Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Uptick of COVID-19 cases in Elk Valley: Local doctors

There were 8 new cases reported in the last update, from 3 the week before

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the Elk Valley is on the up again, while numbers rise throughout the province.

While COVID-19 numbers have risen in the last few weeks in the Elk Valley, they are a long way off from the ‘cluster’ that was declared within the Fernie local health area earlier this year. The Fernie local health area covers all areas served by the Elk Valley Hospital.

In the most recent update, there were eight new cases identified between March 21 and 27.

Going back another four weeks, three new cases were reported between March 14 and 20, while there was only one case between March 7 and 13, and no cases between February 21 and March 6.

Cases reported in the Fernie Local Health Area (LHA) since November 2020 through to March 2021 by Epi-week. (Source: BCCDC)

Cases of COVID-19 and its variants have been on the up province-wide since mid-February, after the decline from the second wave towards the end of 2020 plateaued in the new year.

Within Interior Health, numbers reflect the provincial story – while daily case counts are not as high as in the second wave, numbers are trending upwards.

The worst day for IH in the pandemic so far was in mid-January, when there were 122 new cases reported, compared to the last few days in March, where new cases have been between 40 and 60 per day.

The bulk of the new cases in the province remain in the Lower Mainland – cases in Vancouver Coastal Health are as high as 306 per day (the worst day for that region in the pandemic so far), while new cases in Fraser Health are around 400 per day. Fraser Health reported the highest daily case count in November (696) during the second wave.

The new orders brought in on Monday put an end to indoor dining and liquor sales, indoor adult group fitness and indoor religious services for the next three weeks until April 19.

With these numbers, Dr. Tara Chalmers-Nixon of the Elk Valley Physicians said that the latest public health orders were not a surprise.

“The growth of new cases had become exponential over the last two weeks,” she said.

Dr. Chalmers-Nixon said the new orders were frustrating, and comments made by B.C.’s leaders were upsetting, but the community needed to keep at it.

“I feel very badly for all of our restaurants in our town, where every restaurant is painted with the same brush.

“Some restaurants have done a fantastic job of keeping customers safe and apart. Its a case where perhaps some of those places in the higher transmission zone perhaps weren’t being as careful – and now everybody gets punished. It’s pretty upsetting.”

Comments from Premier John Horgan (which he later walked back) blaming people aged between 20 and 39 was also upsetting, said Dr. Chalmers-Nixon, but she added that it was logical that people in that age bracket were at risk to be infected due to most of them not being vaccinated (as per the vaccine roll-out), their role as essential and frontline workers that were more at risk as emergency workers, grocery workers and in the service industry, and their housing reality – in that many people that age lived in shared households.

That blame stung more given the new public health orders shutting down restaurants was putting many in that age bracket out of work. Industry numbers on how many jobs will be lost are not yet known – but at Big White Ski Resort earlier this week, authorities are investigating a party thrown in response to the orders that was attended by dozens of service industry workers who were put out of work that day.

READ MORE: Big White mulls lease termination after large party at restaurant despite COVID-19 rules

Going forward, Dr. Chalmers-Nixon said that COVID-19 variants were of a high concern, given their higher transmission rates – but there was good news in that while new cases across B.C. were on the up, the number of deaths being reported was in decline as the provincial vaccination program sped up.

So far, 756,080 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

Data on where variants are appearing is not available at a local level.

The Elk Valley currently has three clinic-based vaccination sites at the Elkford and Sparwood medical centres, as well as the Elk Valley Hospital in Fernie.

From April 12, vaccination sites will be moving.

A mass-vaccination site will be opened in Fernie from April 12, with that facility reported to have the capacity for 1,000 vaccine appointments per week.

In Elkford, the Elkford Community Conference Centre will be opening on April 12 for vaccine appointments. In Sparwood, the Causeway Bay Hotel will be opening from Wednesday April 14.

Bookings can be made in age cohorts. As of Thursday, April 1, bookings are being taken for those born in 1948 or earlier, and Indigenous adults over the age of 18. To book a vaccine, call 1-877-740-7747.

As of early April, B.C. remains in phase 2 of the provincial vaccine roll-out, with the high-risk population the primary targets of the current phase. Provincial health authorities have recently announced that front-line priority workers will be eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine, but this was complicated by limits to who that vaccine could be used on, with B.C. pausing the roll-out for those under the age of 55 until further studies were completed.

Dr. Chalmers-Nixon said that locally, the vaccine roll-out was moving ahead rapidly, with good uptake from those that are eligible.

As more people become vaccinated, it was important not to become complacent if you’re not yet vaccinated.

“What I fear is that people see that as a reason to open up their behaviour, but COVID-19 even in young people can be a terrible, long-term disease.”

READ MORE: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike
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