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BC Politics

COVID-19 This Fall: How We’ve Prepared

BC’s health minister on what’s been done and what all of us still need to do.

Adrian Dix 15 Sep 2020 |

Adrian Dix is B.C.’s minister of health.

Last Wednesday, Premier John Horgan announced new support for those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and the communities where they live.

The starting point is a plan. And B.C.’s fall-and-winter COVID-19 preparedness plan is a plan rooted in the lessons we’ve learned in our B.C. pandemic. It draws upon our innovations and adaptations to make sure our health-care system is up to the challenges the weeks and months ahead offer.

This is a plan for the B.C. health system and, in that, a plan for all of us. To keep us healthy, and to keep us safe. It ensures that public health support and our health-care system are ready.

We’re building access to allow up to 20,000 tests per day when the presence of colds and the flu in our communities is higher, and we must rapidly identify COVID-19 cases. Our duty to stop the spread continues, but we want that capacity in case of a surge.

We contact trace every single COVID-19 case. So we’re adding up to 600 additional health professionals to increase contact tracing and case-management capacity across B.C. We’ve hired 86 contact tracers. A further 165 are in the interview stage; 33 are in the offer process; and more than 300 are in the screening phase.

We’re implementing an enhanced fall flu immunization campaign on a scale we’ve never seen by adding 450,000 influenza vaccine doses for a total of more than two million doses available to anyone in B.C. As part of this, 45,000 higher-dose vaccines — specifically designed to protect people over 65 — will be available to all long-term care residents. In the days ahead, information will be provided on where we can get a flu shot in our community.

But let’s make no mistake. These actions both support and rely on our ongoing individual and collective effort to stop the spread. We must continue to practise physical distancing, to wash our hands regularly, and wear a mask when asked to, required to, or when it’s the right thing to do. And we must continue to stay home when we feel sick and contact our public health officials so that testing, contact tracing, and self-isolation supports can be provided to us.

Our focus continues to be on ensuring that access to quality primary, community and hospital care is there for all patients, and that includes those with COVID-19. Our readiness includes assigned COVID-19 beds across 19 designated hospitals. Only in extreme circumstances will we move to use additional hospitals, and we will continue to build and strengthen our hospital health human resources capacity.

We will also be using urgent and primary care centres, and other designated primary care clinics, as respiratory care centres for enhanced access to testing and community care.

To provide additional supports to our seniors and elders in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, we’re recruiting 7,000 health-care workers for positions across the province. Through the Health Career Access Program, applicants who may not previously have had health-care experience, particularly those who were employed in the hospitality industry and who lost their jobs to COVID-19, will receive specialized on-the-job training.

New hires will start as health-care support workers where they will provide non-clinical support, including providing housekeeping and helping with mealtimes. They will also receive paid training that can lead to full qualification as health-care assistants. Health-care support workers and health-care assistants perform some of the most important jobs in B.C. and make a huge difference in the lives of our seniors and their loved ones.

We are implementing the announced Rural, Remote and Indigenous Community Framework. This initiative delivers increased in-community testing and timely access to primary and urgent hospital care in these communities by providing emergency ground-and-air-ambulance transportation.

Our collective resolve is to protect our seniors and elders in acute care and long-term care and to protect our health-care workers, so personal protective equipment is always a high-focus area. Health-care workers have the PPE they need, when they need it, and where they need it. Additional funding helps to rebuild our pandemic supply that got us through the initial outbreak, and to ensure we have a contingency for our Surgical Renewal Commitment, and for any surge in COVID-19.

From March to Aug. 31, we’ve procured more than 6.3 million N95 or equivalent respirators, over 50 million surgical or procedure masks, more than 2.6 million pieces of eye protection, more than 90 million pairs of gloves, and almost eight million gowns.

Hospital at Home will reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission in hospitals, ease pressure on inpatient hospital beds, and provide 24-7 care at home for patients who meet the criteria. It will help patients recover from episodes related to chronic heart failure, lung disease or pneumonia, or illnesses that require short-term medical intervention. Patients will be admitted to hospital, but remain at home and receive daily in-person care from a team led by a doctor or nurse practitioner with admitting privileges, supplemented with virtual care. Hospital at Home will launch through Victoria General Hospital and additional B.C. hospitals in the coming months.

Our B.C. pandemic response has proven that starting early, good planning and strong action save lives. Our COVID-19 plan for this fall is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health, health authorities, health-care professionals, service providers and health associations and unions across B.C. It represents a shift from a province-wide health-care response to a regional approach that can be narrowed to individual communities based on COVID-19 surges. It’s an approach that’s built in B.C., for B.C.

As much as we’re counting on everyone in public health and our health care system to do their job, they are counting on us to do ours. And we must not fail them. We know physical distancing saves lives, and we know the skills we must use to stop the spread.

COVID-19 has taught us a lot about ourselves. And we now know this: The weeks ahead will challenge us. We’re prepared, and we’re ready.  [Tyee]

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