BC’s state of emergency for COVID-19 extended for a 10th time

British Columbia’s longest-ever state of emergency continues.

The provincial government announced today that it’s been extended for a 10th time, which allows Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth to use extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act.

<who>Photo Credit: Government of BC

Photo Credit: Government of BC

“In recent weeks, British Columbians have been reminded that COVID-19 case counts can easily rise if we’re not careful,” Premier John Horgan said today.

“As we continue our slow and safe approach to Phase 3, extending the provincial state of emergency will continue to provide government with the resources we need to respond to any new challenges.”

Horgan added that it’s not the time to let our guard down.

The state of emergency, which was originally declared by Dr. Bonnie Henry on March 18, is now extended through the end of the day on Aug. 18, at which point the government will reevaluate once again.

“We still need to be able to access the necessary tools to support communities as they combat COVID-19 and its impacts,” said Farnworth.

“We will continue to extend this provincial state of emergency as long as necessary so we can ensure we are able to respond quickly and effectively to this pandemic.”

The ongoing state of emergency has allowed the government to take the appropriate actions to keep BC residents safe and manage immediate concerns, such as recent outbreaks in certain areas of the province.

SALMONELLA SCARE HITS HOME

Forty-three cases of salmonella have been reported in British Columbia since mid-June, and health officials have traced the outbreak to red onions imported from the United States.

Thursday night, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency put out a notice advising of a recall of red onions imported through Sysco Food Service into Western Canada, including Kelowna.

Sysco is one of the major food suppliers to restaurants across Canada.

“Consumers should not consume the recalled products described below or foods containing these raw red onions,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a press release.

“Food service establishments, institutions, retailers, distributors and manufacturers should not serve, use, or sell the recalled products described below.”

The impacted products include 10 and 25 pound bags of jumbo red onions from the Imperial Fresh brand, that have been imported back to May 24.

The BC Centre for Disease Control says B.C. is currently one of five provinces experiencing an ongoing salmonella outbreak, and the recall also applies to Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. The cause of the outbreaks have only just recently been identified.

“Retailers and restaurants in these locations are also advised not to use, sell or serve red onions imported from the U.S.,” the BC CDC says, adding that red onions grown in Canada are not impacted by the outbreak.

Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that develop six to 72 hours after exposure and usually lasts four to seven days.

“Most people recover without treatment,” the BC CDC says. “Children under five years of age and adults over 65 years of age, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the recalls are taking place at Sysco locations in Kelowna, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina, but more importers may be affected in the future after further investigation.

B.C. to announce plans for September return to school amid COVID-19 pandemic

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is set to announce its updated plan for a safe return for public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is set to announce its updated plan for a safe return for public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Minister Rob Fleming says the plan was developed in consultation with a committee made up of teachers, parents, First Nations, principals, trustees, school boards, support workers and health and safety officials.

He says the plan builds on the lessons learned last May when Kindergarten-to-Grade 5 students had the option to attend school half time and those in grades 6 to 12 could attend one day a week while continuing with virtual classes.

Fleming told the legislature Tuesday the updated plan includes health and safety protocols to ensure a safe restart for in-class instruction that will be ready for the first day of school on Sept. 8.

He says the plan also includes measures nimble enough to react to the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19.

Fleming says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and representatives for B.C. school trustees and parent advisory councils will attend today’s news conference at the B.C. legislature introducing the plans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020.

PPE costs skyrocket

Minister of Health Adrian Dix reveals $114M spent on PPE in BC

British Columbia has invested a whopping $114 million into personal protective equipment (PPE) from January to the end of June, and costs have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix said Monday the province is now focused on stockpiling PPE after the initial COVID-19 outbreak around March, which Dix says “no jurisdiction internationally could have adequately predicted or prepared for.”

“B.C. has had good success. We’ve kept the pace with demand and made sure healthcare workers had the PPE when they need it and where the need it … we are currently rebuilding our pandemic supply that got us through the initial outbreak and we are also including a healthy contingency … based on ramped up surgery plans and in anticipation of a surge or further outbreaks.”

Dix has set a goal of acquiring more than 365 million individual pieces of PPE over the next six to nine months, but it will come at a high cost.

The price per unit for PPE including freight costs skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic, in some cases increasing up to 10 times from the pre-COVID cost.

For example, the pre-COVID average unit price of an N95 or equivalent respirator was 62 cents. In the peak of the pandemic, that increased to $5-8 per unit, and recently has decreased to $3.19-$6.80 per unit.

That’s a pre-COVID to peak-COVID difference of six to 10 times the original cost.

The same applied for surgical/procedure masks, which increased in cost by 1.5 to 8.5 times from pre-COVID to peak-COVID, and gowns which increased in cost by 2 to 3.5 times from pre-COVID to peak-COVID.

“The international market for PPE, and by extension the cost of PPE, has been very dynamic since the start of the pandemic,” says Dix.

“Overall from January to the end of June the B.C. health system has spent over $114M on PPE as a result of the pandemic … because it involved protecting people in acute care and in long-term care and protecting our health care workers, it was money well spent, but it was expensive.”

He’s calling on B.C. residents to recommit to using “COVID sense” following 102 new cases announced on Monday, and recent outbreaks stemming from multiple gatherings in Kelowna.

“The past few days have reminded us of how COVID-19 can spread, even here in B.C., how quickly things can change, how rapidly anxiety can re-enter our lives in a pandemic.

“It is a sobering reminder of how fleeting success can be when we turn our back on COVID-19, when we let our skills slide, our focus waver and our commitment slip … in B.C. our drive to bend the curve and then flatten it worked, but let’s be clear. In our B.C. pandemic, we must not let those be our best days. We know each day matters. We know that with COVID-19 each moment of each day matters. We know that being 100% all in means remembering, respecting and ritualizing the skills Dr. Henry and public health officials have told us.”

A look at how provinces plan to emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown

Provinces and territories have been releasing plans for easing restrictions that were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Here is what some of the provinces have announced so far:

British Columbia

British Columbia announced on June 30 that it would allow visitors in to long-term care homes.

Government health restrictions were eased to permit one designated person to see a long-term care resident after being limited to virtual meetings or phone calls since March.

The province allowed hotels, motels, spas, resorts, hostels and RV parks to resume operating on June 24.

<who> Photo credit: File

Photo credit: File

Premier John Horgan said the province has been successful at flattening the curve on COVID-19, which means it can ease more health restrictions and gradually move into the third phase of its reopening plan.

He said the province is able to open more industries, institutions and recreation areas, but gatherings must remain at 50 people or less.

The government allowed a partial reopening of the BC economy starting May 19.

The reopenings are contingent on organizations and businesses having plans that follow provincial guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19.

Parents in BC were given the choice of allowing their children to return to class on a part-time basis starting June 1. The government said its goal is for the return of full-time classes in September, if it’s safe.

Conventions, large concerts, international tourism and professional sports with a live audience will not be allowed to resume until either a vaccine is widely available, community immunity has been reached, or effective treatment can be provided for the disease.

TOURISM INDUSTRY THRILLED

Phase 3 of British Columbia’s reopening plan is a crucial step towards recovery for the tourism industry.

The tourism industry, among many others, felt the impact of COVID-19 immediately, but now that Canadian visitors are welcome and British Columbians are encouraged to explore the province, Tourism Kelowna is thrilled.

“The important and very valid health restrictions kicked in and so that meant that visitor flow absolutely stopped in our area,” says CEO of Tourism Kelowna Lisanne Ballantyne. “Phase 3 being announced was a watershed moment so it meant that it was now allowable for travel within the province.”

Ballantyne says the tour companies are ready to serve visitors and “it’s business as usual, but usual just looks a little bit different.”

“Everyone in the tourism business felt immediately, a sense of optimism because the phones started ringing, visitors started arriving, people started to book attractions, booking hotel rooms.”

And now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing and people are visiting, staff at Ogopogo Parasail are thrilled to welcome back customers safely.

“I think [COVID-19] made our opening a little bit slower, but once we were getting into the busier season, the restrictions were starting to lift anyways so it actually worked out quite well with the timing,” says Joel Devries with Ogopogo Parasail.

For parasailing, staff are operating two separate boats when it’s busy to ensure people are more distanced than they normally would be. Lifejackets are sanitized after each use and hand sanitizer is provided before and after the services.

The Perfect Itinerary for a Summer Weekend in Penticton, British Columbia

The Perfect Itinerary for a Summer Weekend in Penticton, British Columbia

Penticton may just be the ultimate summer getaway town in British Columbia. With two glittering lakes, dozen of sandy beaches, hot sun, endless vineyards and views to die for, it’s a hedonist’s dream.

And after three summers, plenty of guests and a whole lot of exploring, I think we’ve found the best Penticton has to offer. Here’s our itinerary for the perfect summer weekend in Penticton, British Columbia.

penticton sign above okanagan lake

Day 1 – Lakeside wanderings and local beer

An evening stroll along Lakeshore Drive is a great introduction to your weekend in Penticton. Check out the S.S Sicamous and Rose Garden at the western end before returning to the downtown core. Drinks are waiting at Cannery Brewing on Ellis St. This laid-back tap room (and patio) offers a wide selection of craft beer alongside the best nachos in town.

After the Cannery closes, head across the street to the funky Mile Zero Wine Bar for a nightcap or two (they also serve Cannery beer!)

Arrived early for your weekend in Penticton? Take an easy hike on the Kettle Valley Railway trail, high above Okanagan Lake. The trail winds through vineyards, orchards, across railway trestles and past a winery or two.

perfect weekend in penticton beach view
Okanagan Lake beach
Four beer tasters and sample popcorn at Cannery Brewery, Penticton
Tasting flight at the Cannery Brewery
A railway trestle on the Kettle Valley Railway trail
Walking the Kettle Valley Railway trail in Penticton
The town of Penticton in summer
View of Penticton from the Kettle Valley Railway trail

Day 2 – Penticton Farmer’s market, wine touring & burgers by the beach

Welcome in the morning with the Penticton Farmers and Community Market, starting at 8.30am. Spanning four downtown blocks, this market is one of the biggest in BC.

Breakfast pastries are plentiful, but there are sit-down options also available on at cafes on Front and Main Streets. Be sure to take a hat or sunscreen; it gets hot here early!

Saturday afternoons are for wine tasting. Just a short distance uphill from downtown is the start of the Naramata Bench, an area nicknamed ‘Napa of the north.’ Here, you can drive, cycle or even walk between award-winning wineries on a self-guided tour.

Lunch is taken on one of the many winery patios or lawns. For the ultimate in Naramata Bench experiences, picnic at Poplar Grove Cheese with a bottle of Lock and Worth wine and a round of Okanagan Double Cream Camembert.

Burger 55 is my pick for the perfect post-wine tour dinner – eat on their patio or head to the park on nearby Marina Way to eat your customised burger by the lake. Don’t waste your time eating inside in Penticton! Finish your evening with an ice-cream cone from Ogo’s on Main Street.

Penticton Farmers market signs
Penticton Farmers market signs
A road intersection with market stalls and crowds of people at the Saturday Morning Farmers Market in Penticton
A busy day at the Saturday Morning Farmers Market in Penticton
The edge of Bench 1775's patio with lake views
The patio at Bench 1775 Winery
A Therapy staff member pour wine samples - wine tasting is one of the best things to do during a summer weekend in Penticton
Wine tasting at Therapy Vineyards in Naramata
Three glasses of wine with three appetsers of food
Paired appetisers and wine at Serendipity Winery, Naramata Bench

Day 3 – Brunching on the lake, floating on the channel

Today is a lazy day. It starts with brunch at the Hooded Merganser and epic views of Okanagan Lake (the restaurant is quite literally sitting on top of it). Be sure to stay close to the water for the rest of your time in town, whether that means some quality beach time (with a dozen to choose from!), a little paddle boarding or a lazy float down the river.

A trip to Penticton almost wouldn’t be quite complete without some tubing down the Channel between Skaha and Okanagan Lakes. The ride starts on Riverside Drive.

Before you depart, take a slight detour to the top of Munson Mountain at the start of the Naramata Bench. Aside from being the home of the Penticton sign, Munson also offers panoramic views across both lakes, Summerland and the mountains beyond. It’s a final look of paradise before you return home! (Also a good chance to pick up any wine you may have forgotten to buy the day before…) And that was it, the perfect weekend in Penticton.

 

The bright blue water of Okanagan Lake, with surrounding hills
Okanagan Lake views from Hooded Merganser restaurant
People in inflated tubes float down the Penticton Channel - an iconic summer weekend activity in Penticton
Floating the Penticton Channel
Vineyards leading down to Okanagan Lake with 'wine shop' sign
Therapy Vineyards, Naramata Bench
The crystal clear waters of Okanagan Lake, lined with golden sands
Okanagan Lake

BC’s temporary rental supplement extended until the end of August

As British Columbia, the rest of Canada and the entire world continues to navigate its way through COVID-19, the Government of BC has extended assistance to renters to last for most of the summer.

The province’s temporary rental supplement (TRS), which began on April 9, will now be in effect until the end of August.<who>Photo Credit: City of Kelowna

Photo Credit: City of Kelowna

“While we are seeing good success at limiting the spread of COVID-19 thanks to everyone’s joint efforts, it has been a difficult time for many,” said Selina Robinson, minister of housing.

“Recognizing the financial challenges faced by many people, our government is extending the TRS and maintaining the rent freeze and the ban on evictions for non-payment of rent.”

Although the ban on evictions for non-payment of rent will stay in effect, the ban on evictions for any other reasons will be lifted later this month.

The TRS program provides $500 per month for eligible households with dependents and $300 per month for eligible households with no dependents, while all eligible roommates are allowed to apply for the supplement separately.

Any money provided to these renters through the supplement will be paid directly to landlords on the renters’ behalf.

To learn more and apply online, click this link.

(Original story: March 25 @ 2:15 pm) – Premier John Horgan has announced a number of temporary measures to help renters in British Columbia.

It’ll offer households up to $500 a month towards rent for anyone who has lost their job or wages due to COVID-19.

BC Government News

@BCGovNews

Premier Horgan and Minister of Municipal Affairs + Housing Selina Robinson announce relief for renters and landlords, part of BC’s COVID-19 Action Plan.
For resources and more information about our response to COVID-19 see http://www.gov.bc.ca/covid19  https://twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1mrGmQAMAYwGy 

1:15pm COVID-19 Update March 25, 2020

BC Government News @BCGovNews

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“With lost jobs and lost wages due to COVID-19, many tenants are worried they can’t make the rent,” said Horgan, who added that it’s a challenging time for landlords too.

“Our plan will give much-needed financial relief to renters and landlords. It will also provide more security for renters, who will be able to stay in their homes without fear of eviction or increasing rents during this emergency.”

That security he’s talking to is a temporary halt on evictions and a freeze on rents, even annual rent increases, during this time.

Today’s measures have been put in place to help renters with low to moderate incomes who are facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, but do not qualify for existing rental assistance programs.

Any money provided to these renters through the supplement will be paid directly to landlords on the renters’ behalf.

“As we work together to fight this pandemic, we can’t afford to leave anyone behind,” said MLA Chandra Herbert, leader of the Province’s Rental Housing Task Force.

“That’s why I delivered recommendations that address the immediate concerns of both landlords and tenants who are doing their best at this difficult time.”

For the time being, in support of social distancing and self-isolation, renters now have the right to prevent landlords from accessing rental units without full consent.

The exception is in cases where access is urgently needed due to a health or safety concern or to prevent undue damage to the unit.

For more information on today’s announcement, click this link.

DESERT CENTRE READY TO OPEN

The Osoyoos Desert Centre has picked an opening date now that British Columbia is in Phase 2 of re-opening post COVID-19.

On Saturday June 6 at 10 a.m. visitors will be welcome back to centre’s indoor exhibits and outdoor trails on its 67-acre property.

“The past few months have been really challenging times for everyone,” says Osoyoos Desert Society’s managing director Jayme Friedt.

“I’ve heard over and over again how important nature is to people, how re-energizing it is, and how mentally and spiritually uplifting it is. We are so happy we can provide a venue for people to immerse themselves in nature and experience our spectacular natural spaces!”

One of the centre’s features is a 1.5 km boardwalk that meanders through the antelope-brush habitat offering an elevated view of the plant and animal life that exists there including spadefoots, Behr’s hairstreak butterflies, Nuttall’s cottontail, Western bluebirds and antelope-brush, several species of sage and the prickly pear cactus, among others.

The centre also has a native plant demonstration garden and, indoors, many educational displays.

COVID-19 protocols will include protocols include making hand sanitizers available, enhanced cleaning measures, adding a protective shield at the admissions desk, limiting the number of visitors in the interpretive building and on the boardwalk at any one time and encouraging social distancing.

“We are very excited about the prospect of being part of people’s staycation plans this year! The health and well-being of everyone visiting or working at the Desert Centre is top of mind,” Friedt said. “We ask that everyone please exercise common sense, best-practices and keep our communities safe!”

Hours will be Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $20 for families, $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for youth aged 6-17 and children 5 and under are free. Only a debit card or credit card will be accepted.

Daycares not mandated to reopen despite new health guidelines

Daycares can stay closed

B.C.’s daycare centres will not be required to reopen their doors on June 1 as the public schools have, but the province has issued new health guidelines that may pave the way for some to relaunch in a safe and sanitary manner.

According to the new guidelines, daycare centres who choose to reopen will have to have a plan to encourage hand-washing, as well as protocols for avoiding close gatherings of large groups of children and the use of outdoor space to allow physical distancing.

State for child care minister Katrina Chen said the decision to give the choice of reopening to each centre is based on the diversity of daycare models in the market – where there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“I’ve heard from small childcare providers who, for example, have a senior at home or a family member with health concerns,” Chen said. “They may not feel safe to reopen, and that is up to them.

“It is very important that child care is not mandated to reopen. It’s really up to childcare providers to reopen or to return to their more-regular capacities depending on what is best for their operations while following guidelines of public health.”

However, Chen added she hopes the new guidelines will encourage more child care operators to reopen, since the province’s plan to relaunch the economy will require more people to return to work – meaning people will need child-care services.

Meanwhile, B.C. chief medical officer Bonnie Henry reiterated that – while schools will reopen and daycares will be encouraged to do so – the same will not be the case for playgrounds because of the facilities’ potential of becoming hubs where disease can spread.

“There are still challenges,” Henry said. “Some parts of the school playgrounds absolutely will reopen; that’s where you can have outdoor learning, and that will be very important. What we are trying to look at is, how do we ensure that children aren’t given the opportunity to transmit the virus between each other… So it’s unlikely all of the playgrounds will be reopened for all uses, but we will certainly look at how spaces around schools and daycares can be used safely.”

About 2,600 child-care centres stayed open during the COVID lockdown that has shut down much of B.C. since mid-March.