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Sunshine Coast COVID-19 Physician Task Force community update #37

Sunshine Coast COVID-19 Physician Task Force community update #37

As most of you are already aware, this past weekend brought news of increasing COVID-19 cases across BC. It also brought a new Public Health order restricting social gatherings, travel, and indoor group physical activities across the Fraser Health and the Vancouver Coastal Health Regions, including the Lower Sunshine Coast. The new order is effective immediately and will be in place until Nov. 23. We know there has been a lot of confusion and some frustration around the new order, but it is clear from the most recent provincial data that we need to make changes, or we risk losing control of COVID-19 in our province.
Over the summer, through mid-September, the province was seeing a fairly linear increase in the number of cases, which was manageable in terms of testing, contact tracing, and hospitalizations. Over the past month, however, this increase in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has shifted to an exponential pattern, suggesting that we are not containing COVID-19 in BC right now.
If this pattern continues, our ability to keep up with testing and contract tracing may become compromised, limiting our ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Unless we make changes immediately, we increase the risk of overwhelming our hospitals and ICUs, which would limit our ability to help those who are most severely affected by COVID-19 and would also compromise care for those with other severe but treatable medical problems.
Although we have done well relative to other areas in the Greater Vancouver area and have fewer total cases (overall and as a percentage of our population) thus far, the number of local COVID-19 cases continues to rise. In the month of September, we had as many cases as we had in the entire span from January through August. We don’t have local COVID-19 data available for October yet (it should be out within the next week), but we have no reason to believe that our local trends are any different from other communities in the North Shore Coast Garibaldi area, and we suspect that we will see an exponential increase in cases here on the Coast as well.
In short, we are at a critical juncture; if we buckle down right now and do everything we can to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in our community, we should be able to flatten the curve again. However, if current trends continue, we may be looking at further restrictions. Please redouble your efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We know that this is another difficult ask in what has already been a hard year for everyone, but we believe the alternatives are worse.
In terms of the specifics of the Public Health order, the biggest impact on our day to day lives will be the restriction on social interactions and gatherings. We are being asked to “socialize only with those in [our] immediate household” and to avoid “gatherings of any size.” This means that for at least the next two weeks, we should not have any guests in our homes and should only eat out with members of our household. Please avoid outdoor social gatherings and playdates as well.
The other big restriction is related to indoor group physical activities such as spin classes, dance classes, yoga and group fitness, as well as indoor sports where physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as boxing, martial arts, hockey, volleyball and basketball (with exemptions for school sports and activities). Individual indoor physical activities will continue to be permitted, provided that physical distancing and other infection prevention protocols are in place.
We know this will be a challenge for many of our local small businesses that provide indoor group physical activities, but it may be possible to resume indoor group physical activities with a small number of people, provided that appropriate physical distancing and infection control precautions are taken. We would encourage you to follow up with Vancouver Coastal Health at ehvc@vch.ca to review your COVID-19 safety plan and determine whether you can resume indoor activities. We also encourage everyone to continue to support our local businesses and to help keep them afloat.
It is important to note that the above restrictions do not apply to individual and group outdoor physical activities, provided that appropriate social distancing and precautions are maintained. Wherever possible, we would encourage everyone to dress for the weather and get outside to maintain physical activity levels and stay healthy.
With respect to workplace safety, the new Public Health order requires all businesses to ensure that they are following their business restart plan, which includes active daily screening of all on-site workers and physical distancing wherever possible. Where physical distancing is not possible, masks should be worn.
Finally, under the new Public Health order, all travel into and out of the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley should be limited to essential travel only for the next two weeks. While we are technically part of the Lower Mainland, we would recommend staying off the ferry unless you are travelling for things like work or medical appointments. Shopping, sports, visiting friends and relatives, and other non-essential reasons to travel should be put on hold for the time being.
In addition to these Public Health orders, there has also been a change in policy regarding mask-wearing in all healthcare facilities, including family medicine and specialty clinics. Moving forward, only three-ply medical-grade masks will be allowed and will be required for anyone entering a healthcare facility. Fortunately, medical masks will be supplied by the Ministry of Health and will be available for anyone who does not already have one.
If you do develop cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, please contact the Respiratory Assessment Clinic by phone or text at 604-740-1252 or by email at coastrespclinic@gmail.com. The clinic remains open seven days a week from 8:30am to 4:30pm.
And separately, please remember that the Emergency Department remains open and safe for anyone with a medical emergency.
If you are awaiting assessment or test results, please self-isolate at home, ideally in a separate space where you can limit contact with other members of your household.
Please note that flu shots are still available and are recommended for everyone over six months old. Flu shots are available through a number of local pharmacies and through our local clinics. The Gibsons Health Unit, Sechelt Health Unit and Pender Harbour Health Centre also have flu vaccines for families with children under 18.
Keep well, wash your hands, keep your distance or wear a mask, stay local if you can, and please keep doing everything you can to keep our community safe!
The Sunshine Coast COVID
Physician Task Force
Dr. Jennifer Baxter
Dr. Ted Krickan
Dr. Herman Mentz
Dr. Brian Nelson
Dr. Daren Spithoff

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