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Year-end COVID report by Dr Henry & Minister Dix: vaccines, long-term care jobs

BC's two-dose immunization stretches to 35 days between shots. | Hiring for long-term care workers includes paid training.

Thursday December 31, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., editor | Island Social Trends

The year 2020 wraps up tonight with a final year-end count of 51,990 COVID-19 cases in BC.

Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix delivered their joint COVID-19 report today at 3 pm. That was the last live COVID joint press conference for 2020 by Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, their 160th this year.

Minister Dix said today that he will give a detailed report on BC’s continued surgical renewal next week — on Tuesday January 4.

COVID case numbers at December 31:

During 2020 in BC there have been a total of 51,990 COVID cases. Today’s count alone was 683 province-wide.

Health Minister, Adrian Dix, December 31 2020
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix delivers a COVID and health-care update on December 31, 2020 in Vancouver.

Of the total test-positive cases of COVID in BC this year, 928 were in Island Health (4.22% of the provincial total).

Currently there are 7,781 active cases in BC (up from 7,580 just two days ago). On Vancouver Island there are 82 active cases.

Currently 9,364 people are self-isolating in BC due to exposure to known cases of test-positive COVID-19 (that figure does not include the Northern health region due to some data-reporting challenges).

There are 374 people in hospital (a relatively steady number this week) of whom 76 are in ICU. Of the hospitalized COVID patients, eight are in Island Health (two in ICU).

BC CDC, COVID, Dec 31 2020
COVID-19 dashboard for all of BC at December 31, 2020.

There are presently 52 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living (eight of those new in the last five days), with nine active outbreaks in acute care (including at Vancouver General Hospital). This is affecting 1,412 residents and 733 staff.

There were eight more COVID-related deaths in the last 24-hours, concluding the year’s total at 901. That’s how many people succumbed to infection by the brand-new virus this year (around 80% of those in long-term care), with families province-wide affected by this tragedy.

Regional profile:

The highest case counts of COVID-19 all year long have been in the Vancouver lower mainland areas within the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities.

BC CDC, COVID, BC, regions, 2020
Regional distribution of COVID-19 cases in BC at December 31, 2020 [BC CDC]

Comparatively, cases and transmission have been significantly lower on Vancouver Island in the Island Health region. For most of the year there has been discussion on this point, with factors that include Vancouver Island’s lower population density, an already-existing lifestyle that includes frequently getting outdoors, perhaps more opportunity for home-based work environments that have allowed for people to retreat from traditional workplaces, and an overall cultural mesh with the type of public health messaging. As well, the education community has made a diligent effort to apply public health orders quite effectively.

The ‘out of Canada’ category for COVID-19 cases is comprised mostly of people who are temporarily in Canada for work which supports the Canadian economy (such as farm workers as part of the food supply chain).

BC CDC, Vancouver Island, COVID, December 31 2020
COVID-19 dashboard for Island Health at December 31, 2020. [BC CDC]

Immunization:

Since the start of immunizations, 17,510 people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in BC (the mRNA Pfizer-BioNTech product). That’s up from 11,930 just two days ago.

Active vaccinations among health-care workers began in the week of December 14 in Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions. In the week of December 21 the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began to be administered in Island Health, Interior Health and Northern Health.

Moderna vaccine, COVID
After being thawed from below-zero temperatures, the Moderna vaccine can remain stable at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2° to 8°C (36° to 46°F) for up to 30 days.

The Moderna vaccine, the second approved vaccine in Canada (an mRNA-type vaccine, like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but easier to transport and store due to a less strident ultra-low temperature requirement), arrived today in British Columbia (with more expected on December 30 as well). The first doses of the Moderna vaccine are targeted for remote and isolated First Nations communities and residents of long-term care.

BC recently began with an approach to provide a first-dose of available vaccines to as many people as possible. This differs from the manufacturer recommendations to hold onto half of each supply delivery for a recommended second dose. BC’s approach is to give some (good level) of immunity to as many people as possible, with the expectation that manufacturers will comply with agreed-upon delivery schedules.

Dr Bonnie Henry, December 31 2020
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry delivering her COVID-19 update on December 31, 2020 in Vancouver.

In a response to a question from Island Social Trends on December 31, Dr Henry said: “The first arrival of the doses that we received in December and into January are going to be to immunize as many people as possible with their first dose. And because of when supplies are coming. This is still a two-dose program. But we will be extending the period of time when somebody receives their second dose. And that’s about 35 days rather than the manufacturer’s recommended 28 days.”

Hiring for long-term care:

As for addressing the needs of long-term care, today Minister Dix said that 8,000 people have been “cleared through the process” toward hiring and training to be support workers, and that things are “going well”. “We’re on track”.

Dix gave a brief outline of three elements – the first element for supporting infection control and enabling visits in long-term care, for which already more than 1,000 people have been hired. “More than $130 million has gone out in support of that,” said Dix, and “those efforts continue”.

“It’s obviously a challenging time for everybody in long-term care. Our commitment was (earlier this year) for 7,000 to address some of the issues around COVID-19,” said Dix. He said the Ministry will “continue to raise staffing levels and over time to replace people in long-term care as well”. It has been an aging and dwindling contingent of the workforce.

He called 7,000 hires as “a significant commitment”, saying that programs in place including training. Workers are receiving paid training as one way to retain people and put boots on the ground right away due to need.

“A number of elements” were described by Dix as being “money, hiring and significant training”.

Health Career Access Program, BC Government
The BC Government is seeking new workers for long-term care by providing paid training.

Available positions posted on the BC Government website include Health Care Support Worker starting at $20.95/hour, and Health Care Assistant with an annual provincial salary of $45,091. The Health Career Access Program starts people as health care support workers; they are provided with basic training and ‘onboarding’, and then can become a health care assistant at $785/week while attending class. “It’s a significant opportunity for people,” says Dix, encouraging people in BC to find out information on the BC Government website.

“This is a sector where we need more workers, we’re going to need more workers. We have a pretty ambitious plan and pretty significant opportunities for people to do something really important, which is to do this work, which is some of the most important work that anyone can do in BC today and every day,” said Dix.

Isobel Mackenzie, BC Seniors Advocate, Nov 3 2020
BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie delivered her survey findings and recommendations about family access to long-care during COVID. [November 3, 2020]

In recent weeks BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie told Island Social Trends (for our upcoming podcast) that the hiring of long-term workers from among younger people (particularly women) is well-intended but that the required skill set is not only much different from jobs these young adults have had until the pandemic hit (i.e. mostly in hospitality and tourism). Mackenzie articulated that it takes a certain type of temperament (including caring and patience) to work with the many facets and realities of long-term care. It an also be physically demanding work.

Premier Horgan’s office stated earlier this week (in a December 29 news release) that 7,000 people had been hired for these jobs. But clearly there are several steps yet to be achieved to see that many people actually ‘on the job’ in a full capacity in BC.

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