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B.C.’s rapid response paramedics deployed to Williams Lake as COVID-19 cases climb

BC Emergency Health Services has sent a Major Incident Rapid Response Team to the lakecity
BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) as COVID-19 positive cases rise in the Williams Lake region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

For only the second time since the start of the pandemic, BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) developed as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.

This time the specialized team is heading to Williams Lake where there are large levels of COVID-19 patients in multiple clusters in the region and an outbreak at the hospital responsible for treating them.

The primary role of the MIRRT is to assist in the inner-facility transfer of COVID-19 patients and to support local paramedics with pre-hospital responses. The secondary role of the team is to provide clinical site support at Cariboo Memorial Hospital when requested by the Interior Health Authority or local health professionals.

Interior Health has also implemented a second High Acuity Response Team (HART) based out of the Royal Inland Hospital over the next 10 days to support high acuity transfers in the area.

Sunday night, Jan. 17, Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb confirmed the MIRRT is expected in the lakecity this week. He conceded the fact that his city is in need of such a team is ‘a little worrisome.’

Cobb has been on Zoom calls for the past week trying to push the government for more information on the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the city as leaders in outlying First Nations communities have taken a lead role in recent weeks in keeping their community members informed on exact case numbers.

Read More: Williams Lake First Nation Chief highlights importance of mental health amid COVID-19 outbreak

With that information, chiefs and their teams have put supports in place for those hardest hit communities west and south of Williams Lake.

Health officials have been scrambling to provide vaccines for the communities, with Tsq’escenemc (Canim Lake Band), Williams Lake First Nation and Esk’etemc First Nation experiencing an outbreak and clusters.

Read More: COVID-19 cluster identified at Esk’etemc First Nation at Alkali Lake

Read More: COVID-19 vaccine rolled out to Canim Lake Band, as positive case numbers rise to 52

As a regional hub for the many of the COVID-19-stricken communities, Cobb said the city needs more information.

“We just aren’t getting reliable information and it’s not consistent,” Cobb said, comparing it to a similar problem felt during the 2017 wildfires.

On Saturday, the city increased its Emergency Operations Centre response to a Level 2, which allows better coordination with Interior Health and more staffing to support residents. Cobb hopes the move will create a better flow of information such as a timely count of COVID-19 cases and the number of COVID-19 patients in local hospital, something he currently does not have access to.

Read More: Climbing COVID-19 cases prompts City of Williams Lake to increase response level

The last public information shared by Interior Health Friday, Jan. 15 on the hospital outbreak noted there were six active cases of COVID-19 among the staff at Cariboo Memorial Hospital. Cobb said he understands that number is now 12 and that vaccines are expected Monday for health care workers at the hospital.

“They should have come first, there’s no doubt in my mind. They are the ones who have to take care of us. It’s crazy that we didn’t take care of our own health care workers,” Cobb said of hospital staff not being vaccinated sooner.

In his own Facebook update Sunday, Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson said the most asked question in both his Williams Lake and 100 Mile House offices is ‘how is it possible that our front line workers are in this much danger?’

Doerkson said IH acknowledged the situation and confirmed 120 vaccines will be administered in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House Monday, Jan. 18 to staff and physicians in intensive care units, emergency department and the COVID unit.

“I’m excited to hear that our front-line workers are going to get, I should say some of our front-line workers are going to get that vaccine. These people are definitely working with COVID now it looks like on a daily basis,” Doerkson said.

Doerkson said more information, specifically case counts and hospital capacity, is expected to be released Monday afternoon, Jan. 18.

As the cases rise in the region, so do the number of exposures in district schools where there are currently several confirmed COVID-19 exposures.

School District 27 superintendent Chris van der Mark said those cases in the schools are a reflection of what’s happening in the community.

“It’s safe to say we’ve got some tough days ahead,” van der Mark said Sunday evening, Jan. 17 as he awaited the results of IH contact tracing before releasing more COVID-19 school exposures.

The superintendent commended the hard work of district staff for continuing to “make this work” and said there are no plans right now to close schools. As for calls to keep schools closed for two weeks after the Christmas break, van der Mark said they have been following the direction of the health authority and that moving the start date in the new year would have only “moved the goal post.”

van der Mark said schools in the hardest hit, First Nations communities remain open to support their families in any way they can, though many are in varying states of lockdown.

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Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

A desire to travel led me to a full-time photographer position at the Williams Lake Tribune in B.C.’s interior.
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