'Testing is key': B.C. mayor frustrated suspected COVID-19 case in his village isn't getting tested

'Testing is key': B.C. mayor frustrated suspected COVID-19 case in his village isn't getting tested

The mayor of a village in the Kootenays says he's frustrated by access to testing for people with suspected COVID-19, especially in rural B.C., after someone in his village was told they likely had the virus but couldn't get tested.

Karl Sterzer, the mayor of Canal Flats, north of Cranbrook, says the situation leaves his community in a great deal of uncertainty, because the local who got sick had been at a community centre birthday party before symptoms showed up.

So now, the virus could be all over town — or not.

Sterzer said the party was on March 8, and a few days later one of the people that attended became ill.

'I belive honestly testing is the key'

They were taken to the hospital in Invermere and, according to Sterzer, were told on March 21 they likely have COVID-19.

"What this family was told was that they would not test their family member because testing ... occurs in British Columbia only if you're medical staff, in a long term care facility or admitted to the hospital," he said.

The entire family was told to go home and self-quarantine, said Sterzer.

Sterzer says since they were at a party in the community they should be tested.

"This is where I am frustrated with the way the current system is working," says Sterzer. "The way it is right now there's limited amount of testing out there."

"If we're going to inform ourselves one way or the other I believe honestly testing is the key." 

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry discussed B.C.'s testing strategy, saying they are focusing on health workers, people in hospital, or long-term care homes, but also cases where the source of infection is not clear.

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why not everyone in B.C. with symptoms is being tested:

"No community in this province is immune," said Dr. Henry on Tuesday. She was not asked about the Canal Flats case.

Village warned community

The village sent out a press release warning people the virus may be present, to stay home if possible and follow social distancing protocols — which means to stay two metres away from anyone outside your household, something health officials say is key to curbing the pandemic.

"Our focus should not be on who has the virus but on how we can stop its spread," the release stated. Scott Stanbury who runs the Family Pantry in Canal Flats, the only grocery store in Canal Flats says locals are taking the news calmly and keeping their physical distance from one another.

"Nobody is panicking, people have been pretty responsible about the whole thing," he says.

The province is stepping up the number of COVID-19 tests and a drive through test site has been established in Kelowna.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.