British Columbia

Northern Health hits new record for COVID-19 positivity, critical care patient rates in B.C.

The region has the highest number of COVID-19 patients in critical care per capita, and is reporting the highest positivity levels of any part of British Columbia since the pandemic began.

'It's reaching a breaking point if we don't slow down,' says critical care doctor

Rapid response paramedics outside the Stuart Lake Hospital in Fort St. James, B.C.. As of Dec. 14, paramedics have responded to 45 medical emergency calls and 56 patient transfers in the region for a total of more than 100 calls for paramedic response in December — hitting the monthly average in two weeks. (B.C. Emergency Health Services)

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Northern British Columbia has set a new record for COVID-19 positivity in the province, with a seven day average of 10.6 positives for every 100 tests conducted.

This is the highest rate recorded by any health region in British Columbia since the pandemic began, with Fraser Health topping out at a positivity rate of 9.2 in November.

Northern Health also continues to have the highest rate of COVID-19 patients in critical care in B.C. As of Monday afternoon, 18 of 87 critical care patients in B.C. were from northern B.C., meaning a region with just six per cent of the population accounted for more than twenty per cent of critical care patients.

"The ICU itself is running almost double its normal capacity," said Dr. Lovedeep Khara, who works in the critical care ward of UNHBC.

"It's reaching a breaking point if we don't slow down."

The weekend also saw three COVID-19 deaths in northern B.C., itself another dark record for the region, which has only recorded a total of 12 fatalities so far.

More nurses needed: Union

In an interview with CBC's Daybreak North on Monday morning, B.C. Nurse's Union president Christine Sorenson said her members in northern B.C. were strained, and that extra nurses from the Interior Health region were being sent to Prince George to help deal with surging COVID-19 cases in northern British Columbia.

"The situation is pretty challenging," Sorenson said.

"The north really does not have the support staff or facilities needed should COVID hospitalizations continue to increase up here."

However, on Monday afternoon, the nurse's union said approval for members to leave the Interior Health region had not been granted, despite the need. 

Neither Northern Health nor Interior Health could provide clarification on the situation.

Sorenson said her members in Prince George were suffering from under-staffing, with some working 18 hour days, multiple days a week, just to keep up.

"They're experiencing real exhaustion, burnout and emotional stress," she said.

New rapid response paramedic team arrives in Fort St. James

Last week a team of rapid-response paramedics was sent to Fort St. James, two hours west of Prince George, to help deal with the high number of COVID-19 cases in and around that community.

On Monday, a spokesperson for B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) confirmed the initial four-person team had been replaced by a second set of paramedics who will be in the community until at least Dec. 16.

BCEHS said their primary role in the community is transferring COVID-19 patients out of the community and into hospitals that can provide more specialized care than what is available locally.

Outbreak at Jubilee Lodge

Also Monday, Northern Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Jubilee Lodge long-term care home, though it did not say how many people had been affected so far. The health authority says proactive testing is being conducted among residents and staff.

This is the third active outbreak at a senior's facility in the Northern Health region, alongside one at the North peace Seniors Housing Society apartments in Fort St. John and a precautionary outbreak declared at the Gateway Lodge in Prince George.

An outbreak at Rotary Manor in Dawson Creek was declared over on Thursday.

Contact tracing being reduced due to backlog

Meanwhile, Northern Health has reduced the amount of contact tracing it does due to a backlog in people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have not yet been informed by health officials.

Previously, the health authority was reaching out to everyone who was considered a "close contact" of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 — defined as those who may have been exposed to the virus through respiratory droplets passed on by sneezing, coughing or talking.

Now, contact tracers are focused on tracking the possible spread of COVID-19 in healthcare workers, schools, long-term care homes, industrial projects, First Nations and known clusters or outbreaks.

In an email, Northern Health said rates of COVID-19 in the region are now high enough that everyone is at risk of having been in close contact with the virus and urged all residents to self-monitor for symptoms.

Hospitals in northern B.C. fill up as COVID-19 cases surge

The National

3 months ago
2:06
Fear and concern are growing in remote areas of British Columbia, as COVID-19 cases surge and the limited hospital beds available are quickly filling up. 2:06

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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