While COVID-19 has directly resulted in few severe outcomes in Campbell River — including zero deaths — the indirect impacts of the pandemic have been “profound,” says Island Health’s local medical officer.
Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical officer for Comox Valley, Strathcona and North Island, provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic to Campbell River City council on June 14.
The peak of COVID-19 activity in Greater Campbell River peaked in March 2021, when 31 cases were identified in a week. But cases have remained “quite low” throughout the pandemic, said Enns. Additionally, no deaths directly caused by COVID-19 have been reported in Campbell River.
However, the pandemic has taken a deadly toll locally, because of increased drug-related mortality. Between the start of April 2020 to the end of April 2021, 21 deaths due to illicit drug toxicity were recorded in Campbell River. In 2019 and 2020, toxic drug deaths was the second-leading cause of death of people in the city under 60.
The rate of toxic drug deaths in Campbell River — about 43 per 100,000 — exceeds that of Vancouver Island overall and increased “significantly” in 2021, said Enns.
These deaths show the impacts of COVID restrictions, isolation, and the loss of control many have experienced throughout the pandemic, said Enns. These “harms” were not “proportionate to COVID itself,” she added.
Enns also highlighted wider mental health impacts of the pandemic. According to the results of the BC COVID-19 SPEAK Survey from May 2020, 40 per cent of respondents from Campbell River reported their mental health had worsened. Additionally, 64 per cent of these respondents said they were concerned with how vulnerable they were, while over half said they felt their thoughts were “consumed by COVID.”
Mayor Andy Adams said the mental health and addictions aspect of the pandemic must remain in sight.
“The tainted drugs, currently, are an issue that are having a very unfortunate, staggering increase in fatalities,” said Adams. “But it’s the ongoing mental health and addiction issues that really need a focus, because they’re creating issues right across the country — and we’re certainly feeling it in our downtown core here in Campbell River.”
However, COVID-19 health restrictions were successful in buying time for vaccine development, said Enns.
“The vaccine changes everything,” she said. “We are not waiting for recovery — we are in recovery.”
Around 70 per cent of people in Campbell River have had one dose of the vaccine as of June 15, while North Island sits slightly higher, at 71 per cent. Across Vancouver Island, about 76 per cent of people have received one dose, while about 14 per cent have had two.
“Everyday vaccine uptake goes up,” she said. “When you look at the vaccine uptake on Vancouver Island, we have a lot to celebrate.”