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Northern Health area cases of COVID-19 spread across the region; more than 850 tests conducted

Dr. Raina Fumerton, interim Chief Medical Health Officer for Northern Health

The 21 cases of COVID-19 in northern B.C. are spread across the region, say North Health officials.

“The cases are across the North, in our large and small communities,” said Dr. Raina Fumerton, interim Chief Medical Health Officer for Northern Health during a conference call with media Friday. “At last check, we had five individuals who have completed recovered and five who are in our acute care system. To date, we have no deaths related to COVID-19 in the Northern Health jurisdiction.”

Many of the cases in the Northern Health area have been linked to travel, she said, however some have been acquired in the community. There have been more than 850 tests conducted across the north. Testing in the North is consistent with how testing is being done across the province in that not everyone who exhibits symptoms will be tested.

“The majority of cases of COVID will not be confirmed by the lab testing,” she said. “So it’s important that people understand that and northern B.C. residents should assume that COVID-19 could already be present anywhere in our community and plan accordingly.”

She added there has not yet been a case of COVID-19 in any care homes in the Northern Health area.

Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich said the Northern Health response to the pandemic is aligned with World Health Organization guidelines and with provincial directives. Northern Health activated its Emergency Operations Centre three weeks ago.

Northern Health, along with the rest of province, reduced services in areas like elective surgeries and imaging to open up beds in all hospitals across the North.

Last week provincial Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released modelling regarding the possible spread of the virus in B.C.

“We’ve been using that information for our own projections within the health authority and to design the acute care and critical care services across the region,” said Ulrich. “That work is being completed now.”

Critical to that is the amount of resources that are available in the Northern Health area, particularly intensive care unit beds and ventilators.

“In terms of modelling that was done last week, that information was really useful for us as we look across the region at our ICU capacity, our high acuity capacity, at the ventilators we have for adults, as well as transport ventilators and other kinds of equipment that can be used as ventilators.”

She said Northern Health is in the process of finishing up that plan.

“We’ve had conversations with the Ministry of Health regarding the gap between the number of ventilators we have now and what we might need,” said Ulrich. “We have been assured there will be a supply available to us … It’s a gap that can be met.”

Despite calls for Northern Health reveal which communities have COVID-19 patients, Fumerton said they will not be releasing such information.

“Medical officials have a legal obligation to protect the personal information that we receive regarding cases of communicable disease, of which COVID-19 is one,” she said. “And this includes the location of these cases, which is legally confidential patient information.”

She added this information can be shared on a need-to-know basis, which includes case counts at the health authority level, notification of outbreaks in high-risk settings such as care homes, as well as notification has high-risk public exposure.

She added health authorities have also determined that community case-counts are not necessary for those communities to prepare their response plans.

“If zero cases were diagnosed on a community, that is absolutely not a guarantee that the virus is absent,” she said. “We know that the majority of cases are going to go undiagnosed … These types of announcements (community cases) could provide a false sense of security … We’ve seen multiple examples of stigma and vigilantism across the province by people responding to the perceived threat of COVID-19 in their community. Community-level data is unlikely to reduce, and, in fact, may exacerbate those types of responses.”

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