Note: This post is based on two articles about coronavirus in the Vancouver area, one which was published by the National Post on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 and the other that was published on the News 1130 website on Wednesday February 5, 2020, and represent my thoughts on the subject.] Please see the most recent updates, below.
Secondary Coronavirus Case in Metro Vancouver
This past Tuesday, February 4, 2020 BC’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonny Henry announced that a woman in her 50’s who had not visited China recently but who had relatives visiting from Wuhan, China the past several weeks had tested positive for the coronavirus, and is now in hospital  in the Vancouver area. Based on several reports, her relatives left Wuhan prior to the lock down of the city resulting from the coronavirus epidemic, but since incubation period for the illness is believed to be up to 14 days, they were without symptoms while recently touring Vancouver sites. The woman with whom they were visiting has since contracted coronavirus, but it is currently unknown how many individuals in the greater Vancouver area may have also been exposed to the coronavirus over the last few weeks.
An article on News 1130 published Wednesday, February 5th stated that “medical officers are tasked with tracking down anyone who may have been in contact with carriers of the (coronavirus) virus” . The article went on to elaborate that “anyone who would be in close range of about two meters (~6.5 feet) of an individual who’s infected and spends a significant amount of time in that space would be at highest risk for picking it up”, said infectious disease expert Susy Hota of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. She added that “There’s no guarantee that they will pick it up, in fact, most people won’t“. Not mentioned is the risk associated with the more common way of catching viruses, such as by someone contagious sneezing into their hand and then touching surfaces we then touch, such as public restroom door knobs.
Dr. Michael Gardam, who is an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital was reported in the National Post article to have said, “We’re all worried about the potential of this becoming a problem in Canada. I don’t think this is going to be a short-term thing,” he said and added “because of the nature of how it’s spreading and what’s happening in China, we could unfortunately be dealing with this story for the next two years.”
The National Post highlighted that what makes this most recent case of coronavirus in Vancouver significant is that the person had not travelled to China. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto was reported to have said, “That’s called secondary spread. That’s a problem.”
The story published on News 1130 web page yesterday elaborated that medical officials in the Vancouver area “want to reach out to the close contacts of that individual” which they explain tend to be household members, or those who interact very commonly with the individual(s). “Each person contacted will be assessed for early symptoms (of coronavirus) and given information on how to react if symptoms develop”. Susy Hota of U of T’s Faculty of Medicine was reported to say “while tracking of those people will be underway, the risk of other people being infected remains low“.
“Low” is a relative term. Risk would certainly be “low” when compared to Wuhan where the coronavirus originated from, based on the sheer number of individuals infected there, and would also be “low” compared to those currently quarantined on cruise ships off the coast of Japan and Hong Kong, but it is unknown how many people in the Metro Vancouver area were within 2 meters of this woman and her relatives for any significant amount of time while they were in Vancouver over the last several weeks. These individuals had no symptoms of having coronavirus at the time, but based on the known two-week incubation period before people manifest symptoms, people that were within 2 meters of them for an extended period of time may currently be contagious. It would seem, in my understanding that this could include those seated at an adjacent table in a restaurant, standing nearby in a crowded shop for significant amount of time, or waiting in the same check-out line at a store.
There is a high degree of concern about coronavirus among the people I speak with on a daily basis; with most concerned that they may be at risk of contracting the virus, or now wondering if they have already been exposed to it, and have not yet manifested symptoms. While health officials continue to encourage people that the risk of getting coronavirus in Metro Vancouver is “low”, people remain concerned about what is not known.
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(February 8, 2020): While not directly related to the current situation in Vancouver, this new story indicates how this virus is spreading without any direct or secondary connection to China. Five British nationals have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus at a French ski resort, and apparently caught it from a British national who had recently visited Singapore and had attended a business meeting from January 20 to 23 which had business delegates from around the world. None of the UK nationals had visited China , so this would not be “secondary spread” of the virus, as in Vancouver, but tertiary spread. Vancouver is a major city and Canadian Pacific port hub, with ships arriving daily. It is concerning that coronavirus is now being transmitted in other countries from those who have not visited China.
(February 9, 2020): It is now known that 5 million people left Wuhan before quarantine was set up in that city , in preparation for the lunar New Year. Where did they go? We know for sure that 2 came to Vancouver, and it is unlikely that they were the only ones. It is unknown how many more people from the outbreak area came to Canada before the quarantine was in place.
(Feb 11, 2020): Spread of the novel coronavirus (dubbed Covid-19) is suspected to be linked to an outbreak at a single shopping mall near Beijing, China and none of the 33 people that worked or shopped there had history of travel to Wuhan.
(Feb 14, 2020): A fifth case of Covid-19, the novel coronovirus has been identified in British Columbia in a woman in her 30s who travelled to the Shanghai area of China. “She was not in Hubei province and was not in an area where travel was restricted,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Chief Medical Health Officer. “She came home from Shanghai through YVR (the Vancouver International Airport) and then travelled by private vehicle to her home in the interior,” said Henry. The woman was tested on Feb. 11th, and the lab returned a positive result on Thursday February 13th . Global News reported that they think that the woman’s symptoms started around her time of arrival. Henry said, “We’re still working out the seating and looking at the flights“. Global News also reported that “health officials are still working to contact everyone who sat within three rows of the woman to discuss what to do if they show symptoms”. Officials are not saying what flight the woman was on, or where she lives in the interior because “because they don’t want to unnecessarily alarm people”, Henry said .
(Feb 17, 2020) Two Canadians who returned to British Columbia yesterday (Sunday) from having been on the Westerdam cruise were asked by officials to put on protective face masks at Vancouver International Airport as an American woman who was on the cruise with them has tested positive for the Covid-19 coronovirus, and both she and her husband have been hospitalized with pneumonia [7,8]. The Global News headline for the story read “COVID-19 fears spike after woman let off cruise ship in Cambodia tests positive”. The story’s opening paragraph reads, “The feel-good story of how Cambodia allowed a cruise ship to dock after it was turned away elsewhere in Asia for fear of spreading the deadly virus that began in China has taken an unfortunate turn after a passenger released from the ship tested positive for the virus” .
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- CityNews 1130, Paul James and Kathryn Tindale, Health officials track coronavirus in Metro Vancouver, risk remains low, posted Feb 5, 2020 11:31 am PST, last Updated Feb 5, 2020 at 11:32 am PST, https://www.citynews1130.com/2020/02/05/virus-expert-tracking-infected/
- National Post, Richard Warnica, Fifth suspected coronavirus case in Canada is B.C. woman who had ‘close contact’ with Wuhan visitors, Posted February 4, 2020 and 11:33 PM EST, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/fifth-suspected-coronavirus-case-in-canada-is-b-c-woman-who-had-close-contact-with-wuhan-visitors
- Global News, Marine Pennetier, 5 UK Citizens Contract Coronavirus at French Ski Resort, February 8, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6525402/5-uk-coronavirus-resort/
- CTVNews, Erika Kinetz, Where did they go? Millions left Wuhan before quarantine. February 9, 2010, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/where-did-they-go-millions-left-wuhan-before-quarantine-1
- New York Times, Coronavirus Update: Quarantine ordered as cases are linked to shopping centre, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/world/asia/coronavirus-china.html
- GlobalNews, Stuart Little, B.C. identifies 5th presumptive case of COVID-19, woman who travelled near Shanghai, https://globalnews.ca/news/6552744/british-columbia-covid-19-update/
- CBC News, Austin Grabish, As Canadians return home from Westerdam cruise, health officials urge them to self-isolate, February 16, 2020 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/westerdam-cruise-canadians-return-home-1.5466131
- Global News, Sopheng Cheang, Eileen Ng, Grant Peck (Associated Press), COVID-19 fears spike after woman let off cruise ship in Cambodia tests positive, February 17, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6559821/cambodia-cruise-ship-coronavirus-positive/