British Columbia

As B.C.'s COVID cases keep rising outside the Lower Mainland, so do debates about following orders

For the last month, active cases have plunged in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and risen everywhere else. Adjusted for population, the biggest hot spots in the province are now places like Fort St. John, Golden, Burns Lake and Revelstoke. 

'We live in a me, me, me world; it's all about me, it's not about the community,' worries one Interior mayor

About 100 people gathered in downtown Kelowna on Jan. 9 to protest provincial health orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. (Anita Sthankiya/CBC)

For much of 2020, the COVID-19 story in British Columbia was a tale of two pandemics: the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths were in the Lower Mainland, with the rest of the province only seeing intermittent outbreaks. 

Not anymore. 

For the last month, active cases have plunged in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and risen everywhere else. Adjusted for population, the biggest hot spots in the province are now places like Fort St. John, Terrace, Burns Lake and Revelstoke. 

There's 10 months of data to show what happens if outbreaks aren't dealt with quickly, if people don't self-isolate, if firm measures aren't taken. 

Which is why some of the conversation by local leaders in the Interior is how to — or whether to — ignore the small minority advocating for the opposite approach. 

"It's been rough. It's not been good," said 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall, who says his community and the surrounding area now have more than 60 cases.

Campsall estimates only one or two per cent of the community are attending anti-mask rallies or blatantly ignoring provincial health guidelines. But he says it does have an impact.

"I'll be blunt. We live in a me, me, me world. It's all about me, it's not about the community … people have got to get the right information." 

'We know what has to be done'

While the term "COVID fatigue" is often used in the Lower Mainland, beyond Hope there's a concern of COVID complacency — communities that haven't seen the same level of transmission or hospitalizations, who may be slow to respond to the moment.

"We know what has to be done. You just have to be very careful, you've got to keep your bubble very small," said Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming.

At the same time, his own council passed a motion pushing the province to reopen places of worship, over Cumming's opposition.

"There's clearly people within the community finding this not something they truly back or believe in … but the science is clear."

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has seen his community become the centre of large rallies against health orders in recent months and struggles with whether criticizing those folks only amplifies their message.

"I don't think it's going to stop people from doing this behaviour," he said. 

"All I would say is I'd rather speak to the vast majority of people who believe in science, who believe this is real, and who have done their best to stop the spread."

And with thousands of people being vaccinated every day, Basran hopes people can see light at the end of the tunnel.

"Everyone is really frustrated. Unfortunately, we're going to have to keep the fight up," he said. "We are so close to the end here."

Deaths still happening in care homes

That end, however, will come too late to people like Chris Ashburn in Vernon.

His father John died Jan. 5 in the Heritage Square long-term care home, where seven people have passed away since an outbreak was declared in late December.

"His only symptoms they had noticed at [first] were a runny nose," said Ashburn, who was grateful for the efforts of health-care workers and said his dad had "led a very robust, great life."

As more and more communities across British Columbia deal with large outbreaks, Ashburn is optimistic the vaccine will bring stability. 

But he also has a message for people downplaying the effects of the virus. 

"It's unfathomable to me that we're basically a year into this, and they still find a platform for an opinion that this isn't real," he said. 

"I hope for the sake of them, they don't have to go through what we went through."

With files from Brady Strachan and Daybreak South


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