Northern Health says a religious event in northern Alberta has contributed to a spike in new COVID-19 cases in northeast B.C.
The health authority issued a public health alert Monday, Aug. 17, saying it has identified and linked 17 lab-confirmed cases to the It Is Time Canada event in Deadwood, Alta., from July 30 to August 2.
Twelve cases are related to attendance at the event, while the remainder are believed to be from secondary exposure, Northern Health said. Ten of the cases are active, while seven have recovered, it said. Another 24 people are in self-isolation.
“The majority of these cases are in the Fort St. John area, however the exposure alert applies to all of Northeast BC,” Northern Health said.
“Given the location of the event, it is most likely that residents of Northeast BC may have been in attendance, or had contact with attendees. Northeast BC residents are strongly encouraged to self-monitor, and self-isolate and seek testing if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.”
B.C. deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson said Monday "Absolutely there is a possibility there will be additional exposures related to that."
It’s the first new cases in the northeast in several weeks — there were no COVID cases reported here July 17 to 30, and none July 24 to Aug. 6.
According to It Is Time Canada's website, a COVID-19 guideline was created for people to attend the in-person event, which took place on a farm an hour north of Peace River, Alta.
Christwalker Productions, the main organizers, said via social media attendees 'did not have the symptoms when they were at the event' and are asking all who attended to keep personal and others' health a priority.
Attendance was capped at 100 people, the website reads, including speakers and workers.
The event's COVID safety plan, published online, says the event was limited to 100 people on site at one time, social distancing measures were in place, volunteers were taking temperatures and screening people on arrival, and hand sanitizer stations and masks were made available.
Provincially, there were 236 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday's update. That included 100 new cases detected on Saturday, and there are now 740 active cases throughout B.C.
"It's the second-highest (single-day) number we have recorded since the start of the pandemic," Gustafson said.
The number of people in hospital has dropped from 12 since Friday to just four. Most of the new cases have been in young and healthy people. Unfortunately, people with only mild symptoms or none at all can infect others. And when it infects someone who is older or immune-compromised, it can be fatal.
“This actually makes things quite challenging,” said Gustafson.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said about 10,500 tests were done over the weekend.
Most of the new cases are the result of private parties and other large gatherings. While people consider their homes sacrosanct, the B.C. government may need to start cracking down on large private parties in private dwellings.
"It's a concern, and certainly something my colleague, the solicitor general, is looking at," Dix said.
"The number of transmissions that have been reported in purely outdoor settings have been very, very limited," Gustafson said.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said to avoid large gatherings of any kind to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 as B.C. endured its third- (Aug. 12) and fourth-highest (Aug. 14) single-day case counts last week.
"We need everyone to recommit to using the skills we’ve learned. Keep gatherings small, have a designated ‘contact keeper,’ limit time with others, maintain physical distance and always stay home if you’re feeling unwell," said Dr. Henry.
“We must all keep working together to protect people’s health, homes and livelihoods, and to get our province back on track. We are all in this together, so let’s continue holding the line.”
Northern Health COVID-19 alert issued Aug. 17, 2020:
COVID-19 testing and contact tracing has allowed Northern Health to identify a recent event in Alberta where individuals may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Individuals who attended the It Is Time Canada event in Deadwood, Alberta, between July 30 and August 2, are asked to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and self-isolate and seek testing if they begin to exhibit symptoms. Contact tracing and testing has also identified that some individuals may be at risk of secondary transmission, from contact with cases related to attendance at the event.
NH public health has identified 17 lab-confirmed cases to date; 10 of which remain active cases (seven recovered); 12 of the total number are related to attendance at the event, while the remainder are believed to be from secondary exposure. Contact tracing has also identified a number of close contacts, 24 of whom are in self-isolation with active daily monitoring by public health. The majority of these cases are in the Fort St. John area, however the exposure alert applies to all of Northeast BC.
Given the location of the event, it is most likely that residents of Northeast BC may have been in attendance, or had contact with attendees. Northeast BC residents are strongly encouraged to self-monitor, and self-isolate and seek testing if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.
Public health contact tracing continues, and where possible, NH is reaching out directly to individuals who may have been exposed. Individuals seeking a test should call their primary care provider (family physician or nurse practitioner) or the NH COVID-19 Online Clinic & Info Line (1-844-645-7811).
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, NH encourages all Northern BC residents to:
Get tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or are feeling sick.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Wear a mask when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Have Safe Gatherings:
Fewer faces in bigger spaces. Limit your gatherings to small groups and hold them outside.
Keep gatherings to people you know and keep track of who attends, so we can contact them if someone gets infected. If you host a gathering, you are expected to have the names and contact information of those that attend.
Limiting gathering size in private residences to six people.
Maintain the confidentiality of those who are sick or who are contacts
Show support and caring to those who are sick or who are contacts
— with files from Matt Preprost in Fort St. John, Nelson Bennett in Vancouver, Kyle Balzer in Prince George
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.