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Fall COVID-19 surge means layering up

We are all tired of the pandemic. After more than nine months of stress and preoccupation, many of us are suffering from mental and emotional fatigue. COVID fatigue.

We are all tired of the pandemic. After more than nine months of stress and preoccupation, many of us are suffering from mental and emotional fatigue. COVID fatigue. 

Despite the overwhelming amount of news and information from around the world, most in Powell River still have not had personal experience with this virus. Given our relative isolation, it is understandable that some would wonder if the reports are exaggerated, or if the pandemic will pass naturally without much consequence. If only that were so.

Last Friday the United States surpassed a world record with nearly 100,000 new cases in a single day. Canada also passed a grim milestone with more than 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 to date. This past weekend, BC recorded more than 1,100 new cases in just three days, with the total on each of those days higher than any other day in the pandemic. The fall surge has arrived.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, prior to September, there was only one confirmed case of COVID-19 among residents of the Powell River local health area (City of Powell River, qathet Regional District and Tla’amin Nation combined). We saw how quickly this could change, with 39 cases confirmed locally by the end of September. Thanks to quick and collaborative action, however, widespread community transmission was not observed. 

While strained right now, BC has a highly effective contact tracing program. More than 80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases can be traced to another known case, and we now have data on thousands of cases to guide us. (Local case numbers around the province are updated and mapped monthly, at bccdc.ca).

We now know transmission of this virus is much more likely to happen indoors, with more than 15 minutes of close contact, and without a mask or other protections in place. Most of the cases involved in the recent provincial surge have been linked to private gatherings where all these criteria occurred. This is why there is a new public health order from Dr. Bonnie Henry limiting gatherings in our homes to residents and six additional people. Keeping our bubbles small is key to limiting COVID-19 cases.

For the most part, schools, workplaces and public facilities are doing a good job of limiting coronavirus transmission. This is because they have multiple layers of defence. These safeguards are not always visible – they may include symptom checklists, sanitizing routines, physical barriers, distancing policies, ventilation systems, et cetera – but their protection adds up.

Individually, we can also take added actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones. One way to think about risk is the Swiss cheese model (J. Reason, 2000). Each action is like a slice of swiss cheese; it offers some protection, but there are weak spots (holes) in each layer. When multiple slices are stacked together, however, a more concrete barrier emerges.

If we apply this idea to coronavirus, no action provides absolute protection. For example, non-medical masks may help to limit spread, but are not sufficient when used alone. And yet when added to handwashing and physical distancing, they combine to create a much stronger defence. 

Staying home when we are sick and getting tested if we have COVID-19 symptoms are critical actions because they help prevent us from spreading this virus unknowingly. When others do the same it protects us in return. Many health officials consider this to be the singlemost effective way to limit transmission.

Anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms is currently eligible for testing. To book a drive-thru COVID test within 24 hours, go to prcomplexclinic.com or call 604.485.2028. Each visit takes just minutes and the nasal swab takes 10 seconds (saline gargle for children K-12 takes 30 seconds). The emergency room is the preferred testing site for anyone with more moderate or severe COVID-type symptoms. No appointment is required (come to the ambulance bay doors). Results are typically available within 24 to 48 hours for both sites.

Balancing potential harms of COVID-19 with those of restrictions is no easy task, but we have learned a great deal about how to do this. Layering protective actions together, both as individuals and as a community, give us powerful defenses.

We can be informed without being afraid. We can be social without taking undue risks. We can support each other without judgment. And if this pandemic is a marathon, we can run it together.

 
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