Dene Moore: Rural healthcare systems don’t have much capacity in the best of times. Stay at home orders apply to people with seasonal homes, too.
“Please!!! Just stay home!”
That appeal was posted this week on a popular South Cariboo Facebook group, aimed at city dwellers with summer residences in the area.
We have 3,000 lakes in this region. When the sun is shining and the fish are biting, the population swells by the thousands. It’s a seasonal bump that we welcome, and need.
But with the number of COVID-19 cases in B.C. concentrated in Metro Vancouver, and public health hell breaking out south of the border, some summer cottagers are fleeing to their cabins in the Cariboo. That’s a problem.
First and foremost, viruses don’t travel. People do. And that’s kind of the point of the stay home orders issued by the province’s top health officials.
“People are still not getting it that we all have to think of the Big Picture…not what’s best for the individual. And what’s best at this time is that everyone stays put where they are,” posted another South Cariboo year-round resident.
Viruses don’t travel. People do.
South Cariboo businesses and services are just not prepared at this time of year to provide the essentials to a population that increases overnight. Stores here have seen the same panic-driven shortages as other communities. They’re catching up, but there are two grocery stores in town and a handful of smaller community grocers and convenience stores.
But of most concern is the 16-bed hospital that services the entire South Cariboo region. The hospital has one ventilator gifted by TB Vets last fall to replace a single outdated model the hospital relied on previously.
The 100 Mile and District General Hospital – built in 1966 and added to in 1975 – has a four-bed ER and the town has about a dozen doctors – no specialists.
Interior Health estimates there are more than 21,000 people in the service area of the 100 Mile House and District Hospital and a demographically dangerous number of them are seniors.
“Our little hospital does not need extra strain put on it,” says another post.
In Ontario, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations issued a statement this week saying they have heard many concerns about spreading the virus.
A demographically dangerous number of them are seniors.
“FOCA reminds members that our rural communities have reduced capacity to accommodate sudden changes in supply demands,” it says. “Put another way, cottage country isn’t expecting you yet.”
The supply chain is already under strain, it says.
“Additionally, rural hospitals have limited capacity and resources, and you should consider where your health needs can best be met, in an emergency situation.”
In some rural areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin, officials have made appeals for summer residents to stay away for the same reasons.
In Norway, the influx of city dwellers to rural summer homes led the country’s Minister of Health last week to ban citizens from staying in cabins or leisure properties outside their home municipalities. The temporary ban is in place until at least April 1.
“Our desire for those in cabins to return home is not about them, it is about the small municipalities that have many leisure properties. They do not have the capacity to care for big numbers of sick people,” said Minister Bent Høie.
Ignoring the ban could net a US$1,320 fine or even a short prison sentence.
There are many snowbirds whose Canadian homes from May to October are in the South Cariboo or other affordable rural areas of B.C. Understandably, many of them have fled the U.S. and the impending public health disaster there.
They’re supposed to isolate themselves for 14 days – but blatant flouting of that rule prompted federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu to announce this week she’s looking at criminal penalties for those who don’t.
“When we say that you must stay at home for 14 days, that means you stay at home for 14 days, you do not stop for groceries; that you do not go visit your neighbours or your friends; that you rest in your house for 14 days. No exceptions,” Hajdu said.
Here’s hoping they listen.
Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.
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