Two weeks after Island Health confirmed COVID-19 has reached the street community, it’s saying little about how many cases there are and where, citing privacy.
But a local service provider has now shared an internal document with CHEK News it obtained from a nurse that shows 225 cases have been identified to date in the community at 15 different sites.
Nearly 150 cases were active as of Wednesday.
Yet the situation still isn’t being called an outbreak, something that would be declared in a long-term care home with just a few cases. Advocates say that isn’t right.
“I think we need to use the same standards of public health reporting we would use in other settings like nursing homes,” said Bernie Pauly with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at UVic.
Island Health says it isn’t fair to compare since it treats supportive housing sites more like apartments than care homes.
“Long-term care is in fact a licensed facility where there are mandated medical and health standards which do not exist and are very very different than what we actually do in terms of supportive housing, so it’s apples and oranges,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer.
Since COVID started appearing in the community, one glaring gap in the plan to curb transmission is that those living in tents or on the streets have nowhere to go to isolate. Island Health says it has lost the spaces it had set aside earlier in the pandemic.
“Some things have changed, the rooms which we used for isolation for those purposes have now been repurposed by the hotel industry into rooms for paying tourist guests,” said Stanwick. “Many of the options that were available to us have evaporated, people and organizations that might be able to take individuals have declined.”
Stanwick says Island Health is actively working with BC Housing to find new locations and staffing. In the meantime advocates say the City of Victoria needs to stop enforcing its camping bylaw, and allow people to isolate in their tents.
“We need to ensure they can still shelter in place outside and not be displaced on a daily basis,” said Pauly.
While service providers work to stop transmission in their facilities, Island Health is trying to get more in the vulnerable community vaccinated, even suggesting it may start offering incentives like Vancouver, where people were paid $5 dollars after receiving their shot.