VICTORIA — Vancouver's waterfront convention centre is being prepared as a health facility in British Columbia's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday.
The centre, which hosts about 500 trade shows, conventions and exhibitions annually, is being viewed as a pandemic overflow location that could provide 271 treatment beds, he told a news conference.
The province has also chosen a new medical tower building at New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital to provide 80 additional novel coronavirus treatment beds, Dix said.
B.C. has more than 4,200 available beds at hospitals to treat COVID-19 cases, but the province wants to be prepared for worst-case scenarios, he said.
"Our approach is focused on preparation, not desperation," Dix added.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth invoked emergency measures last week that would allow the province to convert large spaces into treatment locations.
The province also released worst-case modelling data on Friday for pandemic planning purposes.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cautioned that the figures are not predictions, saying current numbers show B.C. is closer to following the COVID-19 trajectory of South Korea, where the cases of the novel coronavirus have slowed.
Henry announced there have been two more deaths since Saturday related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 19 people who have died. She said another 86 people have also tested positive for COVID-19 since Saturday. B.C. has a total 970 cases of the novel coronavirus.
Henry said the next two weeks mark a second incubation period for the disease as she urged people to follow public health advice.
"We really are in a critical juncture right now in B.C.," she said. "We are not through the storm yet. We have not yet reached our peak."
Henry, who ordered the closure of restaurants and bars, and prohibited gatherings of 50 people or more, urged people to continue to practise physical distancing and frequent hand washing to slow the spread of the virus.
She said banning gatherings of 50 or more "doesn't mean you can have 49 people at a house party."
Henry said off-site health facilities like the convention centre will initially be used to treat people recovering from health issues other than the novel coronavirus, including heart attacks.
"We are not putting anybody into the Vancouver Convention Centre this week," she said.
Dix said cancelling elective and scheduled surgeries earlier this month has opened up hospital beds.
"Even though we have 4,233 beds empty we're preparing additional beds in order to have a place for lower acuity or less ill patients to go out and provide more space for COVID-19 patients potentially in our acute care hospitals," he said.
Dix said 19 hospitals across B.C. are designated as primary COVID-19 treatment facilities.
The government also cancelled all parking fees at B.C. hospitals starting April 1 to ensure safer access for patients and staff, he said.
Henry said 13 long-term care homes or assisted-living facilities in B.C. have COVID-19 outbreaks, all of them in the Vancouver and Fraser health regions.
She said 106 people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19 and 60 of those people are in intensive care units.
But Henry added 48 per cent of B.C.'s COVID-19 cases, or 469 people, are listed as recovered and are no longer in isolation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press