By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

The Columbia Valley is the middle of a local COVID-19 outbreak, with cases number spiking dramatically in the past two weeks. As of Saturday, April 10 there were 46 cases of COVID-19, including some variants of concern. The cases are occurring in Columbia Valley residents, not visitors from Alberta as some social media posts have suggested, and the numbers have shot up rapidly in the past fortnight.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok is pressing authorities to make vaccines available to all Columbia Valley residents regardless of age, in order to curb the surging number of cases. A similar community mass-vaccination is already underway in Revelstoke, where vaccinations are being offered to all residents over the age of 18 over the course of April.

“COVID-19 cases in the Columbia Valley are on the rise. The most current information that I have as of tonight is as follows: zero (in) Golden, four (in) Kimberley, 30 plus (in the) Columbia Valley. I can confirm that there are cases linked to two daycares and one elementary school in the Columbia Valley, wrote Clovechok in a Facebook post on Thursday, April 8, adding that the Columbia Valley cases include “variants of concern”. “The primary reason for the rate increase seems to be due to local residents not following the regulations and recommendations of our B.C. provincial health officer.”

 Clovechok explained he had talked with B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix, asking him to authorize Interior Health staff to schedule vaccine appointments for every resident in the Columbia Valley who wants to be vaccinated regardless of their age.”

Two dates later, in an update to the community, Invermere hospital chief of staff Dr. Gareth Mannheimer wrote “currently, there are 46 active cases in our region and climbing.”

On Tuesday, April 13, Clovechok added that the latest number he was given by health officials was 30 active cases in the Columbia Valley, and that health workers here are testing 33 people a day. Given the differing numbers cited in the past few days, Clovechok added “I’m only good as the latest number they’ve given me, and that’s the latest number they’ve given me” later also adding that “instead of getting too hung up on the exact number, what we need to focus on is that we do have an outbreak here, there have been a lot of cases in recent weeks, and we need to deal with it.”

In conversation with the Pioneer on Monday, April 12, Clovechok emphasized that “the rising numbers are primarily from different events that should not have occurred,” referencing at least two house parties organized and attended by local valley residents, from which many of the COVID-19 cases stem.

When the Pioneer initially spoke with Clovechok on Friday, April 9, Dix had not yet gotten back to Clovechok, but Clovechok was optimistic he would hear from the minister soon.

“It is more than a little COVID-19 outbreak and my concern is that we remain vigilant,” Clovechok told the Pioneer. Clovechok reiterated that residents need to follow pandemic protocols: keeping within their bubbles, washing their hands often, staying two metres apart, wearing masks in public, staying home as much as possible, staying home if feeling unwell, and getting tested if having had contact with somebody who has tested positive.

He added that even people who have been fully vaccinated need to be careful as, from what he understands, it is not yet 100 per cent clear that vaccinated people are unable pass on the virus to others even though they themselves are protected.

“Our hospital doesn’t really have the capacity to deal with multiple COVID-19 patients. Calgary is not going to take them (cross-border health care issues ongoing for the past several years have meant B.C. patients almost never go to Calgary, as they often did in the past) and the intensive care unit in Cranbrook is full. Not with COVID-19 patients, but full with other patients,” said Clovechok. “So where are they (Invermere COVID-19 patients) going to go?”

“House parties and large gatherings have been happening here, and they shouldn’t be,” he said. “We’re not done with this yet folks. We’ve got to stay vigilant.”

Clovechok cited Revelstoke as an example of how a community can band together and halt an outbreak. The community had a surge of COVID-19 cases (as many as 59 at one point, in a town of 8,000 people), but as Clovechok explained residents buckled down and followed the rules stringently, and cases numbers dropped. “Given the numbers we currently have here in our community and our hospital capacity, we need to get needles in people’s arms,” said Clovechok, explaining why he is pressing for the same mass vaccination here as in Revelstoke. “We don’t want to wait any longer.”

Clovechok added that from what he understands, the COVID-19 cases in the Columbia Valley outbreak have come in the past two weeks in a marked upswing, rather than numbers having steadily risen over a number of weeks.

He strongly urged people to stick to the rules laid out by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and in particular to stick to their core bubbles, which for most people includes immediate household members only. “Your bubble is not 10 people this weekend and then 10 different people next weekend, and then 10 more the next. It’s not musical chairs here. That won’t help us stop this,” he emphasized. 

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“The Columbia Valley has done a great job keeping cases down right up until now. Revelstoke has shown you can knock an outbreak down if people follow the rules. We can do that here. We can get back to zero. But to do that, we have to — absolutely have to — follow the rules.”

Invermere mayor Al Miller concurred with Clovechok’s comments. “It’s time to really buckle down and make sure everybody is extra responsible when it comes to masks, distancing and other protocols,” Miller told the Pioneer, adding there’s no need for whole families to be in grocery stores when one person can go.

“Stick to the rules,” said Miller. “Now is not the time to be travelling or having a party or large gathering. It’s never been time for that, actually, but now more than ever we need to respect the protocols put in place to keep vulnerable people safe. Stay local, support local (businesses), be respectful, be kind.”

The province restrictions in place don’t allow indoor social gatherings of any size at your residence. Up to 10 people can gather outdoors.