As official COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the Island Health region, throughout B.C. and the world, the importance of social distancing everywhere, including Salt Spring and the other Gulf Islands, has been stressed by health officials.
On Saturday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 74 new positive COVID-19 cases in B.C. for a total of 424. Twenty-seven of that number are in hospital and 12 in intensive care units. Thirty-seven of the 424 total are in the Vancouver Island health region. Ten people have died in B.C., with eight of those related to the Lynn Valley Care Centre outbreak in North Vancouver where the virus was first detected on March 5.
Locally, in its March 21 communique the Lady Minto Hospital Medical Staff Association addressed questions about whether or not people were infected with the virus locally.
“We understand many people are frustrated that the Provincial Health Officer and Island Health have not provided specific locations of confirmed cases. We do know that the coronavirus is in the Gulf Islands and as a result we need everyone to be taking measures to prevent transmission. Even people with very mild symptoms may pass on this virus. It doesn’t serve anyone to think ‘it’s not in my community and won’t affect me.’ The precautions are for everybody in every community. The message is clear: for anyone who has not taken the calls to action seriously, it is not too late. You are being asked to take seriously your responsibility to your community and your loved ones.”
Dr. Henry reiterated the critical importance of people practising social distancing and following orders about self-isolating for 14 days after returning from international travel (including the U.S.) Restaurants must offer take-out and delivery services only.
“This is incredibly important for everybody,” she said. “Right now . . . It’s in our hands right now. So this is our chance to stay apart, to connect socially, to connect virtually, to support each other, but to physically distance, and I am calling on all of you to do that right now.”
Personal service establishments, such as massage therapists, salons, spas and tattoo parlours, have now been ordered to close as well.
Henry confirmed that the government is working with peace officers around the province to assist with order enforcement if needed.
Both Henry and Dr. Holly Slakov, chief of staff at Lady Minto Hospital, confirmed that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are healthcare workers, people who have been hospitalized, are in a long-term care facility or are part of a known cluster, such as the dental conference held in Vancouver two weeks ago. As reported elsewhere, Slakov said there is a shortage of swabs and testing kits in B.C. and globally.
Saturday’s LMH message states, however, “It is not testing that will limit this illness . . . it is social distancing and self-isolation that will.”
COVID-19 has caused numerous Salt Spring Island businesses to close or reduce their hours.
The Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce is maintaining a list of business hours and service adjustments. It provides a one-stop reference for people wondering what is happening with local business operations. Business owners should email executive director Jessica Harkema at firstname.lastname@example.org to add their current information to the list.
Stocks at Salt Spring grocery stores continue to be maintained, despite shelves being depleted of some items at times. Purchase limits have been instituted in some cases.
Country Grocer and Thrifty Foods are closing earlier than normal to give staff more time to restock shelves and clean the premises. Ganges Pharmasave is among stores not reducing its regular hours.
Pharmasave owner Gary Utter said in a March 19 statement, “Our entire team has been working hard to ensure not only a clean environment in our store, but also that our shelves remain as well-stocked as possible. Although some items are temporarily unavailable, goods continue to arrive. We continue to place limits on quantities purchased of key items to make sure that we share fair access to the products needed to keep your family safe.”
Pharmasave and other businesses are encouraging people to take advantage of delivery services offered. Pharmasave also has an app that enable people to order refills and outlines the process for ordering new prescriptions remotely: ECare@Pharmasave.com.
Copper Kettle Community Partnership volunteers are covering grocery delivery to vulnerable people for Country Grocer at present. They can be reached at 250-537-5863.
“People are grateful for the delivery service,” said Cherie Geauvreau of the Copper Kettle on Friday.
Salt Spring Community Services reports a number of changes to its various programs, including the Recycling Depot, where only one vehicle is being allowed into the parking area at one time, leading to long waits.
On the bright side, BC Transit has waived fees for this period, including on Salt Spring Island. Some modifications have reportedly been made to local bus seating to help maximize distances between passengers. Salt Spring buses do not have rear doors for loading passengers as is being done in more urban areas with larger buses.
BC Ferries says it has experienced a 40 per cent decline in traffic due to COVID-19. The ferry corporation is maintaining scheduled service but has removed extra sailings it had added for spring break and higher-demand April weekends serving both the major routes and the Tsawwassen-Gulf Islands route.
Seair Seaplanes has cancelled scheduled service, but is maintaining its charter service. Harbour Air is continuing to fly but with only single-aisle seating, hand sanitizer used in the embarking and disembarking process, and extra disinfecting of planes and offices.
A new COVID19 Coming Together Facebook group has also been started for networking and support purposes.
Some Salt Spring arts festivals that were scheduled for 2020 have been cancelled in recent days. The second annual PhotoFest, which was to take place in the month of June, will not go forward. As well, the third biennial Salt Spring Island Ceramic Awards, set for October, has been cancelled.
The Driftwood has also reduced the hours its office is open for business to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Subscriptions can be renewed and ads placed by calling 250-537-9933 or emailing email@example.com. All news-gathering activities will be done by phone, email, Facebook, Facetime or similar methods. Please send your story ideas, photos and submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook: facebook.com/gulfislandsdriftwood.