End of 2020 COVID update

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.

COVID-19: An Urgent Message From Haida Gwaii Physicians

[NB: this post was written jointly by all Haida Gwaii Physicians, to share their urgent concerns for the well-being of the people of Haida Gwaii]

As the COVID-19 virus draws closer to our islands, there are some important ways we can work together to reduce the impact on our communities.

If we let the virus spread the way it has in other places, we would expect well over 400 people here to be sick enough to need to be in hospital. We only have 12 acute care beds between the two hospitals, and most of these are already full. Over 20 people could become sick enough to need a ventilator (breathing machine), and we have only two of these on the islands. Also keep in mind that, as our health care resources get diverted to deal with those that get very sick, we will struggle to keep up with the usual health care emergencies (heart attacks, accidents, etc.). This pandemic has consequences for everybody’s health.

However, if we ALL work together, the numbers of people who may get seriously ill will be much less and will be spread out over a longer time. We will then be more able to help those who need it most.

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP US HELP YOU

This virus spreads wherever people come together, so the most important thing you can do is STAY AT HOME and limit visitors. If you must leave your home for work or essentials, keep your distance from others, ideally beyond 2 meters (6 feet). Wash your hands often and try not to touch your face (and wash your hands or use sanitizer after you do!). Please encourage friends and family to do the same.

1. If you develop a fever, cold symptoms or a cough, use the ONLINE SELF-ASSESSMENT TOOL or call the NH COVID-19 Hotline = 1-844-645-7811 to help you decide if you need medical attention.

2. If you need to see a doctor, CALL FIRST, so we can prepare for your visit and not keep you waiting where the virus can be spread to others.

SOUTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-559-4900

NORTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-626-4702

3. Stay calm and be kind, but do not minimize the seriousness of the situation. Encourage each other (and our elected politicians!) to do the right thing in a timely fashion, and support each other through this crisis – only together can we make a difference and save lives! 

We want you to know that all the health care staff of Haida Gwaii are here for you and continue to prepare the best they can for the challenges that lie ahead. We are working hard to adapt to this evolving situation, to get through this in the best way possible. We care deeply for you all and want the best for you and your families.