VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — New data suggests a troubling increase in the percentage of people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who have been exposed to COVID-19.
Dr. Brian Conway with the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre says they’ve been tracking exposures by doing antibody testing at shelters.
“We’ve been very concerned since the beginning of the pandemic about how individuals living on the Downtown Eastside might be affected, as they could not adhere to the current public health recommendations as well as many others. They also don’t access medical care to get diagnosed for COVID and evaluated and treated — again, as much as others,” he explains.
“We started doing COVID antibody testing, which would be a measure of exposure to COVID at some point during the pandemic.”
In the summer and fall, he says antibodies were found in between 10 and 15 per cent of people tested. In December, that percentage rose to almost 50.
The sample size, however, is relatively small, around 90 people were tested.
“It appears as if COVID has become more frequent, more prevalent on the Downtown Eastside, so it’s important that we design structures going forward, to better diagnose individuals and engage them in care,” he says.
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Conway says the ways in which testing, treatment, and vaccination are done in the community have to be tailored to work for the people who live there.
“It’s a unique population with unique challenges, and they need to be included as part of a societal solution, a societal response to COVID infection.”
Testing needs to be flexible and easily accessible, Conway says, as making and keeping appointments can be a challenge for those who are struggling to find their next meal, or a safe place to sleep. The way test results are communicated should be adapted for people without phones or addresses. Following up for contact-tracing is similarly challenging when people do not have addresses or phones.
Conway agrees with the province’s decision to prioritize people who are homeless and staying in shelters, but suggests proactive public education and outreach will be needed.
“Dr. Henry and her team have prioritized the homeless as a group that will receive vaccination sometime in the spring recognizing the fact that they’re at high risk of becoming infected and suffering significant consequences of infections,” he says, noting preventative healthcare is not something people living on the Downtown Eastside generally do not or can not access.
“Without proper food, without proper lodging, without proper financial support — they have many other priorities.”