Victoria opening new COVID-19 isolation shelter spaces as outbreak worsens

·2 min read
A homeless encampment is shown on Pandora Avenue in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020.  (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press - image credit)
A homeless encampment is shown on Pandora Avenue in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press - image credit)

A cluster of 300 COVID-19 cases connected to Victoria's unsheltered community has prompted officials to open 50 new shelter isolation spaces in the city.

Housing Minister David Eby said 30 new beds are coming within existing shelter and housing stock at several locations.

Another 20 pop-up spaces will be made available at new temporary housing expected to open in early November. Eby said the location of the facility is not being announced to the general public.

The chief medical health officer of Island Health said the new spaces are for people who want them and who might need some medical attention but not hospitalization.

"People who are unsheltered or who have unstable housing do have additional challenges to self-isolate as they don't have a single place to stay where health, shelter, food and hygiene can be maintained," said Dr. Richard Stanwick.

He said the friends, visitors and people who work with those without shelter are part of the Victoria outbreak.

The COVID-19 fourth wave continues to hit all of Vancouver Island hard with 3,500 new cases since late August.

Stanwick said COVID-19 is present in all segments of all populations. He said with high vaccination rates and good prevention protocols, the risk of COVID-19 transmission to the general public from people who are unsheltered is low.

The new shelter spaces will have isolation plans in place when they open and are in addition to 287 self-isolation beds that already exist in Victoria.

Kelowna shelter outbreak

In B.C.'s Interior, a similar situation took place at Kelowna's Gospel Mission. Executive director Carmen Rempel said, for the past three weeks, COVID-19 has swept through the 50-bed shelter.

"We always knew it would only take one case. And then, it would be very difficult to stop the spread," she said on CBC's Daybreak South.

"We ended up having to scramble and figure out where would we put these folks who had tested positive because how are you supposed to isolate at home when you're in a home you share with 49 other people?"

While the Gospel Mission is now COVID-free, more than 30 people still remain isolated in hotels.

The outbreak at the shelter took place without any public health notices from Interior Health.

Interior Health said in a statement that since it had already declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan, residents were aware of heightened COVID-19 cases across the community.

"The broader risk was minimal in this case and, just as importantly, broader public notice would have unnecessarily further stigmatized already marginalized individuals."

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