COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)

Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns says the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the Comox Valley is the product of “a series of multiple social gatherings” and not from a single function.

“That’s not true,” said Enns, of reports circulating that the bulk of the new cases are the result of one or two gatherings. “In some ways, that would help, because then we would have a specific point in time. But what we are seeing is multiple social gatherings, with large social networks. That’s more of a problem, from my perspective.

“It’s several (instances) of close gatherings. Not formal; people are just meeting with their social contacts.”

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Enns said the spike in positive cases is a result of people expanding their social circles, reverting to pre-COVID socializing habits, and ignoring symptoms of the disease, i.e. loss of taste and smell, cough, fever, headaches.

“When someone tests positive, we do a very extensive interview with them, to determine when their symptoms started,” she said. “Based on their symptoms, we determine their infectious period, which then defines who is a close contact – meaning being exposed to someone during an infectious period. Normally we like to see that close contact list pretty small… but what we are seeing is that there is a large number of close contacts.

“We are seeing large social networks, and people socializing when they are symptomatic. This then results in close contact being identified in other households, or maybe at a business.”

She added that while the spike may be alarming, it actually shows that the contact tracing process is effective.

“The case numbers in and of themselves does not mean things are out of control,” said Enns. “For the most part, people should read it as that we have containment. The vast majority of the recent cases that have been reported in the Comox Valley are known close contacts.”

Regarding the exposure alerts at the four Comox Valley schools (Vanier, Glacier View, Queneesh and École Au-cœur-de-l’île), Enns said to her knowledge every one of those alerts is based on singular positive tests.

“As far as I am aware – and I have asked – all of these exposures are a single staff or student that was at school during their infectious period. That’s all it takes to post a school exposure. Then there is a very extensive contact follow-up conversation with the school and with the case.”

Enns credited the school district for its attention to detail.

“I cannot keep thanking our school system enough for how excellent of a job they are doing. I think our public schools are doing a fantastic job.”

Enns said there is no concern that authorities have underestimated the vulnerability of children and their susceptibility to contracting coronavirus.

“Not at all. Schools are just a portion of a community,” she said. “So when you have increasing COVID in a community, it will be reflected in schools. It’s inevitable. Schools are part of a community. But schools are consistently not amplifying transmission. They are not responsible for COVID. They are just a reflection of the background of COVID in a community.”

Enns reiterated the importance of getting back to the basics, regarding the limiting of social interactions.

“I would like to remind people that this is not the time for large social gatherings, and please, especially, do not socialize or go to work sick,” she said. “If we would all do what we need to do – go to work, go to school, and don’t do all that other stuff in between – we will limit transmission in the larger community.”

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