B.C. Housing Minister backs Interior Health's decision not to declare COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna shelter

·2 min read
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby says homeless shelter workers have been notified from the beginning of the pandemic that they should assume everybody they work with could test positive for COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby says homeless shelter workers have been notified from the beginning of the pandemic that they should assume everybody they work with could test positive for COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC - image credit)

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby has defended Interior Health's decision not to declare a COVID-19 outbreak in Kelowna's biggest homeless shelter.

The health authority came under fire for not issuing any public health notices about the outbreak that swept through the 50-bed shelter of Kelowna's Gospel Mission for more than three weeks from late August to mid-September, during which a total of 21 people tested positive for COVID-19. All have since recovered.

The health authority, in a written statement to CBC, said a public notice on the incident "would have unnecessarily further stigmatized already marginalized individuals" — and Eby agrees.

"Already it's incredibly difficult to get by when you have no place to live or you're living out of an emergency shelter," Eby told Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South. "What [Interior Health is] trying to avoid is that stigma and discrimination."

Dominika Lirette/CBC
Dominika Lirette/CBC

Interior Health wrote that since it had already declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan, residents in the region were aware of COVID-19 cases being spread in the community, and a public notice on the shelter's COVID-19 outbreak would be unnecessary.

B.C. Liberal housing critic and Kelowna-West MLA Ben Stewart argues that a public notice is still necessary to inform shelter workers of the health risk they're facing.

"I do think that the staff and the security that operate in and around these shelters need to be aware of more than just the risk, I think they need to know of the imminent danger," Stewart said on Daybreak South.

"I don't know how you avoid the [stigma], but I do think it's important that people have the information."

But Eby says that from the beginning of the pandemic, homeless shelter workers have been informed that they should assume everybody they work with could test positive for COVID-19.

"[Shelter workers] have been social distancing, they've been masking, they've been getting vaccinated, which is the way that you have to operate in these kinds of situations," Eby said.

LISTEN | David Eby defends Interior Health's decision not to declare COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna shelter:

LISTEN | B.C. Liberal housing critic Ben Stewart on why Interior Health should have declared an outbreak at Kelowna shelter:

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