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Officials with Metro Vancouver’s transportation network say TransLink will be the first system in North America to test the use of anti-microbial copper on high-touch surfaces to better understand and reduce transmission of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The four-week pilot project is part of a study examining the effectiveness of different copper-based products and a protective coating that are to be installed on two SkyTrains and two buses in Vancouver, TransLink chief executive officer Kevin Desmond said on Tuesday.

Dr. Marthe Charles, a medical microbiologist with Vancouver Coastal Health, said copper is toxic for micro-organisms and the coatings on high-touch surfaces will be tested twice each week to determine how well they work.

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Teck Resources Ltd. is paying for the initial pilot project, which the mining company’s president Don Lindsay said costs about $90,000.

Mr. Desmond said TransLink’s ridership is about 42 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and that’s roughly where it has levelled off since August.

The pilot project also involves the local health authority, Vancouver General Hospital, the University of British Columbia, the UBC Hospital Foundation and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction.

B.C. recorded 525 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, pushing the number of active infections to 5,133 as hospitalizations ticked up to 142.

Three more people have died, meaning 284 deaths are linked to the illness.

In a joint statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said 9,781 people are being monitored after exposure to a known case, while health care outbreaks are continuing at 33 assisted-living or long-term care homes and six acute care facilities.

The bulk of B.C.'s new cases continue to be in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, where Dr. Henry has ordered residents to reduce their social interactions and other activities for at least two weeks.

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“A growing number of people in British Columbia are now self-isolating at home, away from their work, school, friends and family, which in turn is creating unnecessary financial and emotional strain for far too many,” the health officials said in their statement.

“We can turn this trend around and the time to do that is now.”

Dr. Henry has said her order restricting activities in the two regions could be extended past Nov. 23 or modified depending on case counts.

The B.C. government released a statement on Tuesday extending the provincial state of emergency for another two weeks. It allows health and emergency management officials to use extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act.

Also on Tuesday, WorkSafeBC said it is stepping up inspections at workplaces in B.C.'s two most populous health regions.

The agency is urging employers in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions to review and update their COVID-19 safety plans as needed.

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It said workplaces that carry the highest risk for transmission are being prioritized for inspections, including sites where it’s difficult to maintain a safe distance and where workers interact with large numbers of people or come into contact with shared surfaces and tools.

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