “strong intention to keep schools open” as “there’s not a lot of transmission in schools.”

Instead, he said, community transmission must be reduced.

Lee echoed that schools aren’t seeing high levels of transmission.

She told the business crowd that much of the infections are starting with private gatherings, which then results in “spillover” into schools, worksites and vulnerable settings like health care.

Lee said there are a few reasons Surrey’s infection rate is so high, including the city’s density being a setting that allows for faster spread of the virus; Surrey being home to a large number of essential workers that have a high level of exposure to the virus; as well as a high number of private gatherings such as weddings and funerals taking place in Surrey.

During the townhall, Dix and Lee also fielded questions on why B.C. has opted not to enact a mandatory mask order.

It’s something the SBoT called for just hours before hosting the Tuesday townhall, with the business group’s CEO Anita Huberman saying “we cannot afford to go into another economic lockdown.”

“We are past a critical time to get serious and need immediate and dramatic action,” she stressed in the press release.

Lee said B.C.’s top doctor Dr. Bonnie Henry has been “very clear that her clear expectation is that in public places that people wear masks.”

“She’s not calling it mandatory but that is her expectation across the board and there are many reasons why she’s not opting for mandatory masking,” said Lee, noting there is reasoning behind not creating a mandate such as impacts on vulnerable populations, those with medical reasons, as well as enforcement.

“From my perspective there are ways we can achieve the outcomes we’re looking for which is to have people masked if we don’t have other control measures available,” Lee added.

READ MORE: Surrey gym linked to 42 COVID-19 cases

On Tuesday afternoon B.C. reported a record-breaking 717 new COVID-19 cases in previous 24 hours, including 484 in Fraser Health. Eleven new deaths were also announced Tuesday, bringing B.C.’s total to 310.

Hospitalizations also broke a new record Tuesday, with 198 people in hospital, 63 of whom were in intensive care.

Several outbreaks have been declared in Surrey in the past week.

This past weekend an outbreak was declared at a gym in Surrey, with at least 42 cases of the virus being linked to Platinum Athletic Club (7653 King George Blvd.).

Also last weekend, Fraser Health declared at outbreak at Cambridge Elementary school after seven positive COVID-19 cases there. A Nov. 14 news release stated it would close for two weeks.

In North Delta, an outbreak was declared at Jarvis Traditional Elementary after six positive cases of the virus there. That school was also closed two weeks.

The B.C. government is expected to provide an update on regional restrictions today (Nov. 19).

Visit surreynowleader.com.

–With files from Tracy Holmes, Tyler Olsen, Aaron Hinks, Tom Zillich, Tom Zytaruk

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