Privacy is cited as one of the reasons why more details are not provided regarding the location of coronavirus outbreaks in smaller communities in B.C. such as Salmon Arm. (Image by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

Privacy is cited as one of the reasons why more details are not provided regarding the location of coronavirus outbreaks in smaller communities in B.C. such as Salmon Arm. (Image by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

COVID-19: Privacy cited as one reason for lack of details on Shuswap cases

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If the relatively sparse data available to the public about the number of COVID-19 cases reported in and around Salmon Arm is giving you headaches, relief is not in sight.

The only data available to the media and the public which is specific to Salmon Arm and area comes from a monthly update on local health areas (not to be confused with regional health authorities like Interior Health), one of which is the Salmon Arm Local Health Area. The area stretches from Malakwa to Falkland and includes Salmon Arm and Sorrento.

Data has been updated once per month since January 2020, with the most recent update – Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 – showing a total of nine reported COVID-19 cases over 10 months in the local area.

The health areas closest to the Salmon Arm Health Area are Kamloops with 111 reported cases over the 10 months, Vernon with 43, Enderby with five, Armstrong with five and Revelstoke with three.

Interior Health (IH) supplies data on the local health areas to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), which updates its map of case numbers.

IH responded to questions about the absence of current and specific data by stating that the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Health take the lead on what numbers are released, with input from epidemiologists in each health authority.

“The numbers posted on BCCDC are reviewed and would reflect the accurate count for each local health area. Cases are tracked by where people permanently reside (by their postal code).”

IH said, above all, the reason more specific details aren’t provided immediately is privacy.

“Particularly in smaller communities, privacy and trust are important for people to be comfortable coming forward to get tested. Identifying initial cases is at the heart of our contact tracing process that reduces further exposures in our communities – we can’t do that if people are afraid to come forward.”

Read more: Number of reported COVID-19 cases in Salmon Arm health area increases slightly

Read more: B.C. premier calls for national COVID-19 travel restrictions

In a recent column, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry emphasized the stigma associated with infection and the need for privacy.

“So, while I understand the desire to know and understand what the COVID-19 situation is in your community, I need to emphasize that knowing where the positive cases are does not protect you, your family or your community. The actions you take will do that,” Henry said.

On Nov. 18, Premier John Horgan responded to a question from mayors in the Fraser Health Region who wanted more specific information on COVID-19 cases. He said COVID-19 is everywhere in B.C. and people need to act accordingly.

“It is acute right now in Fraser Health, the numbers there are unacceptably high and have been for the past two-and-a-half weeks, so I say to the mayors and I say to the people of Fraser Health, we need to work together to amend our behaviour, to reduce the clusters. And these clusters are coming from social gatherings, they’re not coming from workplaces predominantly. If there’s an outbreak in a workplace, it’s because of a social gathering that led to an employee bringing the virus into that workplace.”

Read more: ‘Not a milestone to celebrate’: Interior Health surpasses 1,000 total cases

Read more: COVID-19: Secwepemc Nation calls for better notification processes

Interior Health said cases at businesses or institutions are reported when the public risk is broad and it’s not possible to trace all individuals who may have been exposed.

IH addressed the low numbers attributed to the Salmon Arm Health Area.

“If you look at other local health areas with similar populations (like Nelson or Cranbrook), Salmon Arm is pretty consistent. We have done relatively well in our rural communities in containing COVID-19 to date.

“The key point with the increased cases right now, though, is that COVID-19 is circulating in communities across Interior Health and it only takes a single case and a single gathering to create wider transmissions, clusters and outbreaks. That is why it is so important for everyone in Salmon Arm and all communities to follow all COVID-19 precautions now more than ever.”

Precautions recommended by IH include:

• Keep to your household bubbles and avoid social gatherings.

• Stay home when you are sick and get tested if you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

• Practise physical distancing and use a mask if you cannot.

• Wash your hands often.

Testing is available for people with cold, flu, or COVID-19-like symptoms.
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