Often March 2020 seems like more than just 19 months ago. Our community has gone through many changes in the interim, with restrictions placed then lifted then reinstated. Also, we’ve had mask-wearing being required to then being “encouraged” and back to being required.
Businesses were closed, then re-opened then restricted. It would be easy to look from the outside and incorrectly think that these measures do not have a purpose. They do and always have been in place to limit community spread and thereby also severe illness from COVID-19 and hospitalizations in our population.
Recently, we in Northern Health have been placed on more restrictions than the southern part of our province. This is due to the alarming increased rate of people getting very sick, requiring hospitalization (and for some unfortunate few dying), from COVID-19 infections in our area.
Until late summer and early fall our community has fared well through the pandemic with fairly low case numbers, low hospitalizations and few deaths. This is no longer the case. We now have the highest or nearly the highest case counts per capita in the province. In this time period Bulkley Valley District Hospital has not been without at least one patient sick in hospital with COVID.
We currently have an outbreak on our medical ward. We have unfortunately had community members die from this disease. We have had patients have significant and sometimes long-term side effects of their COVID infections.
Bulkley Valley District Hospital provides wonderful care to our population, but it is a small hospital. So, while hearing that five people or nine people are in our hospital with COVID may seem minimal, what you may not realize is that we only have 20 beds. The mere five or nine beds actually represent a quarter to nearly a half of our available beds for patients.
This means we don’t have beds for community members wanting to be transferred home to recover after a surgery, or they are being transferred to regional hospitals for conditions we could normally treat in Smithers, or surgeries are being cancelled because there isn’t a bed available afterward.
It also means that our community does not have enough nurses available to care safely for patients, because patients with COVID are very sick if needing hospitalization and therefore, require frequent monitoring, medications and more of the medical staff’s time, leaving less time for other patients.
This is written to show a glimpse of what happens behind the hospital doors.
This is written to make the community aware of the strains that COVID has put on the medical system, locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. (Just as it has put strains on our community, our schools, our economy, our businesses, our gatherings, our families).
This is written to help understand why certain measures are put in place, the goal is and has always been to create a balance of returning to normal while still being able to care for those sick with COVID requiring medical care needing hospital and intensive care beds.
Another change from March of 2020 is that this has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Locally, nationally and globally the majority of people contracting, spreading and getting severely ill from COVID-19 are those that are not fully vaccinated.
We have multiple vaccines that are safe and that provide excellent protection against severe COVID-19 infections. No, they are not 100 per cent effective and people can still have COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, but these people generally have less symptoms, less viral load and therefore are less likely to spread the virus to others and less likely to need to be hospitalized for their illness.
For reference, no vaccine to date is 100 per cent effective. In Canada, in the last decade, there have been small outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases, despite high percentage of our population being vaccinated.
These last 19 months have not been easy on anyone and there is no one in the medical community that doesn’t want things to be back to normal. The reality is that that is not possible right now without more people getting sick and for some dying. And no one wants that.
The way forward is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and it works to prevent severe COVID-19 infections. Over six billion doses of COVID-19 vaccinations have been given around the world.
As of last week, 84 per cent of people living in town and 73 per cent of people living rurally have received at least their first dose of the COVID vaccine. Thank you to those of you that have received their vaccine. And for those unsure about it, or who haven’t received it yet please reach out to your health care provider to discuss your concerns.
As always, the medical community is here to help you and will care for everyone to the best of our abilities, but we need our community’s help to follow public health orders, wear masks, stay home if sick.
And please do get vaccinated.
Sincerely, Dr Niethammer