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‘Concerning’ situation in Northern Health with nearly 140 new COVID-19 cases since mid-July

Dr. Bonnie Henry says spike linked to Alberta religious event, couple of clusters

In the last week, and as of this publication, COVID-19 cases in northern B.C. have noticeably jumped at a fast pace and it’s catching a wider eye from the provincial health officer.

As per Dr. Bonnie Henry’s update from yesterday (Sept. 10), there are 203 total cases in Northern Health’s jurisdiction since its first positive test on March 9, which is 36 more than last Thursday (Sept. 3) and equals a 24 per cent increase.

She also reported a new regional record of 10 new cases in a 24-hour span on Thursday; the previous plateau was eight on July 22.

Dr. Henry said the spike is the result of a ‘couple of clusters’ across the region.

“We’re watching that very carefully, you know, [32 active] cases doesn’t seem like a lot in many communities, but we know the north is stretched and the resources that we have in public health to follow up with everybody is being stretched,” said Dr. Henry on what’s being done to contain any further spread of the virus, though unable to mention where those clusters are based

“They’re working very hard and we’re working very closely with communities to make sure that we can support them in supporting individuals who are either being in isolation because they are positive or people who are in quarantine still right now and being monitored.”

Northern B.C. hosted 65 COVID-19 cases by mid-June, went 37 consecutive days without a positive test and has recorded 138 new ones since July 16.

Northern Heath case fluctation - Sept. 11, 2020Northern Health's COVID-19 case graph compared to B.C. as of Sept. 11, 2020. (via BC Centre for Disease Control)

There are a number of events leading to the surge, including a community outbreak on Haida Gwaii that lasted for a little over a month, July 24 to Aug. 28, and the latest exposure event roots in the northeast’s Prespatou region, though there’s no specific address on Northern Health’s watch, citing events, service, or gatherings, large or small, led to the declaration.

However, the ‘It Is Time - Canada’ religious gathering in Deadwood, Alta. appears to be the biggest causality to Northern Health’s spike, Dr. Henry believes.

From July 30 to Aug. 2, more than 100 people attended an outdoor worship and prayer conference, some of which were based in Fort St. John with 17 lab-confirmed cases reported on Aug. 17 when the public-exposure event was declared.

“There are still a good chunk of the cases that we’re seeing, the active cases as well as the hospitalizations, are related to transmission that happened at a large religious event in Alberta and people came back and, unfortunately, spread it within the community before it was detected,” she explained.

“That’s mostly under control, but what we’re seeing right now is people who were contacts are now in that part of the incubation period where they’re getting sick. What we’re thankful for is that we found the contacts and we’re confident that there’s not going to be another generation from those exposure events.” 

The number of hospitalized patients has also gone up to seven, three of which are in critical care, out of a total of 22 since the pandemic began.

Dr. Henry says she’d worried about the increase, but also says those stats can fluctuate, making it seem like a big problem one day then better progression the next.

“It’s one of those indicators that we do watch very very carefully, but it’s also spread out around the province. So what we’re seeing is half of the cases are in Fraser Health, but we’re also seeing people in the north and that’s concerning [...] So, when we look at what we presented and we look at the impact on our health care system and on the hospitals and ICU beds that we have and the capacity we have, we’re not at a point where we’re concerned about that, but we know as more cases happen, we are starting to see that spill over into long-term care homes and having contact with older family members. That is the warning sign for us.”

Dr. Henry has cited confidentiality numerous times during COVID-19 in order to reduce community panic.

Northern Health has also had 171 people recover and, fortunately, no one has died from the virus in the region thus far.

The BC Centre for Disease Control says between January and July, Prince George’s region, coinciding with the northern interior, saw 33 positive COVID-19 cases; the August local health area numbers are still being crunched.

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