British Columbia

Strict COVID-19 measures returning to northern B.C. hospital in wake of outbreaks

Effective immediately, only essential visitors will be allowed in any department or area at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.

Northern Health is reinstating physical distancing, occupancy limits and masking protocols

A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in an intensive care unit.
Hospitals in B.C.'s Northern Health Region are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Health measures are being expanded at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 after outbreaks in two inpatient units.

In a statement, Northern Health says only essential visitors will be allowed in any area of the facility as of Thursday. This includes visits for compassionate care, including end-of-life care, and visitors accompanying patients with physical or mental care needs.

The health authority says it is also reinstating physical distancing, occupancy limits and masking protocols. 

The Northern Health region has been struck hard by the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting more than double the provincial average of new COVID-19 cases and more than four times the hospitalization rate of other health regions per 100,000 people.

Many patients have been transported outside of the health authority after hospitals in the region started reaching capacity. 

Dr. David Forrest, a critical care specialist at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, says roughly two-thirds of COVID-19 patients admitted to his hospital's ICU Wednesday were from the Northern Health Authority. 

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"What's unusual about this is, I think the number of patients that are requiring critical care right now related to a particular disease. And so that is certainly straining resources because it's a massive surge compared to what we usually see," Forrest said. 

Vaccination rates lagging

The vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the north are unvaccinated, with the region struggling to reach the same level of vaccination uptake as in B.C.'s other regions. 

One issue has been COVID-19 outbreaks at industrial worksites, which includes LNG Canada's facilities, the Site C dam, as well as the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she had written to all major industrial employers in the province recommending they implement a mandatory vaccine policy. 

On Wednesday, LNG Canada announced a mandatory vaccine policy, and on Thursday, B.C. Hydro introduced a vaccine mandate for its workers — including for workers at the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. 

With files from The Early Edition, Andrew Kurjata