Salt Spring Island medical leaders are asking the community to cooperate to decrease the risk of COVID-19, while also offering reassurance about the local situation.
Dr. Holly Slakov, who is chief of staff at Lady Minto Hospital, confirmed Friday morning that so far there are no cases of the virus known on Salt Spring and only one travel-related case in the entire Island Health district.
In order to help keep the situation under control, people are being asked to follow the provincial health officer’s recommendations and new regulations announced yesterday, which include a ban on any public gatherings of more than 250 people. Islanders are also asked to not show up at Lady Minto Hospital for COVID-19 testing without being specifically directed there by health professionals.
“The most important thing for the public to know is to stay home,” Slakov said. “Please don’t come to the hospital and expect testing if you are asymptomatic.”
Symptoms of COVOD-19 resemble the flu or cold and could include cough, sneezing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing. Testing of people who don’t have those symptoms would produce unreliable results, and would only overwhelm the system, Slakov said. People who do have symptoms and have a known risk such as recent travel should contact their healthcare provider or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1. However, Slakov added, because HealthLink BC is now being inundated, Salt Spring’s public health office is the recommended number to call at 250-538-4880 from Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
If patients are directed to go to Lady Minto Hospital for testing as a result of the telephone conversation, the hospital has set up a separate entrance/meeting area for all people exhibiting respiratory illness. Staff will meet patients outside and direct them further.
“Most people will be advised to stay home and isolate,” said Slakov. “For the few that need intensive care unit support, they will be transferred off-island as we do not have an ICU on Salt Spring. This is the same as what happens now for patients who have influenza and need ICU support.”
“There is a lot of work going on in Island Health on how to increase the ICU beds that are available,” Slakov said. “We are prepared. We are taking this very seriously. I myself am feeling more reassured we have the right preparations in place — but we need people to do their part. That’s the biggest message.”
While Salt Spring is considered to be low risk at this point, 65 per cent of the population is vulnerable. Anyone who feels sick is being asked to stay home. Frequent hand-washing and social distancing are the best preventive measures, and people who usually greet with a hug should switch to a wave.
In addition to the required cancellation of large gatherings, many community organizations are voluntarily postponing events for the time being. (See Salt Spring list below.) The province has strongly discouraged non-essential to countries outside Canada, including the United States. As of yesterday the health authorities are asking anyone who does travel to self-quarantine for 14 days after their return.
The B.C. government has been giving daily updates with Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. Slakov said the Lady Minto Hospital Medical Staff Association will also be providing frequent updates on the local situation.
For more information, see the BC Centre for Disease Control website at www.bccdc.ca.
Groups that have so far announced cancellations of events or services on Salt Spring Island are:
• Chamber of Commerce. March 27-29 home show is cancelled. Visitor Centre is closed.
• ArtSpring. All Met Opera performances to March 31, plus the March 13 Salt Spring Forum event, the choral workshop and associated concert, and Celebration of the Arts on March 28. ArtSpring also notes: “To help keep the public healthy we have implemented extra disinfecting and sanitation measures throughout our spaces including disinfecting all high-touch surfaces before each show and sanitizing every surface in our washrooms. Also we have added signage on recommended precautions, and are in the process of installing additional hand-sanitizers.”
• Salt Spring Folk Club’s March 16 concert and likely the Gumboot Gala in April as well.
• Theatre Alive’s March 18 staged reading of Gently Down the Stream.
• Salt Spring Gallery March 20 opening event for Claudia Wilholt show. (The exhibition itself will continue as planned.)
• Salt Spring Arts Council March 15 AGM.
• Salt Spring Garden Club’s March 25 event.
• Salt Spring Hospice Society March 25 AGM.
• Kathy Page and Cathy Stonehouse reading at the library on March 28.
We are waiting to hear back from some organizations about their closure/cancellation plans. Some churches have indicated they will continue to hold Sunday services. Please contact your church for the most up-to-date information.