COVID exposures reported at hospital, seniors' home, school

Northern Health declared a managed COVID-19 outbreak at the family medicine unit of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. on Thursday.

The news comes on the same day Northern Health reported an outbreak in the Cedar Wing of the Gateway Lodge seniors' home. Health officials also announced a third COVID-19 exposure event at Peden Hill Elementary School – this one from Nov. 24 to Nov. 27.

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"Northern Health is implementing enhanced COVID-19 precautions related to the Family Medicine Unit at University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George, following lab-confirmed – but unrelated – cases of COVID-19," a statement issued by Northern Health on Thursday said. "Enhanced outbreak control measures are in place at UHNBC, and at this time, there is no evidence of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 within UHNBC. In this case, there have been individual lab-confirmed cases in staff who may have worked during their potential infectious period, and in some hospitalized patients."

Northern Health has clear COVID-19 safety procedures, and the risk to patients, staff and physicians at the hospital is considered low, the statement said,

Enhanced cleaning and infection control measures have been put in place at the hospital, as well as enhanced symptom monitoring among hospital staff and patients.

"Northern Health Public Health is closely monitoring for additional cases, and (the health authority) is taking steps to protect the health of staff and those they care for, with enhanced outbreak precautions..." the statement said.

The outbreak at Gateway Lodge was declared, following a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff member (see full story).

The COVID-19 exposure at Peden Hill Elementary was the third for the school. Exposure events have occurred at the school on Nov. 24-27, Nov. 17-20 and Nov. 12-17.

Two other school exposures in the Northern Health region were reported on Thursday: one at Centennial Christian School in Terrace and the other at North Peace Secondary School in Fort St. John.

The outbreaks and exposures were announced on the same day provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Health region. The total number of cases in the north, since the start of the pandemic, grew to 928.

The number of active cases wasn't provided, but on Thursday the B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported 235 active cases in the Northern Health region – down by five from Wednesday. There were 33 people hospitalized in the north, including 11 in intensive care.

Across the province, there were 694 new cases reported on Thursday, Henry said. The number of active cases in B.C. increased to 9,103, with a further 10,849 people being monitored for potential exposure.

There were 325 British Columbians hospitalized on Thursday with COVID-19, including 80 in intensive care. Twelve new COVID-19-related deaths were reported on Thursday – eight in Fraser Health and four in Vancouver Coastal Health – bringing the province's death toll from the pandemic to 481. That includes eight Northern Health residents who have died from the disease.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been 35,422 cases of COVID-19 in B.C., Henry said.

However, there is reason to be hopeful, she said.

"We know vaccine will be available in the coming weeks," Henry said. "We are planning to be able to put vaccine into arms in the first week of January. We have six million doses of that (Pfizer-created) vaccine coming to Canada in the first weeks of January, February and March."

Those doses will be prioritized for the most vulnerable people and to protect the health care and long-term care system, she said. By April, 2021 additional vaccines should become available to start vaccinating more of the general public, she said.

If all goes well, everybody who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by September, she said.

"For now, we must all stay strong," Henry said. "Through your efforts, we can get through this pandemic together."

Further limits on adult team sports were also unveiled on Thursday (see story).

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