Citizens of Haida Gwaii have seen their lives changed radically. Since March, we have focused diligently on social measures that have almost certainly saved lives. We now wear masks, wash our hands, stand apart from one another. We limit out travel to the mainland and upon returning, most of us isolate to protect our friends, family and neighbours. Christmas this year will be a very different experience – smaller and quieter, and for many of us, lonely. Celebration and ceremony is on hold. We cannot feast, dance or sing, celebrate marriage or birth, or grieve at funerals. The sick in hospital and elders in care cannot receive visitors. Every aspect of social life on Haida Gwaii is different. And local leadership has worked tirelessly to assess the onslaught of news, science, public health advice and epidemiology. For all this, the physicians of Haida Gwaii say haawa.
Yet, we have not been spared from COVID. Since the pandemic, 0.6% of Haida Gwaii citizenry has been infected (provincially, it is 0.7%). We have vastly increased our testing capacity: to date, over 700 COVID tests have been done with an overall positivity rate of 4%. But, we have not had any hospitalizations or deaths. Hospital staff and physicians have been carefully preparing. We run drills on how to safely manage very sick patients. We have reorganized our hospitals entirely: rooms set aside for COVID patients, additional ventilators and personal protective equipment, policies to control access and flow into the buildings, virtual appointments, limited in person meetings. However, access to medical care remains very challenging. Our vital visiting specialist program has essentially stopped, meaning that roughly 3000 consultations have not occurred. And hundreds have made the choice to delay or cancel important medical trips away.
It is clear now that there are only two ways back to normalcy. Either at least 50% of the population becomes infected, reducing the pool of vulnerable individuals. Or, an effective vaccine is provided to at least the same proportion and we acquire “herd immunity” through immunization.
On December 9, Dr Bonnie Henry announced that BC will be launching a vaccination campaign next week. Health Canada has approved the first of what will be several vaccines effective at protecting against infection. Months ago, Canada had the foresight to sign supply contracts with 7 of the top vaccine makers, so we are well positioned to gain control of the virus earlier than the majority of other countries. A comprehensive rollout plan is in place to rollout vaccines to health care staff and those in elder care first, then to vulnerable elders and those with chronic illnesses in community. It is anticipated that vaccinations will be available for anyone requesting it by June 2021. We have reached the turning point in this global battle with this disease.
Until we are there, we encourage calling the Northern Health Virtual (COVID) line @ 1-844-645-7811 if you have any COVID-19 symptoms to set up testing. Please be patient as there are long wait times to speak with a nurse or doctor on this line. But please know that you can always get tested by calling your hospital or clinic and speaking with the nurse. (Daajing Giids / Queen Charlotte 250-559-4900, Gaw 250-626-4711). Testing is the only way we can identify when the virus is on island, and we strongly encourage you to call if you are wondering if you should be tested.
To the public, again we wish to say thank you. Haawa for keeping yourself and others safe by following the advice of public health and local and provincial leadership. Together we will get through this.