British Columbia

Public co-operation required to ease burden of COVID-19 on B.C. health-care system, doctor says

The public plays a critical role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and minimizing its burden on the province's health-care system, one B.C. doctor says.

'Containment of the virus truly is a shared responsibility,' family physician says

Thirty-two people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. One person, a man in his 80s who lived at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, has died.  (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The public plays a critical role in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and minimizing its burden on the province's health-care system, one B.C. doctor says. 

Nurses and doctors are preparing for the possibility that medical resources could be stretched thin as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

Washing your hands, staying home when sick and not touching your face are some of the first defences against contracting the COVID-19 virus and will help doctors and nurses down the line, said Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of B.C. and a family physician based in Coquitlam.

"We have a very robust health-care system in Canada. We certainly are capable of dealing with smaller numbers of significantly ill patients," Ross told CBC's The Early Edition

"The concern would arise if we are not containing the virus well and had multiple patients critically ill at the same time."

Thirty-nine people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. One person, a man in his 80s who lived at a North Vancouver nursing home, has died. 

Two new cases that were announced on Tuesday are health-care workers at that care home. 

There are no N95 masks left at Dr. Maryam Zeineddin's West Vancouver family practice.

Zeineddin says staff need to have masks and gowns. They're risking exposure themselves if they test patients without them, she said. 

Ensuring there are enough medical staff and protective equipment available to deal with an increased number of patients is a concern for medical workers, said Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses' Union.

At this time of year, many acute care facilities are inundated with patients who have influenza and B.C. is also experiencing a shortage of nurses, Sorensen said.

Nurses are already working "extensive" amounts of overtime, she said.

"Nurses work about $162 million worth of overtime, that's the numbers we have from last year. That's about two million hours of overtime," Sorensen said. 

Not all health-care facilities have the same access to necessary supplies, she added. Acute care facilities already have items like N95 masks, gowns, gloves, goggles and face shields, but long-term care facilities don't routinely stock them, Sorensen said.

'We need to all work together'

On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has a "pandemic stockpile" it has started to use.

She said there is also a nationally-co-ordinated process for ensuring supplies are available for long-term care homes, community physicians and hospitals.

"It's not perfect and there's sometimes challenges in individual settings, but the message has certainly gone out and we are purchasing with our colleagues across the country to make sure we have what we need in the system," she said.

Outbreaks don't happen evenly across the province all at once and there is no "magic number" of cases to reach before the health-care system is overwhelmed, Henry said.

Hospitals have plans in place to disperse patients, she said. This includes finding temporary places within the community for those with more minor cases and delaying elective surgeries to accommodate others.

The province is "adamant" about breaking the chain of transmission of COVID-19, as hospitals are still dealing with patients during influenza season, Henry said. 

Sorensen agrees the public plays a big part in slowing the spread of the virus by focusing more on their health and well-being. Nurses are bracing for an increase in patients, she said.

"But we'd like that to be a trickle, not a flood," she said. 

"It's a social contract that we have with each other. We need to all work together to limit the spread of this."

As the virus continues to spread, doctors may be doing more consultations with patients by phone and limiting unnecessary contact, Ross said.

People should not be going to an emergency department without specific instructions to do so, she added. 

Zeineddin said she would like to see triaging centres created to handle people with symptoms.

"Otherwise, we're putting all patients at risk, including all the physicians, community care physicians, including family doctors and their staff and all the other non-COVID-19 patients," she said. 

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