A BC Emergency Health Services team of Major Incident Rapid Response paramedics will remain deployed in the community of Fort St. James for at least another four days, as of Dec. 14. (BC Emergency Health Services photo)

A BC Emergency Health Services team of Major Incident Rapid Response paramedics will remain deployed in the community of Fort St. James for at least another four days, as of Dec. 14. (BC Emergency Health Services photo)

Officials call for transparency after surge in COVID-19 cases puts Fort St. James under microscope

“We’re all in it together here,” Fort St. James Mayor Bob Motion said.

Government officials in the Fort St. James region are asking for transparency after a recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

Fort St. James Mayor Bob Motion and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad both expressed frustration after conflicting novel coronavirus positive figures were released last week — 60 by BC Emergency Health Services and 40 by Northern Health in a region of roughly 4,500 people.

A BC EHS Rapid Response Team of four, Vancouver-based, highly-trained paramedics has since been deployed to the region to support its overwhelmed health care services.

READ MORE: B.C.’s specialized COVID paramedics ‘impressed’ with Fort St. James community response

“There’s significant concern [in the community],” Motion told Black Press Media. “I’d like to see the provincial government allow the health districts or agencies to release the numbers of active COVID patients on a community basis.”

Rustad said when the seriousness of the crisis surrounding COVID-19 cases in the region became apparent last week he immediately reached out to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Minister of Health Adrian Dix, Northern Health and members of a local First Nations community to attempt to get a handle on the situation.

“Each of those organizations I spoke with provided me with different data but, at the end of the day, whether it is 40, 60 or 80 cases, the response is still the same for what people need to do. But with the unknowns it creates rumours, it creates fear and the best way to address any kind of crisis is to make sure we have accurate information going out to community members.”

Motion said, initially, when the region’s COVID-19 positive case numbers were released to the media by BC EHS he was upset.

“As it’s turned out they put us on the map and it puts us in a position where we’re getting more resources had they not done that,” he said. “So, in a round about way, I’d like to thank them for doing that.”

Rustad said people around the province have been asking for community-level data since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I know our health workers are doing the best they can, and so are the organizations dealing with this so, surely, nine months into a pandemic, they can figure out how to report accurately.”

Both Motion and Rustad also pointed out the difficulty First Nations communities including Nak’azdli Whut’en, Tl’azt’en and Binche Whut’en are having dealing with COVID-19 cases.

“The socioeconomic conditions on reserve living is not conducive to social distancing and self isolation,” Motion said, noting the limited housing available. “It just isn’t and it’s an unfortunate fact.”

READ MORE: Rapid response paramedics arrive in Fort St. James as district reaches 60 COVID-19 cases

Motion said a meeting is scheduled with Northern Health where he plans to express his concerns, however, in the meantime, urges everyone to do they best they can to help support each other as the situation is addressed.

BC EHS’s Rapid Response Team, initially deployed for a four-day stint on Dec. 9, announced on Dec. 14 it would remain in Fort St. James for another four days.

“We’re all in it together here,” Motion said. “We can’t beat them up, and we’ve got to work with them as best as we can.”



greg.sabatino@wltribune.com

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