Northern Health won’t reveal “community outbreaks”

By Laura Keil


In a virtual town hall April 22nd, Northern Health’s Acting Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Raina Fumerton said the health authority would not make public community outbreaks due to their inability to enact additional public health measures in community settings.

Unlike in Alberta, B.C. has not publicised the locations of known COVID-19 cases. Fumerton said in B.C. they are only using the term outbreak to describe cases in “closed settings” such as long-term care centres or penitentiaries – and in those settings, a single case can constitute an outbreak.

“The term is helpful in that closed setting because we can then implement evidence-based infection control practices that have been known to be effective in settings such as a long-term care facility – so we enhance everything – we enhance cleaning measures, we enhance testing… to help us contain and control an outbreak… In a community where there aren’t four walls around it, it’s a bit of a different scenario.”

Fumerton said health authorities assess on a “case-by-case basis” whether or not to apply the term ‘outbreak.’

“At a community-level we are not declaring community outbreaks, per se. These are not contained, closed settings where we can control things like in a hospital or acute-care setting but we would certainly expect scenarios where we have community-level spread. (But) we can’t always attach this person to this person as far as where people acquired the virus.”

She noted that when it comes to particularly vulnerable communities like those in the north that are isolated and far from health care services, they still wouldn’t use that term.

“We don’t need to use the term ‘outbreak’ to know that if we have cases in these communities then obviously it requires a very aggressive and robust and quick response.”

During the Town Hall, Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich also noted that the health authority is currently well supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves and that COVID-19 test results are now being completed at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia.

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