Island Health’s top doctor confirmed Friday there are several clusters of COVID-19 cases in Victoria’s temporary housing facilities.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said the cases aren’t deemed a full-fledged outbreak, adding the clusters aren’t surprising “given the amount of COVID that is circulating in the community.”
On Friday, the province reported 820 new cases of COVID-19, including 90 new cases on the Island. Nine new deaths were reported Friday, including one in Island Health.
Stanwick would not confirm the number of people infected in temporary housing facilities or the locations, citing privacy reasons, but he encouraged vulnerable populations to be vaccinated.
“Any population that has underlying health conditions, whether you’re frail elderly, whether you have some other chronic health conditions, whether you’re marginally house, the propensity for poor outcomes is higher and so this is why we are using outreach teams to encourage individuals within this population to be immunized for their own benefit,” he said, calling the currently circulating Delta variant “a much more robust and transmissible virus than we anticipated.”
Seventy-eight per cent of eligible British Columbians age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.
Island Health said it’s working with outreach teams and the affected facilities to ensure residents who are infected can self-isolate and get support and necessities such as food.
B.C. Housing confirmed Friday the presence of COVID-19 cases in residents at some sites it funds on Vancouver Island, but said Island Health has asked it not to confirm the number of cases or precise locations.
The provincial agency said it’s working with the health authority, and all the shelters it funds have isolation plans in the event of a positive COVID test.
If they can’t isolate within shelters, people who test positive will be moved to independent supportive housing units, B.C. Housing said, while supportive housing tenants who test positive will isolate in their own units.
Since the pandemic began, B.C. Housing said, it has worked with service providers to reduce capacity in shelters and employ other pandemic safety measures.
Julian Daly, executive director of Our Place Society, said he thought the unhoused population had been spared at this point in the pandemic.
“We had no cases for a year and a half, unlike most Canadian cities,” said Daly. “But I guess this virus comes for every community in the end.”
Unhoused people were among the earliest groups to be offered immunization, given the number who are vulnerable or living in high-risk group settings.
Daly said Our Place never shut down during the pandemic because for many people, its Pandora Avenue centre is the only place they can go during the day.
“And for over 500 people, we operate and manage their home,” said Daly. “That’s where people live.
“And as for the folk in the [converted] hotels, I think they are in a particularly good situation in the sense that they all have their own individual rooms.”
Stanwick said Our Place Society and others have played a key role in encouraging vaccination and finding people for appointments. Daly said he believes all or most of the society’s staff is vaccinated.
At least 15 per cent of the general population is choosing not to be fully immunized, said Stanwick. As well, people who are fully vaccinated can still acquire mild disease and transmit the virus.
Daly said having confirmed cases of a highly transmissible virus is a concern, as many in the unhoused community have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to infection and serious illness.
“It’s also a concern because it’s often difficult for people who are homeless to physically distance, particularly in shelters and in open spaces when you don’t have a home to go to to isolate and protect yourself from this virus,” said Daly.
Our Place says it’s continuing to enforce COVID-19 infection-control protocols and is asking anyone not yet vaccinated to do so immediately.
“We know that vaccination has the greatest effectiveness in preventing COVID transmission, preventing serious illness and almost certainly from dying,” said Daly. “Island Health has been setting up vaccination clinics at our sites, which is great, and I know there’s been a good uptake on those.”