Health officials say Vancouver Island residents have done an ‘amazing’ job on flattening the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A virtual town hall on COVID-19 was held Tuesday night, with provincial MLAs hosting the meeting as Island Health officials answered the public’s questions.
Kathy MacNeil, Island Health CEO, said as of Tuesday, April 21, there were only five people with COVID-19 diagnoses across all the region’s hospitals.
“That’s not the scenario we had planned for and that is a direct result of the work that people are doing in the community,” she said.
Dr. Richard Stanwick, the Island’s chief medical health officer, added that only 14 of the Island’s 109 total cases to date have been a result of “community spread” and not traceable to foreign travel or localized clusters.
He was asked if the low number of COVID-19 cases on the Island means there isn’t much herd immunity in the region, and if that means a second wave of the virus is coming.
“There’s is a concern that this flattening of the curve is merely a delaying tactic and as [the provincial health officer] has suggested, we’re likely going to see waves of this virus and each time we’ll probably have to step up, until we have a vaccine,” Stanwick said.
He said there is a “grave risk” in creating herd immunity, and he said an expansion of COVID-19 testing will give health officials a better picture about what sort of immunity is already present.
Stanwick said the Island has a limited capacity to do testing – about 460 test results can be processed in a day, compared to about 9,000 tests a day on the Lower Mainland – and said the priority until now has been testing seniors in long-term facilities, health workers and people who may have been exposed to known clusters of cases. Stanwick added that earlier in flu season, there were other respiratory viruses circulating, so testing systems would have become overwhelmed.
He did also say that expanded testing is part of a strategy to see if COVID-19 will disappear in the summer like some other viruses.
“It does look like we will be expanding testing criteria to be more inclusive so that people … who have respiratory symptoms will be able to contact 811 and get referred to our centres…” he said. “This is going to be useful because it will give us some indication about how much disease is circulating in the community.”
Stanwick predicted that people will hear more about opportunities for increased social interaction in the coming days, as health officials recognize it’s important for people’s physical and mental wellness. He suggest relaxation of measures will be incremental, as health officials will assess how the “curve” is impacted along the way.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can maintain a quality of life and still put these protections in place,” MacNeil said, adding that “holding the line” by following physical distancing guidelines and other provincial health orders results in a health system that’s not overwhelmed.
About 300 questions were submitted by members of the public leading up to Tuesday’s town hall.
“Thank you to everybody across British Columbia who is staying home and doing their bit to protect us all,” said Mitzi Dean, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, who co-hosted the town hall with Sonia Furstenau, MLA for the Cowichan Valley.
Island Health isn’t sharing locations of COVID-19 cases for privacy reasons https://t.co/ByoQnrYwL7
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) March 19, 2020