Protecting the privacy of COVID-19 patients while stopping the spread of the virus is a key focus for health officials, authorities told reporters during an update on Tuesday.
There are currently seven patients with the new coronavirus in B.C.. As the cases have been announced, officials have not given out any specific location data beyond the health authority area in which they are located. The first patient has now fully recovered.
“You may hear, or have heard, from social media alleged personal details about people involved,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “I just ask people to exercise discretion and good judgment.”
Dix said if people think their information will be released to the public when they come forward for testing, it will be that much harder for healthcare workers to identify coronavirus cases. So far, the province has conducted more than 1,000 tests on around 700 people – more, Dix said, than have been done in the entire U.S.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top doctor, fielded questions about a letter sent out to two school districts about possible COVID-19 contact. Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and the Tri-Cities received a letter on Friday that said contacts of the sixth presumptive coronavirus patient, identified in the Fraser Health region, “may have attended school in the region and are currently self-isolating.”
Henry said it was not possible for the health authority to provide more details.
“When you target a specific school, or one or two schools, perhaps it makes it much easier to identify the individuals,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate, but that school would be targeted. Those individuals would be targeted… and that would discourage anyone else from contacting us or trusting us.”
The COVID-19 virus is also not spread the same way as the measles, and so does not require the same notifications. Henry said the measles lasts “a long time” in the air, and so warnings are more vital.
Henry said the people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which saw a rash of COVID-19 infections, are returning to B.C.
People who came in from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, have been in isolation at CFB Trenton in Ontario, but have been cleared and show no signs of the virus.
For people worried about getting the coronavirus, Henry said the usual cold and flu season measures, like washing your hands and coughing into the elbow, remain the most helpful.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said all seven coronavirus patients had been in the Lower Mainland. Some cases have been identified in interior B.C.