March 23, 2020. Spring has started, but it will be unlike any in modern times.
The sun is out, our region is beautiful, and sometimes it is hard to believe that we are responding to a global threat.
COVID-19 is a novel virus, new to all humanity. We have no natural immunity, so the virus can travel very easily and very quickly between individuals and between nations.
While many people will get only mild or moderate symptoms from COVID-19, experience in other countries has shown us that nearly one in five people will get sick enough to require hospitalization. Children and young adults are less likely to die from this virus, but anyone can become severely ill and anyone can spread it.
In Italy the virus is moving too fast for their health care system to keep up. Instead of one in 100 (one per cent of) people dying from the virus like in South Korea, the current death rate in Italy is one in 12. We can only imagine their collective grief and trauma.
Countries around the world are preparing for the possibility that over half of their citizens may contract this virus before there is an effective vaccine or treatment.
In British Columbia, the number of COVID-19 patients is currently doubling every few days. Simply put, if the virus continues to spread at this rate our health care system will not be able to cope either. This is why officials are asking us to “flatten the curve.” It is critical that we slow this virus down.
We are being overwhelmed with information, but clarity is more important.
It can take up to two weeks for a person to develop cold or flu-like symptoms after contact with this virus. Once people have symptoms, they are contagious. We also believe people may pass on this virus before they notice symptoms.
This virus affects everyone differently. Common symptoms include a fever, cough (dry or wet), fatigue, and shortness of breath. While many people recover quickly, others will continue to worsen until they are sick enough to need a hospital. Testing is done with a nose or throat swab and takes one to two days to get a result.
A person with a confirmed COVID-19 result may have contracted the virus over two weeks before. Unless that person was self-isolating, it almost certainly spread to others. It is estimated that the average person with COVID-19 passes it from one to four people.
We must do the best we can with what we have, and we must act now.
Currently, we are only able to test people with severe symptoms, as well as those with milder symptoms if they are in hospital, residential care, are pregnant, or are health care workers.
Because we can’t test everyone, and because the time from contact to diagnosis may be up to two weeks, we simply don’t know how many people may have been exposed to this virus. To be smart, we must act as if COVID-19 is here in force. We cannot wait for confirmation.
The courage and compassion of our local health care workers is already evident. This past week we had suspected COVID-19 cases admitted to Powell River General Hospital. None of the nurses, doctors, allied health care workers and support staff who support our hospital shied away from providing their best care to these patients. So far, none of these have turned out to be COVID-19 positive, but we expect this to change soon.
If we have learned any lessons from countries that have gone before us, it is that we must limit the spread of this virus before there are too many COVID-19 cases. The consequences of delay are severe.
What does our local health care system need? We need everyone.
Our leaders and health officials have asked us to make multiple, bold and difficult prevention efforts because the social, health and economic costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action. Think back about how things were two weeks ago. Now imagine what our lives will be like two weeks from now. So much has changed.
In Powell River, we may have been somewhat protected by our isolation so far, but our location also makes us vulnerable. We don’t have a back-up hospital, no extra pool of health care staff and limited transportation options. We need everyone to help to protect and support these resources.
It will take a massive community response to limit the spread of COVID-19 to our loved ones and fellow citizens. Our shared actions from today forward will help determine how this virus affects Powell River – who will fall ill, how many will need our hospital, and how many recover.
Most people are already taking these steps to protect themselves, which in turn protects others. It is our responsibility to support and teach our children how to do this as well. The sooner we all do what we can, the sooner Powell River can recover.
Here’s a quick reminder on HOW to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
1. Strictly self-isolate if you are sick with cold or flu-like symptoms.
2. Strictly self-isolate for 14 days after travel outside the country.
3. Stay home except for essential work or supplies, or to spend time outdoors.
4. If you must go out, keep two metres (six feet) away from others as much as possible.
5. Wash your hands (and your cell phone!) frequently, especially after touching public surfaces and before you prepare food or eat.
If you are doing these things, please continue. It has already been inspiring to see the support and selfless actions of so many people in our community. If you aren’t doing these things yet then please, please start – we desperately need your help.
We believe Powell River can offer an exceptional response in these exceptional times. Our greatest strength and protection may just be our compassion and care for each other. Let that be our legacy when we look back on this time.
Be safe, be smart, and support one another.
Powell River Physicians COVID Steering Committee (PRCSC)
Dr. Chris Morwood
Dr. Rachel Bell
Dr. Ian Ricketson
Dr. Werner Schoeman
Dr. Charles Van Zyl
Dr. Evan Adams
Dr. Robin MacNearney
Dr. Neha Musini
Dr. Barrie McDonald
Christien Kaaij, Powell River Facility Engagement Initiative
Guy Chartier, Powell River Division of Family Practice
Get good information online at www.bccdc.ca, by calling 811, or by calling your family doctor – they can arrange a phone or virtual visit, and more as required.
If you are coming to the emergency room for breathing symptoms, please call ahead to reception at 604.485.3211 – you will be directed to the assessment area in the ambulance bay and asked to wash your hands and put on a mask when you arrive.