British Columbia

3-pillar strategy to test for COVID-19 on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

A team of more than two dozen people is testing and tracing residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Officials say people living on DTES risk severe infection due to possible underlying health issues

Crowds of people are pictured on the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A team of more than two dozen people is testing and tracing residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical health officer, said Tuesday that the testing rate is over 40 people per 1,000, more than double the rate in other regions, and only a small number of cases have been found.

"It's almost like detective work," Daly said. "You have to do a lot of interviewing and follow-up with cases, but we have staff who are very good at this."

The Downtown Eastside is one of the areas where health officials have concerns because other cities have seen outbreaks where people live in communal settings and the virus can easily spread, she said.

A man wearing a protective mask walks on the Downtown Eastside. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people living in the area may also have several underlying health issues that would make them more at risk of having a severe infection.

Vancouver Coastal Health is implementing a three-pillar approach for prevention, testing and tracing along with support to reduce the impacts on inner-city neighbourhoods of the opioid overdose crisis and the pandemic.

Daly said the team proactively offers testing to anybody who might have symptoms and doesn't wait for them to come to the clinic, she said.

"We have a very low threshold for testing."

Tracing contacts

Testing and tracing have been ongoing for a number of weeks and confirmed cases of COVID-19 or potentially exposed contacts are followed-up daily by a public-health team, she said.

If someone on the team identifies a person who is positive for COVID-19, she said health officials try to trace all the close contacts.

"So, the first thing we do is interview the case. We find out where they've been in the period of time when they would have been contagious to other people, that's from the start of the symptoms going back two days."

If all the contacts of that person can't be traced, she said health officials put out a news release.

"Early on in the pandemic, we had a case of a person who attended a dental conference in Vancouver and that case had a lot of people at the conference, so we put out a news release," Daly said.

Health officials also put out a news release if they can't identify the individual or if there is an outbreak that the public should be aware of, such as at the Vancouver poultry plant where 34 cases have been linked, she said.

If a person from the Downtown Eastside tests positive for COVID-19 and does not have adequate housing, he or she is offered a room in a hotel and monitored by public health officials, Daly said.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart had said BC Housing has secured hundreds of hotel rooms in Vancouver for people who are homeless or precariously housed and who need to self-isolate.

Contacts the person may have had are usually traced through interviews, she said.

"We can go to the building to find out who they shared a washroom with ... so it's working with the case but also working with others in the community."


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