With local COVID-19 numbers on the rise, Squamish has been designated a high-risk community, prompting officials to start funnelling more of the AstraZeneca vaccine to town.
“Protecting people in higher-transmission neighbourhoods with vaccines will help reduce transmission and protect people and communities from COVID-19,” reads a release from the Ministry of Health.
“The province will be working with Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Northern Health authorities to increase appointments in these high-transmission neighbourhoods, primarily using AstraZeneca,” the ministry said.
With a case rate of 267 per 100,000, Squamish was the 11th out of the 13 most affected areas in the province.
The worst-off was Dawson Creek, with a rate of about 552 per 100,000.The increased numbers appear to line up with the experience of at least one local doctor.
“I have seen more patients with COVID in the last two to three weeks than I saw in all of 2020 during my emergency shifts combined — all of 2020 combined,” said Annie Gornall, president of the medical staff association at Squamish General Hospital.
“We seem to have more people that are ill, and we’re certainly seeing an uptick in the number of people that need to be admitted to hospital from our community.”
People who suspect they have COVID are examined in Squamish General Hospital and, if they are deemed to need admission, are then transferred to Lions Gate Hospital.
Vancouver Coastal Health told The Chief that Squamish General Hospital has one regular transport ventilator, an additional backup transport ventilator and an anesthetic machine that can be used as a ventilator as needed. If a patient is intubated and placed on a ventilator, they are then transported to Lions Gate Hospital for critical care.
So far, Gornall said Lions Gate has been able to keep up with Squamish’s demand for space.
Even though a transfer system is in place, Gornall emphasized that people needing COVID-19 care should not hesitate to approach Squamish General Hospital for help.
Finally, Gornall noted what may be a troubling local trend.
“More I am hearing people don’t know where they got it from,” said Gornall.
“To me that means this illness is A: around more, and B: potentially more contagious. People are getting it through a less direct exposure.”
Vancouver Coastal Health told The Chief there is no major cluster or event that has been associated with higher COVID-19 case numbers in Squamish.
“Transmission has been mainly in social and household settings,” said spokesperson Celso Pereira in a written statement.
“This has likely been impacted by commuters and higher case numbers in the region.”
Residents should also take the health recommendations seriously and get vaccinated as soon as possible, Gornall urged.
Mayor Karen Elliott said that she’s been advocating for first responders and priority essential workers to get the shots.
“As to where and when the vaccines are being allocated, I speak weekly with Vancouver Coastal Health and have been confident throughout the pandemic response that the health authority is responding to the data they are seeing, and is allocating vaccines according to the highest need,” said Elliott in a written statement.
“We also know that the reason for the extra vaccines this weekend is based on our rates of cases per population in that we have been identified as one of B.C.’s 13 high-risk communities.”
She said the District is working with Vancouver Coastal Health on booking Brennan Park for vaccine distribution. It’s currently booked until the end of August.
Elliott said the municipality will await further instruction from the province, which is expected to announce further restrictions on Friday. This is anticipated to include an order that would ban travel between health authorities.
“We are awaiting more information from the Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth on what new orders restricting travel will look like under the Emergency Program Act,” said Elliott.
“People travel between our community and other areas of the health authority for many reasons and our policing resources are limited, so people should manage their expectations with regard to what is possible or even desirable.”
For more on getting vaccinated, go to the BC government website.
-With files from Jennifer Thuncher