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'A lot of angst in the community': COVID-19 cases surge in Nelson, mayor wants more restrictions

Last Updated Aug 19, 2021 at 5:16 pm PDT

FILE -- Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The province imposed regional restrictions on the Central Okanagan due to out-of-control community spread

Nelson's mayor says the community is 'on edge,' fears the possibility of the region's only ICU becoming overwhelmed

NELSON (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s fourth wave of COVID-19 is hitting Nelson particularly hard, and the mayor wants a return to restrictions like mandatory masks and limits on gathering before the region’s ICU is overwhelmed.

Earlier this month, the province imposed regional restrictions on the Central Okanagan due to out-of-control community spread. Masks are no longer optional, bars and nightclubs closed, and capacity limits have been imposed on restaurants. Other British Columbians have been urged to avoid non-essential travel to and from the region.

John Dooley says Nelson and the surrounding communities would welcome a similar move. Nelson recorded 117 cases in the week of Aug 8 – 14. The week before that there were 74, the week before that there were 38.

“There’s an uptick in the numbers of COVID cases in the Nelson catchment area. Anytime that happens it has the possibility of completely filling up our hospital ICU, and that’s not a good thing because if we had a motor vehicle accident or industrial accident or if anything happened in our area — we’d have to find a way to get people to Kelowna, or potentially Vancouver,” he says.

The only hospital in the region with an Intensive Care Unit is East Kootenay Regional Hospital, in Trail. Earlier this week, a doctor who works there told the Nelson Star that four of the six beds in that unit are occupied with COVID-19 patients.

“We’re concerned about the COVID numbers in our area, the strain and stress that is putting on facilities, and in particular, on the medical staff at our hospitals. The community, in general, is really, really worried that it may potentially shut them down. Absolutely, it’s not a good situation,” Dooley continues.

Since restrictions were lifted, including those on travel, masks, and gatherings — Nelson has recorded 255 cases. An outbreak at the Nelson Jubilee Manor is ongoing, and the city has issued a public exposure notice for the youth centre. The City of Nelson reintroduced a mask mandate for city-owned and operated facilities on Aug. 9

Dooley says people are noticeably “on edge.” City council has written a letter to the province and the health authority asking for a return to restrictions.

“We’ve asked them to come up with stricter regulations, and give us the ability to be able to control things better,” he says.

“There’s no question they’d be welcomed by the community at large, by the business community — definitely by the healthcare workers. We’re only a couple of weeks now away from starting indoor sports, schools will be opening, the college will be reopening. There’s a lot of angst in the community.”

RELATED: Regional restrictions ‘the future of COVID’ in B.C.: expert

There were zero cases in Nelson, Creston or Castlegar on July 4. Dooley says the surge has been stressful, and people want to see something change.

“It’s a lot for people to shoulder. We’re surrounded by a number of much smaller communities than ours and they’re really struggling, dealing with this situation,” he says.

“Do we have the time to get on top of this situation with the current regulations that we have? We don’t believe that we will be able to.”

RELATED: B.C.’s COVID-19 cases remain high, 1 new care home outbreak in the Interior

Meantime, Dooley says they are seeing quite a few tourists this year, and he’s happy to welcome them — as long as they’ve been immunized.

“That’s the number one thing. We know from numbers, we know from experience that vaccines work. If you’re coming to our community, we want you to be vaccinated.”

In Nelson, 62 per cent of people eligible to be vaccinated have received two doses. Province-wide, the rate is 73.8.

NEWS 1130 has reached out to Interior Health for information about hospitalizations and ICU patients in the region.