Seven months after Interior Health recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus, IH president and CEO Susan Brown said the COVID-19 picture is “much clearer.”
“We are entering the next phase of the pandemic armed with increased knowledge and medical expertise about COVID-19,” Brown wrote in a Sept. 18 statement.
British Columbia marked its first case of COVID-19 Jan. 28, 2020, while Interior Health’s first case was recorded on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14). As of Wednesday, Sept. 23, the health region has had a total of 515 positive cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
“We have, tragically, had two deaths in the Interior Health region from COVID-19 and we know that no matter how low our numbers the impact is significant, especially for families who have lost loved ones,” Brown wrote.
“These losses are reasons enough for all of us to continue to follow the safety precautions every day.”
Interior Health managed the province’s first outbreak in a group of temporary foreign workers at an agricultural business in West Kelowna where a total of 23 people tested positive at Bylands Nurseries.
“An illness at a South Okanagan farm was another example of excellent work as the spread was contained to the farm itself with only four people testing positive,” Brown wrote.
These infection control measures and use of contract tracing were utilized again when outbreaks were declared at two long-term care sites. Swift action resulted in only one positive test result from each site, Brown said. No residents became ill.
Outbreaks at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver were managed quickly resulting in low numbers. No inmates were made ill in the second outbreak declared over Sept. 10.
The first outbreak occurred April 2 making the high-security prison the first in British Columbia to have a confirmed outbreak. It was later declared over on April 20.
Brown said IH’s contract tracers have worked tirelessly to get in touch with anyone exposed to the almost 500 people in the region that tested positive since February.
“The efforts of our medical health officers, epidemiologists, environmental health, communicable disease and public health staff — all working together — are how we were able to bend the curve back in Kelowna after the July long weekend when a cluster of cases grew from a series of parties,” Brown wrote.
The Kelowna cluster, linked to hotel parties involving individuals in their 20s and 30s, was declared over Aug. 31. Around 90 positive cases were associated with the Kelowna cluster.
Brown said she is proud of the IH team, but continued success relies on action taken by members of the public.
“Our success to date is not something health-care workers can do alone,” Brown wrote. “We need you. In fact, we are counting you to continue with valiant efforts you have all shown to date.”
Now, as the seasons change and students return to the classrooms, IH continues to watch that closely.
“Our public health teams are ready to jump into action to support the school community and our children,” Brown wrote, noting medical health officers are working closely with school districts.
IH has stepped up lab capacity, trained more individuals are are prepared to “ramp up” testing if necessary.
Brown said testing in some communities took longer than desired, but IH spent the summer months training more lab staff and stocking supplies to streamline testing processes.
“As we head into the fall, we are urging everyone to keep their bubbles small,” Brown wrote.
“I appeal to you to not be complacent and to continue to follow the safety precautions that we know works in stopping communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” Brown said. “Stay home when you’re sick, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands frequently and keep your bubbles small.”
“We can do this together,” she wrote. “Let’s renew and refocus our efforts to control this virus, to protect ourselves and loved ones from COVID-19.”