'It's getting scarier': 108 cases of COVID-19 and climbing in northern B.C.'s Nechako region

·2 min read

Health officials and First Nations leaders are urging people to stay vigilant over the holidays in one of the regions of B.C. hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between Nov. 18 and Dec. 17 there have been 108 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Nechako Local Health Area — a region with fewer than 13,000 people. That means nearly one per cent of the population has been infected in a month.

"It's getting scarier," said Nak'azdli Whut'en elected Chief Aileen Prince in a video update. "We had started to see a definite bend in the curve, and flattening. We are now going back up again."

Prince said her members are trying to deliver food to people in isolation and while that briefly dipped below twenty people "now it's back up over forty again." Northern Health says there are currently 65 active cases among residents of the region.

Northern B.C. generally has seen a major spike in COVID-19 cases since November, recording the highest hospitalization and critical care patient rates per capita in the province. Positivity rates in the Northern Health region — the number of positive cases for every 100 tests administered — have climbed to more than ten per cent.

And numbers released by the First Nations Health Authority reveal that Indigenous people in northern B.C. are being disproportionately affected, with infections in First Nations occurring at twice the rate of the rest of the population.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control
B.C. Centre for Disease Control

Many of the new infections are in the region west of Prince George, including Fort St. James.

On Dec. 9, B.C. Emergency Health Services dispatched a rapid response team to Fort St. James to help with the volume of ambulance calls. Over an eight-day period, the team responded to more than 100 calls — more than half of which were for patients needing to be transferred to other regions for higher care.

The rapid response team left on Wednesday but an extra ambulance along with two paramedics from Vancouver Island will remain in the community until Dec. 24.

Prince said she is hearing ambulances daily, including helicopters transporting COVID-19 cases to hospitals where they can receive intensive care. She also said the First Nations Health Authority has taken over a local hotel where people can self-isolate and is urging her members not to let their guard down.

"We're kind of worried that we're going to see more spikes after Christmas break," she said in an interview with CBC. "Keep the course ... there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Subscribe to Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect with CBC Northern British Columbia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.