An international public health agency directly affiliated with the World Health Organization says it is concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), whose parent is the World Health Organization, held a press briefing on Sept. 16, where it discussed the ongoing coronavirus pandemic throughout the Americas and answered questions from the media.
Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO’s communicable disease department, said in response to questions from CHEK that the organization is concerned about the rise in new cases in B.C.
“We are not only worried about British Columbia,” he said. “Canada has experienced another peak. We have seen in the last week or so increasing cases, similar to what is happening, but not to the same extent, in other European countries.”
Since the beginning of September, there have been more than 1,500 new cases of the virus reported in B.C., with daily case numbers consistently above 75 following months of relatively low numbers.
With the flu season and cold months fast approaching, Espinal said it is important people practice prevented measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing in order to help reduce the spread of infection.
“We cannot let our guards down,” he said, adding. “We need to continue with measures because this is going to be, for a while, with us.”
However, B.C. has no province-wide requirement mandating the use of masks while in public. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, has not ruled out a requirement in the future, she has resisted the idea.
Espinal, in response to a question from CHEK on the subject of mask policies, explained that while PAHO supports the decisions made by governments, it strongly recommends that people wear masks while in public.
“It is highly recommended that the use of masks are in place,” he said, adding. “They prevent [the spread of COVID-19] and are effective.”
Espinal said measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing will be crucial to helping keep the number of cases down and preventing the spread of infection.
“We expect to see a different wave until we come to the point, that hopefully, we will have a vaccine that will be implemented, but it is going to take time because a vaccine will not immediately vaccinate eight billion people around the world.”
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Prior to answering questions from the media, Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO, provided an opening address where she mentioned that this week the World Health Organization’s Americas region reached two “sombre” milestones.
“Over half-a-million deaths and nearly 15 million cases have been reported in our region,” she said.
Etienne expressed concern about the growing number of cases throughout the region including Colombia, where she said cases along the border with Venezuela have increased “ten-fold.” She also said the number of new cases in Caribbean countries – many of them popular winter destinations for Canadians – are climbing at an alarming rate.
“Within the Caribbean, many islands like Jamacia, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic are also witnessing drastic spikes in cases,” Etienne said. “Deaths rates are also climbing in some areas Mexico and we are seeing similar trends in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Bolivia, where deaths from COVID-19 continue to mount.”
On a positive note, Etienne said the United States has made some positive progress as the number of new cases being reported has declined, but noted that there are still regions of the country experiencing outbreaks.
“This is a stark reminder that countless people in our region remain vulnerable to infection, especially large populations that have not yet been exposed.”