B.C. has declared a public health emergency to stem the spread of COVID-19, closing all bars and curtailing restaurant service, as well as suspending K-12 schooling indefinitely.

And the rapid and daily succession of changes mandated to curb the coronavirus pandemic is leaving residents and businesses on Quadra Island reeling.

“It’s been announcement after announcement from a new governing body every day,” said Keri Smith, manager of the Quadra Island General Store and a mom of a school-aged child.

“I think I’ve accepted it as the new normal now.”

Three new deaths and 12 cases on Vancouver Island

The province has confirmed 83 new cases of the novel coronavirus, putting the total number of cases in B.C. at 186, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Tuesday afternoon.

Three more people have died from the virus, making it a total of seven deaths in B.C.

There are now a total of 12 cases of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island, stated the health officials, who didn’t elaborate in which communities the cases were located.

Two of the new deaths are linked to the outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and the third is a man in his 80s who died in hospital in the Fraser Health region.

Dix offered condolences to the grieving families but also emphasized that while seven people with the illness are in hospital in intensive care, the vast majority were in isolation at home during their recovery and five people have recovered.

[Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency on Tuesday after announcing 83 new cases of COVID-19. Photo: Courtesy BC Gov.]

Public health emergency measures

A public health emergency allowed her office to be more responsive in managing the spread of COVID-19, said Henry.

“This declaration of an emergency enables me to be faster, more streamlined and nimble in the things that we need to do right now."

Following that, the provincial health officer ordered that all bars in the province close.

“Bars and clubs, in my opinion, aren’t able to meet the criteria for social and physical distancing and therefore must close,” said Henry.

All other establishments or businesses must ensure social and physical distancing of approximately one-to-two metres between clients and staff, she said.

Restaurants and cafés that can’t meet the physical distancing criteria can only serve take out or delivery, or must close, she added.

“These are the tools we have to build that firewall, so we are stopping transmission between people in our communities and in our families.”

Smith felt the Quadra general store could and would adapt to the new regulations, given it’s the only gas station on the island.

“We’re an essential service. We’ll be open seven days a week.”

Encouraging customers to social distance, Smith recommended people limit trips to the general store for buying important items such as groceries, gas or propane.

“We are asking people to decide if it’s essential they come in.”

“Ask yourself if you really need to come in for that Lotto Max ticket,” she said with a laugh.

K-12 schooling suspended

Earlier the same day, Premier John Horgan announced K-12 schools will close indefinitely after spring break ends at the end of month.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said suspending classroom instruction was necessary to safeguard all education stakeholders.

“We’re used to schools being safe places where kids learn and grow and socialize,” said Fleming.

“But as the global pandemic COVID-19 is evolving quickly and having a growing impact in B.C., we have to take action today to protect our students and staff and keep our schools safe.”

He said the ministry would work with districts and schools, so they could devise new methods to ensure students continuity of learning.

Parents can expect that all students will receive a final mark, and students on track to move to the next grade in the fall will do so, he said.

Grade 10 and 11 students’ graduation assessments will be postponed and students eligible to graduate Grade 12 this year will graduate, he added.

School-based daycares will stay open for children of essential service workers such pharmacists, medical professionals and first responders, said Fleming.

Additionally, plans will be made to address vulnerable students who access meal programs or childcare in schools.

Parent reaction

Sarah Johnston, a Quadra mom of three school-aged kids, was anticipating the school closures and felt it was necessary.

“I think school should be cancelled,” said Johnston.

“I don’t see how they can put school back in session after spring break.

Johnston, who has home-schooled one of her kids, says she’s comfortable using online resources and devising educational activities and projects.

But not all parents can or want to do that, she noted.

Some parents don’t have the option to stay at home with their kids, but Johnston worries leaving daycares open will put kids at risk.

“It stops the purpose of the school closure because the kids are still together and passing around the pathogen,” she said.

“But, I don’t know what the answer is.”

Smith, whose daughter is in Grade 4, also expressed concern for parents who couldn’t stay home with the school closures.

“A lot of parents can’t just drop everything or bring their kids to work,” she said.

Smith is thinking of ways to keep her and other kids learning and active.

“It’s a lot of unknowns,” she said.

“We’re okay, because she can come with me to work. I can make some lessons out of it.”

She also plans to use online resources and tutor her daughter along with her husband’s help in the evenings after work.

Smith assumes a lot more mandated changes to fight coronavirus are still to come.

“I bet you by Thursday it will all have changed again,” she said.