Local health officials have offered up some sobering assessments of the local current COVID-19 situation, with the Elk Valley Hospital’s Dr. Ron Clark saying Fernie could be the next Big White or Revelstoke.
In the past several months, one in a 1,000 local COVID tests could return positive. As of Jan. 18, those numbers are now one in five.
The most recent BC Centre of Disease Control (BCCDC) data shows there were three new cases identified as residing in the Fernie local health area (which covers all the Elk Valley and South Country) between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9. Between Jan. 8 and Jan 14 there were 24 cases in the wider East Kootenay region. For all of 2020, there were 59 confirmed cases in the Elk Valley.
“We are … very close to being in the same sort of news media attention spotlight as places like Big White and Revelstoke have been several months previously,” said Clark.
”I am very concerned our numbers will start to reach those proportions.”
The COVID-19 cluster at Big White has so far risen to 175 known cases as of Jan. 15, according to Interior Health.
In response to online conversation on the number of local cases, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce had set up an online discussion on Monday, Jan. 18 with local doctors and Interior Health officials.
Chamber executive director Brad Parsell said businesses were already suffering due to travel advisories and bans on gatherings, with rumour and discussion on COVID-19 cases compounding a tough situation for the local economy.
Clark said there was no doubt that the Elk Valley was firmly in the grip of the pandemic as of the new year.
“To the question of whether we have COVID in the Elk Valley – yes, we do. We really do,” he said.
“Over 20 per cent of the tests we’re doing now are returning as positive, and it’s across quite a wide swath of our population – this is obviously worrisome.”
Clark said that given how well the community had done in controlling spread of COVID-19 so far, it was even more important to revisit all the measures and recommendations made.
Clark said a 20 per cent positivity rate was “horrible.”
“It’s as bad as anywhere else in the world right now. It clearly shows that this is absolutely widespread in our community and we could potentially have many many positive cases – hundreds even, maybe more.”
Between 20 and 50 tests are done daily at the Sparwood Health Centre.
During the online chat on Monday, Dr. Sue Pollock, who works as one of the seven medical health officers with Interior Health, and who has been involved with case tracking in the Elk Valley, explained the processes through which positive cases are contacted, and close contacts are identified and contacted themselves. All positive cases are contacted by health authorities.
People in the same households as a confirmed positive case are regarded as close contacts, while people who share workplaces are not always close contacts.
COVID-safety requirements, such as plexiglass, hand washing, distancing, work-spaces and the nature of work can keep work colleagues from being classed as close contacts.
Pollock said close contacts of someone that tests positive are not informed of who tested positive for confidentiality reasons, and are asked to self-isolate for 14 days from the last point of contact with that case.
“During that time, if they do develop symptoms, we do ask them to go in to test.”
Pollock said that someone identified as a contact (but not a close contact), is not asked to self-isolate, but self-monitor. If they develop any symptoms, they are asked to get a test and then self-isolate until they get a test result.
Confidentially also prevents health authorities from disclosing much information to employers that have staff that return positive tests, but Pollock said that if a workplace is deemed a risk, they can issue public notifications of exposure events.
Pollock said individuals who don’t get any phone calls or warnings who may be unsure need to be very vigilant.
“They should be self-monitoring, and that’s something we should all be doing.”
For more information on COVID-19, testing options, or to book online, visit Interior Health’s website at Interiorhealth.ca and select the Sparwood option.
The COVID-specific call centre is also open for bookings seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. via 1-877-740-7747.
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