As emergencies pile up in B.C., health officials are reminding evacuees and those providing aid that COVID-19 is still of great concern, particularly in regions impacted by flooding, and precautions must be taken to reduce transmission.
Residents in the Fraser Valley and B.C.’s Interior fled their homes earlier this week due to rising floodwaters caused by an intense atmospheric river. COVID-19 safety measures were not top of mind for many people; saving their families, livestock and homes took precedent.
Both those areas have been under regional COVID-19 restrictions due to their rates of virus transmission.
Fraser Health East, which covers Abbotsford, Aggasiz, Hope, Boston Bar, Chilliwack, Mission and Harrison Hot Springs, has restrictions in place for all who are not fully vaccinated, including limits on indoor personal gatherings, which are limited to one household plus five visitors or one other household, and personal gatherings outside at private residences are limited to your household plus up to 10 visitors, all of whom must remain outside.
Indoor personal gatherings in Interior Health are also limited to five other people or one other household, and outdoor personal gatherings are capped at 50 people.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says he was worried about COVID-19 transmission in those regions before flooding and evacuations happened, and it continues to be of great concern.
He says his team has been in contact with Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC), the agency that co-ordinates the provincial response to emergencies and disasters, to ensure COVID-19 safety precautions were observed.
According to EMBC, reception centres offer remote and virtual services to minimize physical contact between people. For instances where virtual services aren’t sufficient, it recommends evacuees and volunteers practice physical distancing, use hand sanitizer, don’t share pens or paper and ensure regular cleaning of workspaces.
Caroline Colijn, Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Evolution, Infection and Public Health, says it’s unclear what the impact of flooding will be on COVID-19 cases. But if many unvaccinated people are gathered indoors due to evacuations, she suggested it could amplify the risk.
Before the flooding, her modelling for health regions showed a plateau, and in some communities a slow decline in cases, particularly for areas with high vaccination rates.
According to Dix, about 91 per cent of people in the Fraser Health region have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In Eastern Fraser Health communities, that number is lower, he said.
He added that in Interior Health, about 86 per cent of people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Dix is encouraging evacuees to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already.
“There are vaccines, of course, available and clinics available all over B.C. … and we have pilot programs with pharmacies,” he said.
“We are everywhere all the time.”
He said anyone who has been displaced can access vaccines in whichever community they’re currently located in, and they can register by calling 1-833-838-2323 or online through the Get Vaccinated portal.
“There were some interruptions that have happened this week, it’s understandable when there are things like power outages and so on, but we’re offering vaccines everywhere.”