Rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Health Authority region prompted the provincial Ministry of Health to hold a Sept. 2 press conference to address the severity of the situation and announce new health restrictions for the region starting on Sept. 7.
“The Northern Health Authority is seeing a very significant number of cases right now, more than 100 cases today (Sept. 2), and rate of test positivity that is more than double the health authority average and is a significant issue,” Adrian Dix, Minister of Health said, in the afternoon public address.
“The vast majority of patients in ICU in Northern Health today are unvaccinated,” he said.
While Prince Rupert has very few COVID-19 cases, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice told The Northern View it’s important to recognize that we are all connected along the Highway 16 corridor.
“Many people travel the northern corridor to visit family or for work. We also rely on health services from neighbouring communities. If these resources are depleted with a surge in COVID-19 cases, health care is impacted for all of us,” she said.
“For these reasons, I support the health authority-wide measures even if cases are low in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. These measures are in place to protect our communities.”
Julia Pemberton, health services administrator in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii for Northern Health, said the West Cluster (Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii) has some of the highest immunization rates in Northern Health with only Kitimat ahead.
“The rates are almost 90 per cent for one dose coverage and over 80 per cent second dose coverage in Queen Charlotte, with over 80 per cent for Masset and Prince Rupert for first dose, and over 70 per cent for second dose,” Pemberton said.
“Immunizations remain the most effective way to prevent the high numbers of COVID-19 that overwhelmed our healthcare system in the early months of 2021. Cases have increased in the past three weeks in all communities in the West Cluster, although we have not had any hospitalization to date,” she said.
Dix said the age categories over 55 years are 80 per cent vaccinated, but there is a significant difference for those under 55.
“This is obviously given the fact this is now largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated. You’ve got a very significant number of cases. That is a significant issue,” the Minister of Health said.
Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, addressed the Northern Health region’s situation and acknowledged while good progress was being made across the north during the past several months, there are now challenges.
“Now, sadly, we are seeing some transmission that has taken off in a number of communities where we have pockets of people who are unvaccinated, and it has spread very rapidly, particularly in the last 10 days where we have seen a six-time increase week of transmission.”
Henry said the spike in transmissions has led to hospitalizations and the filling up of ICUs across the north. She said the Delta strain is spreading rapidly and is ‘“taking advantage” of the unvaccinated.
While the spread is particularly in the Nechako area with Fort St. James, and Vanderhoof, transmission is happening primarily from people gathering together for social interaction and is causing a stretch on the healthcare system, Henry said.
“I know this will be frustrating for some, particularly in communities where we’ve not seen transmission for a while. This really has exploded quite quickly in a number of communities …” Henry said, noting the connectivity among northern communities.
“In other parts of the Northern Health region, vaccination rates are much lower, and COVID cases are much higher,” Rice said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii with first dose vaccination rates in the mid-80 [per cent range] and second dose rates in the 70s. However, we still need to be vigilant.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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