Island Health’s chief medical health officer says travel to Lower Mainland making ‘significant contribution’ to COVID-19 spike

Island Health's chief medical health officer says travel to Lower Mainland making 'significant contribution' to COVID-19 spike
WatchMany are still asking why travel to Vancouver Island has not been restricted as COVID-19 cases rise. Island Health says they have presented the idea to the province and they are considering it.

The chief medical health officer for Island Health is advising Vancouver Island residents to avoid travelling to the mainland amid a surge of COVID-19.

“If you don’t have to travel don’t,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick.

“I can understand from [a] psychological perspective, this is a great place to come but if you want to come see the Island, ideally wait until you’ve had your COVID vaccine.”

Stanwick says that, although it is not within his authority to shut down travel to Vancouver Island, he is advising that there is a need for restrictions.

“I have discussed the issue with Dr. Bonnie Henry on multiple occasions and most recently as this weekend,” he said. “She has made it clear that this is something that is a consideration, and it would only be made on the advice of the minister and her to the premier to make such a seemingly drastic measure, even though the Maritimes have successfully employed it.”

Stanwick’s comments on travel to and from Vancouver Island come the same day that Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced 41 new cases of COVID-19 in the Island ealth authority. The province is also urging to avoid all non-essential travel, but stopped short of issuing a ban or restrictions.

“Now is not the time to travel for recreation or non-essential purposes,” said Henry Monday.

“Whether it be from the Lower Mainland to the island, whether it is from the Interior to the north.”

The total of active cases in the Island Health region is now at 99 – 30 on southern Vancouver Island, 50 on central Vancouver Island and 19 on northern Vancouver Island.

Some say even a ban at this point might be too little too late.

“It might help us reduce the amount of the virus getting onto the Island,” said Stanwick. “But now it’s Islanders who are passing it to Islanders. It has certainly had ample opportunity to get on to the Island, Again its not a blaming thing. We did not have restrictions.”

Experts say putting in restrictions is not as easy as it seems.

“What is the basis for these exemptions, or what are the basis’ for these exemptions? Who is exempt and what is the rationale for their exemption and this can become very difficult,” said Simon Fraser University health geographer Valorie Crooks.

“The public health wheels in this province and turning and turning hard. They are doing their best to guide people from recommendations that are actually derived from the highest level of science.”

Stanwick suggested that, along with travel, residents not keeping a small social bubble has played a factor too.

Stanwick points to resources being strained over the weekend as health officials tried to contact trace those who may have been exposed.

“We’re getting these relatively large number of people that we are having to follow up with and the concern of course is whether or not staff can get to them in a timely fashion so they can self-isolate and not pass the virus on to other people,” Stanwick said to CBC on Monday.

Stanwick added that medical staff are “disappointed” that residents have strayed away from following Henry’s advice in recent weeks.

“They are gathering in numbers that are really straining the system and letting the virus spread.”

Stanwick also pointed to a bit of possible COVID-19 fatigue as being another factor in the recent surge.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down, we really do need to continue to follow the advice of the province.”

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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