Submitted by Dr. Gareth Mannheimer, chief of staff of Invermere and District Hospital
This is a tough time. The majority of our community is doing well. We are following provincial guidelines, and we are asking you for sustained focus. I understand everyone is tired of social and physical distancing. We know you are fearful of the economic damage resulting from the response to the virus if we don’t ease up on current restrictions, despite the success we have had in B.C. flattening the curve.
Unfortunately, there is evidence in the community that some people are opting to ease off of the recommendations. We can’t afford to do this yet and compromise the phenomenal flattening of the curve we have achieved.
The results of such a successful flattening of the curve is a longer period of grumbling positive cases, which we are clearly seeing provincially. This has prevented the huge surges that have been witnessed elsewhere in the world, but also results in slightly longer restrictions. To see these restrictions phased out, we must see a decrease in the number of cases. The considerable expansion in testing available to British Columbians will allow the authorities to do this reliably and accurately. I would remind anyone with any respiratory symptoms to contact your health care provider, or the Invermere and District Hospital to arrange testing.
So far, every decision, every guideline developed and every update has been focused on keeping the entire community safe. We have been working hard to create transparency about what we know the virus can do, how you can reduce the risk, and how you can protect yourself and others.
Our focus now is to understand how the virus is spreading and catch community outbreaks early. It’s been said an outbreak anywhere can be an outbreak everywhere. This needs to be our working model and the way the community operates if we are to learn from the experiences of other cities and communities. The Columbia Valley is not an exception. We weren’t lucky; we came together as a community and worked hard. These outbreaks can move and become large very quickly.
As a reminder, for your mental and physical health I would encourage you to get outside and enjoy the good weather, but do it safely and with others in mind.
Thank you again for your questions. I am going to try and answer the ones I received last week.
Is COVID-19 still in the community?
Yes. We have had positive cases in the valley, but based on the results coming through from expanded testing things are looking positive.
Is COVID-19 in our senior facilities?
No. We have no reported outbreaks in any of our facilities. Staff are working incredibly hard to protect and care for our seniors, who are being closely monitored. Staff are utilizing best practices to avoid possible infection and transmission.
What about the lack of large outbreaks? Doesn’t this show we have contained the virus?
The term “outbreak” requires some context. To date, social and physical distancing has been our strongest and most effective public health measure. It has prevented an “explosive” or surge outbreak in B.C., unlike what has happened in Italy, Spain and New York City. This successful flattening, however, is not a reason to declare success and subsequently loosen restrictions. We would likely need medical evidence showing a reduction in new cases to take a measured approach to loosen restrictions. Everyone must start thinking about how we will adapt our lives, our businesses and our day-to-day interactions to maintain physical and social distancing. We must keep in mind there is no vaccine. Currently, there is also no medical evidence that once you have had COVID-19 you have guaranteed immunity and may not get it again.
What about the future of testing? How will we get our lives back to normal?
B.C. has significantly expanded access to COVID-19 testing as part of our strategy to decide when to move beyond the current restrictive measures. The initial focus was to identify the highest risk and the most vulnerable patients. There is now a shift to ramp up testing capacity and shorten time to results. We need to think and prepare with longer time frames in mind.
Last week, the federal government announced $1B for COVID-19 research to understand the virus and to implement testing to assist in a recovery program for Canada.
There is lots of talk right now about antibody testing and contact tracing. This is where a patient’s blood is tested to show they have already had the virus and might be immune. This information could be helpful in getting businesses reopened. But we need to be sure the antibody testing is accurate. There is also plenty of chatter about immunity “passports” – certificates or passes that would permit those who have tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19 to return to work, to shop, to work and circulate freely while those who don’t would shelter in place until vaccines become available. This “passport” concept is fraught with issues and will be widely debated given the potential stigma it could create.
Contact tracing works by determining who else would be at risk of contracting the virus using a structured tracking process. The process is undertaken by the provincial health system. Anyone who has tested positive is contacted and helped to identify any and all people they have interacted with in the preceding few days. Those people are then identified, contacted, evaluated and may be advised to isolate to stop the spread and propagation of the virus.
Should I wear a cloth face mask?
There is a lot of confusion on whether people should wear a cloth face covering when out in public, particularly in areas where social distancing is difficult. For clarity, there are two basic groups of face coverings.
1) There are masks that are worn to protect the person wearing them from getting infected. These are medical grade masks such as surgical masks and N95 masks.
2) There are cloth face coverings which are usually made at home. We have volunteers who are making cloth face masks for those who cannot. The function of these masks is to prevent the person wearing them from spreading the virus, especially if they do not know whether they are infected. These are not a replacement for physical distancing; they are an additional, voluntary public health measure that appears to be helping reduce virus spread.
Wearing a mask takes some getting used to. All masks need to be used properly. Wash your hands before putting it on. Do not touch your face when wearing it. Wash your hands before and after taking it off. Make sure you clean it. Here is a good video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLuEwwGhBxI
I have a medical condition that I managed with the help of my doctor. Should I visit the clinics?
Yes. Your health is important to us. We have created an environment to keep you safe. Both Invermere Medical Clinic and Chisel Peak Clinic are open and providing consultations. The majority of these will be telephonic or via video, but in circumstances where you need to be seen in person, appointments are also being arranged.
- Invermere Medical Clinic: (250) 342-9206
- Chisel Peak Clinic: (250) 341-6900
- Invermere and District Hospital: (250) 342-9201
With summer coming, how will we manage visitors and the potential for infection?
For the foreseeable future, preparedness and prevention are the best ways to limit exposure and potential impacts in the Columbia Valley. Recommendations in the B.C. and Alberta guidelines are to restrict unnecessary interprovincial travel. I would encourage all of us in the Columbia Valley to try and not make unnecessary trips into the bigger centres. Our out-of-province folks should consider these guidelines when considering trips to their cabins. The safest course of action is to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.
What can I do?
Help and support one another safely. Reach out to a family member, neighbour or friend that might be having difficulty responding to the effects of the pandemic. Be sympathetic, check in, listen and discuss fears and worries. Keep the lines of communication open. Encourage anyone who is coping poorly to call our clinics to get the information and care they may need. Work hard and stay compliant to protect the wonderful freedoms we still get to enjoy.