Risks of identifying COVID-active communities: health officials

By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


Unless there is a facility outbreak or a risk to the community, Northern Health won’t reveal the location of confirmed COVID-19 cases, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Raina Fumerton.

“These types of announcements community-by-community could very well produce a false sense of security,” said Fumerton.

Since no one knows how many people are managing symptoms at home without diagnosis, announcing which communities have lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and which don’t, could be misrepresentative and even dangerous.

“We’ve seen multiple examples of stigma and vigilantism enacted across the province by people responding to the perceived threat of COVID-19 in their community,” Fumerton said.

Instead of worrying about who has tested positive in their community, all communities should follow the Provincial Health Officer’s orders as if the virus exists in their midst, because it probably does, said Fumerton.

Public health orders have directed people to avoid crowds, stay home whenever possible, and keep social distance of two metres or more from other people when outside the home.

According to the World Health Organization, about 80 per cent of people who contract the virus and develop COVID-19 will only experience mild to moderate symptoms.

If a person develops symptoms but doesn’t require hospitalization, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has instructed British Columbians that they don’t need to be tested and should instead stay home and manage their symptoms through 14 days of self-isolation.

“We know given our current testing strategy that the majority of cases are going to go undiagnosed, in terms of getting a lab confirmation,” said Fumerton.

In B.C., the identities of those who test positive are protected and their location is made public by health authority only. Specific community-level locations are only revealed if there is an outbreak in a facility or if people of unknown identities are at risk.

For instance, if a person attended a large gathering or public event, then later tested positive, the health authority might issue a public notice to reach anyone who may have come in contact with the infected person.

“Public health follows up on every lab-confirmed case,” said Fumerton. “If a public notification of risk in the general community was warranted, we would have issued one.”

As of Apr. 3, there were no confirmed cases of the disease in any hospital or long-term care facilities within Northern Health.

At that time, 850 tests had been conducted in communities across the North. Of the 21 people confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, five were in hospital, five were fully recovered, and no one had died.

“These cases haven’t been concentrated in any one area,” said Fumerton. “They’ve been diagnosed in large and small communities and across the entire region.”

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