Vancouver Island health officials prepare for worst as COVID-19 cases surge on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Vancouver Island health officials prepare for worst as COVID-19 cases surge on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
WatchWith a growing number of COVID-19 cases on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, health officials on Vancouver Island prepare for the worst. April Lawrence reports.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been concern the virus would sweep through homeless populations on Vancouver Island, devastating hundreds of people already vulnerable. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

“We’ve been yet to have any COVID positivity within the inner city population in Victoria which has been very surprising to us,” said Dr. Anne Nguyen, physician lead for the Vancouver Island Inner City COVID Response.

READ MORE: B.C. sets another daily record with 762 new COVID-19 cases, including 20 in Island Health

But after months with few cases, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is now being hit hard by the virus.

“We’ve seen this sort of start multiplying about three or four weeks ago,” said Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society.

And that means health officials and outreach teams on Vancouver Island are ramping up efforts to keep it at bay.

“We’re preparing and dedicating resources to ensure should something like the Vancouver Downtown Eastside outbreak occur we’ll be in a position to respond as quickly and effectively as possible,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health.

The plan includes more testing, more outreach, and more supports should someone test positive and need to shelter in place.

“Through things like harm reduction medication so people don’t need to interact with the illicit substance market to prevent withdrawal and therefore risk exposing others to COVID-19 so that’s a big part of our efforts, then basic things like providing meals to your door, the door of your tent or the door of your hotel room,” said Nguyen.

But as they’re learning in Vancouver, there’s another key piece needed to prevent spread in these unique communities, and they’re calling on the province to provide more information on exactly where, and when, people are testing positive.

“In the absence of information,  we’ll see this spread grow quicker and more widely than it has elsewhere,” said Abbott.

Nguyen says the next few weeks will be the real test to see if the Island’s system is ready for an outbreak in Vancouver Island’s homeless community.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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