With a new surge of COVID-19 cases in parts of British Columbia’s Interior, many of Rhonda Lindsay’s staff were keen to get their second shots. So the co-owner of the Train Station Pub in Kelowna worked with health officials to open a four-hour, pop-up vaccine clinic for both her employees and the public.
Ms. Lindsay said the young age of many of the pub’s employees has put them last in line with the province’s schedule of vaccinations. Further, some people have struggled to find transportation or convenient clinic locations.
“We want to take away whatever barriers we can,” Ms. Lindsay said in the busy minutes before the clinic opened Sunday morning. “This just makes it easy.”
Beset by heat waves and smoke from a series of wildfires burning in the province and the western United States, the B.C. Interior is also facing a rise COVID-19 cases and the disheartening return of a number of restrictions on businesses and gatherings that were lifted in most of Canada after the third wave.
Health officials in the Central Okanagan have reintroduced a host of measures – including closing bars and nightclubs, suspending high-intensity indoor fitness classes, ending liquor service at restaurants at 10 p.m. and reintroducing indoor masking rules.
Vaccines help to prevent serious outcomes of COVID-19, including for the far more contagious Delta variant that makes up the majority of new cases in Canada. But unfortunately for the tourism-dependent area in B.C.’s Interior, the prime vacationing season has coincided with a period where people at the ages of 20 to 40 – many who work public-facing hospitality jobs – haven’t all been fully vaccinated.
On Friday, the province reported 2,411 active cases of COVID-19, with well more than half of those, 1,356, in the Interior. Of the 24 B.C. residents with COVID-19 in critical care, 11 were in the Interior Health region.
Similar to the summer of 2020, health officials in the region have reintroduced a rule limiting occupancy at vacation rentals to five people. On Friday, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry went further saying people who have vacation plans in the area should “either reschedule or postpone. There are many things going on in the Central Okanagan right now that need the attention of the local community.”
Dr. Henry said cases are growing, mostly among the unvaccinated or those with only a single dose. Transmission events have happened in vacation rentals, at bars and nightclubs and fitness centres, and during other social gatherings.
“Unfortunately, we’re now seeing spillover into our health care settings,” Dr. Henry said. There have been two outbreaks in long-term care facilities, she said, and dozens of hospital workers have been infected.
Delta-variant driven COVID-19 infections are starting to rise again in other parts of country such as Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, but medical experts say vaccines have changed the game and hospitalizations are a better gauge on how regions are faring.
Srinivas Murthy, a critical care and infectious disease physician at BC Children’s Hospital, said with similar demographic patterns and variant spread, the surge of cases being seen in his province’s interior could happen in other regions of Canada, as well.
There has been a rush to get the country up and running again, he said, even when many Canadians are not fully immunized. But hopefully the uptake of vaccine means Canada will see some regional surges in COVID-19, but not a full-blown new wave.
“The fact that we’re seeing these surges happen in the Okanagan, for example, suggests that this could possibly happen in Vancouver or Calgary or Manitoba or Ontario or Quebec, or wherever else as well,” Dr. Murthy said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if these are harbinger of other things to come.”
In Kelowna, city Councillor Gail Given said this summer local business owners were “hopeful this was going to be the time to recover from the past 18 months,” but it hasn’t been the case.
“There have been challenges on many fronts.”
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