B.C. Centre for Disease Control image showing COVID-19 case counts for local health areas in Island Health. (BCCDC image)

Low COVID-19 case count has Nanaimo well-positioned for the fall, doctor says

Even if risks increase, they will remain low, says Dr. Mike Benusic

More COVID-19 cases are coming in the fall, along with a need for more testing, but the mid Island is well-positioned to be able to handle it, says the region’s medical health officer.

Dr. Mike Benusic, Island Health’s new medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, spoke to Nanaimo city council this week about COVID-19 in the area with the fall school semester about to begin.

“Comparably, B.C., especially Vancouver Island and even more so, the greater Nanaimo area has done remarkably well when it comes to keeping the cases of COVID low,” he said. “I think that really just speaks to the response at all levels of government.”

He said Canada’s rate of COVID-19 cases per million people is about 3,300, B.C.’s rate is is about 1,050 and Vancouver Island’s is about 200, with Nanaimo even lower, at about 150 cases per million.

He rejected suggestions that the Island’s low case numbers are due to lack of testing, noting that there have been 50,000 tests on the Island with 99.6 per cent of those tests coming back negative.

“We’re doing a lot of testing and if there was more COVID-19 within the community, we would surely be picking it up,” he said.

He said a B.C. Centre for Disease Control serology study suggested that there are eight undetected COVID-19 cases for every detected case, and said if that is true on Vancouver Island, there is only a 0.2 per cent infection rate.

Benusic said with the Island’s low rate of COVID-19 and very little community transmission, he believes “we are well-poised” to carefully re-open schools and other segments of society and balance risks. He suggested increased risk is manageable because he said even if risk of COVID-19 infection were, for example, doubled, it would still amount to a small risk.

“If you’re starting off with a baseline low risk within the community, you’re going to be in a very good position to keep that transmission low,” he said.

Benusic said Island Health received a “surge of calls” in August from people reporting COVID-19 symptoms. It created more work, he said, but was a blessing in that it helped prepare staff for an anticipated increase in testing once the school year starts.

In Nanaimo, he said people who call in generally get an appointment the same day or the next day, and said the lab is averaging 16 hours to turn around results. After a positive test, the communicable disease team works “rapidly” to contact people, make sure they’re isolating, identify their contacts and follow up.

“What we’ve been doing every day now is looking across what we call the test-trace-isolate pathway to make sure that we have ample capacity throughout that,” Benusic said.

READ ALSO: Stay informed about COVID-19


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