British Columbia

'Additional measures' may be coming to slow COVID spread in northern B.C., says Henry

The province had to contract two private planes to transport critical care patients from northern B.C. to other parts of the province over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Province had to contract two planes to transport critical patients south over Thanksgiving weekend

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is 'very concerned' with the rate of COVID-19 transmission in northern British Columbia. (CBC)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she is considering placing additional restrictions on communities in northern B.C. where COVID-19 is spreading, in an effort to reduce strain on health-care workers in the region.

So far, the province has had to transfer 55 critical care patients out of the Northern Health region to hospitals in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island in order to keep beds in the north free, said Health Minister Adrian Dix at a news conference Tuesday.

Of those 55, he said, 43 were COVID-19 positive and 42 were not fully vaccinated. Fourteen of the transfers occurred over the Thanksgiving long weekend and the province had to contract two private aircraft in order to keep up with demand.

"The situation ... is extremely serious," he said. "Our staff [in northern hospitals] are doing simply epic work."

According to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, northern B.C. is recording new cases of COVID-19 at nearly four times the rate of other regions, while hospitalizations are more than double the provincial average. 

Henry said she has been monitoring the situation along with the leadership of Northern Health and said they are "very concerned" by the numbers, and the outcome.

"People are becoming severely ill, even young people, mostly unvaccinated younger people, and hospitals are pushed to the limit across the north."

Henry said there was a direct correlation to low vaccine rates and higher rates of spread and she is in conversation with Northern Health about implementing new measures to slow community transmission. Already, private and outdoor gatherings have more stringent rules in the north than other parts of the province, and Henry said those would remain in place until transmission slowed.

Henry said new restrictions would likely be focused on regions where transmission is a problem. Prince Rupert and Kitimat, she said, already had high vaccination rates and low spread so would likely be able to open up along with the rest of the province while other regions, such as the Nechako Valley and Peace River, may see tighter controls.

In the meantime, she urged people in hard-hit regions to get vaccinated and to follow public health guidelines around masking, hand-washing and physical distancing. "It is not too late to make a difference for your own health and to protect your health-care system in your community."

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