A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, on Monday, Dec. 7. (Marissa Tiel/CP photo)

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, on Monday, Dec. 7. (Marissa Tiel/CP photo)

Newsmaker of the year: COVID-19

Kelowna — like the rest of the world — was hit hard by COVID-19, in several different ways

COVID-19 and its deep impact in the Central Okanagan made headlines throughout the year, making it the Capital News’ top story of the year for 2020.

Interior Health reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on Feb. 14, 2020. The woman, who had recently returned from China to her home in the B.C. Interior, was the fifth case of the virus in the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency on March 17, ordering the closures of nightclubs and bars, as the province hit 186 cases of the virus. Within the next week, further orders would shut down dine-in services at restaurants, and other non-essential businesses closed as people stayed in their homes amid recommendations of social distancing.

Mid-March also saw the rise of panic-buying. Shopping carts loaded with toilet paper were a common sight until stores restricted purchases.

By the end of March, the Central Okanagan faced its first outbreak, at a plant nursery in West Kelowna. Twenty-three workers at Bylands Nurseries tested positive for the virus, and 75 workers – 63 migrant and 12 local – were ordered to self-isolate before the outbreak was declared over on May 11.

Both West Kelowna and Kelowna lowered planned tax increases in April, in an effort to decrease the burden on those struggling financially due to the pandemic. West Kelowna cut its proposed tax hike from 4.8 per cent to 2.8 per cent, while Kelowna slashed its proposed 4.15 per cent increase to 2.05 per cent.

In May, B.C.’s pandemic infection curve appeared to be flattening, prompting health officials to ease restrictions, allowing businesses to reopen their doors with precautions in place.

In June, the City of Kelowna allowed downtown businesses along Bernard Avenue to expand patios into the street, turning the city’s main drag into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare through the summer. The project is now planned to come back on an annual basis after the city deemed the road closure a success.

By July, however, Kelowna made headlines around the province as Canada Day parties turned into super-spreader events, resulting in 171 cases between June 26 and the end of August.

In September, students in the Central Okanagan went back to school. The province’s first school virus outbreak occurred at Kelowna’s École de L’Anse-au-sableon Oct. 20. That grew to 16 people infected within a week. The school closed its doors between Oct. 26 and Nov. 4 as more than 175 people in the school community were ordered to self-isolate. Several schools across the Central Okanagan recorded exposure events between October and December.

Interior Health’s first outbreak among care home residents hit Kelowna’s Mountainview Village on Nov. 30. Just three days later, the home had the region’s first care home resident death

An outbreak hit Big White, a popular local ski resort, on Dec. 15, involving 96 cases within a week. The spread on the mountain was largely tied to shared housing and social gatherings.

Vaccinations in the region have begun, as health care aid Charmane Lazzarotto received her first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 22. A second vaccine, produced by Moderna, has also been given the green light by Health Canada.

For Interior Health, the vaccine rollout will be a gradual process, going first to at-risk populations and health-care workers. In the meantime, the health authority stressed the importance of following COVID-related regulations.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com

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