Island Health trying to find places for street population to isolate with COVID

Island Health is looking for places where people who live in shelters or on the street can isolate if they contract COVID-19.

On Friday, chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said earlier in the pandemic, Island Health had spaces where people could isolate, but when the province’s reopening began in June, some of the rooms used to isolate members of the street and shelter population were taken back for paying guests by the hotel industry.

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“Many options available to us have evaporated,” said Stanwick. “People and organizations we thought would take individuals have declined. But Island Health is working hard to identify some areas where we will be able to allow individuals to reside when they are infected … This is an area which clearly needs more attention.”

In some cases, people in ­hospital could be discharged later than those who have a home to go to, he said.

Earlier in the week, Island Health reported a cluster of COVID-19 infections in the shelter and street communities. At a news conference Friday, neither Stanwick nor medical health officer Dr. Dee Hoyano would say how many people in Victoria’s street community are infected with COVID-19.

“We continue to respect the fact that we do not identify groups unless there is a risk to the public,” said Stanwick, noting the cases in such a vulnerable population are not a surprise. “We knew at some point, with a highly transmissible virus, this population would be hit harder than other populations, and there are other subgroups that are similarly affected.”

Community spread of COVID is occurring in all age groups, but Stanwick said there is a more significant concentration in those ages 20 to 40. The latest numbers from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control show the unvaccinated are 12 times more likely to contract the virus, 60 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment and 36 times more likely to die from COVID than vaccinated individuals.

Stanwick said 90 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to see the benefits of herd immunity. “We’re getting close but we’re not there yet.” Eighty per cent of British Columbians are now fully vaccinated.

Hoyano noted that Island Health does not declare outbreaks in supportive housing. “We don’t declare an outbreak in an apartment building where a family has COVID-19. This is similar,” she said. “However, we have increased our support for the supportive housing sites that do have cases. There’s no reason for the address of that specific site to be made public.”

Because COVID-19 symptoms vary and can be very mild, reported case numbers do not reflect the number of actual cases in the community, she said.

Grant McKenzie, director of communications for Our Place, said residents and staff at shelters and supportive housing sites are being told to treat every site as if COVID-19 is there.

“We’ve been bracing for this for the last 20 months. It’s something we have been very concerned about because we knew once COVID-19 arrived in this population, it would likely spread quickly. A lot of the residents we’re taking care of have underlying health issues, so it’s of grave importance for us.”

Vaccination clinics are being held almost daily, he said. “If we have a site and people want to be vaccinated, we can make a call to Island Health and within two days they’ll do a pop-up ­vaccination clinic for us,” McKenzie said.

People have been asked to self-isolate, but they don’t have any food in their apartments, so they come to Our Place for meals. Because Our Place is an essential service, no one is required to show their vaccine passport, so anyone can come in, he said. When they do, they must wear a mask. The centre has also moved coffee and snacks out to the courtyard.

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