Editors note: The number of cases related to off-Island travel has been updated to reflect new information from Island Health.
Travel to and from Vancouver Island has caused dozens of cases of COVID-19, according to Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health.
Stanwick’s staff analyzed confirmed Island cases between September and November and found that more than half (86) of the 133 cases were linked to travel and 66 were cases of Islanders leaving and coming back. It’s unclear if the travel was essential, but at least 20 of those 66 were people who travelled to the Lower Mainland specifically. Those 20 passed COVID-19 to 11 people on the Island, who in turn gave the virus to another four people.
“We don’t know whether it was essential or not, but certainly some probably were not,” Stanwick said. “And they came back with COVID.”
It’s one of the ways the numbers creep up, Stanwick added. On Nov. 18, 556 people on Vancouver Island were self-isolating after being in contact with a person with COVID-19.
“We’re not being as careful as we were earlier on when we were enjoying periods where we had no cases or just a handful of cases,” he said. “When we had a case, we usually had about two individuals who were immediate high-risk contacts. That number has doubled to four.”
|Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, urges people to avoid travel and stick to health protocols like hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing. (Black Press Media file photo)|
Canada’s Atlantic provinces have created a “travel bubble,” allowing for residents who have self-isolated for 14 days to travel between the Maritime provinces without restrictions. Those who leave and return from outside the region have to self-isolate again.
Stanwick doesn’t have the authority to initiate a travel ban or “bubble” for Vancouver Island – that would have to come down from the province and through provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“Dr. Henry is evidence-driven,” Stanwick said. “If we want her to do something different, we have to come up with why we believe this is the case, and it’s not just a gut feeling.”
In her Nov. 17 public address, Henry encouraged staying local and travelling less, particularly for people in the Island, Interior and northern regions.
“When we spend time inside with people from outside of our household, our work group or school cohort, the risks increase for everyone,” she said. “Instead, let’s stay connected virtually and make it a safer winter for all of us.”
Stanwick notes there is a lot that can be done within the community, with or without an Island travel bubble. He said everyone must continue to implement the early – and consistent – orders for handwashing, distancing, mask-wearing and limiting social contact.
“Those basics seem to have slipped a little bit,” he said. “What’s happening in the community will very much determine what’s happening in our school system and what’s happening in our hospitals.”
As of Nov. 18, there are 114 active cases of COVID-19 in the Island Health region and 6,589 across B.C. More than 300 British Columbians have died and 16,469 have recovered.