By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Health care delivery has always been challenging in rural areas, and now that COVID-19 has reached every health authority in the province, with four people testing positive in the north, creative approaches are being fielded.

“They’ve done some very innovative things in many places both in the North and the Interior,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Medical Health Officer, who noted some public health officials have conducted COVID-19 ‘drive-by testing’ to accommodate the unique needs of a rural community.

“There’s some workarounds that are happening to try and support testing in the north,” said Henry.

“The management of individuals, it varies by community.”

Assessments and testing are done locally. Then results are sent to Kelowna or the lower mainland.

“The rural areas are quite spread out and they don’t have as much risk,” said Henry. “But the consequences, if somebody is positive and transmitting in a rural area, can be much greater.”

One of the issues in the Interior and the North revolves around how to ensure access to testing when it’s needed.

“It is a challenge,” said Henry. “How do we get the test out there?”

Adversity breeds ingenuity.

Northern Health was previously piloting a project to deliver palliative home health care to rural patients via tablet. It allows patients to meet ‘virtually’ with health care professionals without having to leave their homes, and without a nurse or home support worker having to spend hours driving to and from visits. The result so far is more visits for the patient without having to leave their community.

“We’ve been actively trying to protect the north in many ways, because we do know that they have many small communities where this could be a serious issue if it gets into the community,” Henry said.

As of Mar. 19, more than 50,000 COVID-19 tests had been administered across Canada, including more than 17,000 in B.C.

At press time, 271 people in B.C. had tested positive for the virus in the province, the bulk, 152, in the Vancouver Coastal health authority, with 81 in Fraser health, 22 on Vancouver Island, 12 in the Interior, and four cases in the Northern Interior.

While the numbers of people who are confirmed infected continue to rise each day, testing has increased and much of it is focussed on the higher risk populations of front line health professionals dealing with infected patients. Also, there is sometimes a time lag between when testing is done, and when results are known, so the increases don’t necessarily reflect new cases day-by-day.

If people experience symptoms of the novel coronavirus, they should use the online self-assessment tool and take guidance from the results.