Island Health hiring more staff as hundreds seek COVID-19 tests each day
Island Health's chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- The Vancouver Island health authority is continuing to hire more staff to handle an increasing number of requests for COVID-19 tests.
Island Health received more than 400 calls requesting the test on Saturday, while nearly 200 people called on Sunday, according to the island's top doctor.
"In terms of the ability to get tested, we do know that we've had some problems with our call centre and we're remedying those," said Island Health's chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick on Thursday.
"We are basically increasing our staff – we hired three more people yesterday, we'll be getting four more next week – and we intend to hire 21 individuals so that people can get a faster, more efficient service."
Stanwick said health officials believe all of Vancouver Island's 178 COVID-19 cases to date were contracted elsewhere.
"All of them have been imported at this point in time, so in other words: acquired off-island and then brought onto the island," he said.
"And while we've seen an uptick in the number of people wanting testing, we can actually now respond to those calls in a much more efficient fashion."
Stanwick said call centre wait times are typically about 10 minutes. "So we're getting better," he said. "We're still not where we want to be."
The chief health officer said Vancouver Island has been successful in keeping virus cases comparatively low and keeping hospitalization rates at zero, where they stand currently.
"Right now we have seven active cases and nobody is in hospital," Stanwick said. "That’s because we've been able to keep it out of our most vulnerable populations. We've had no long-term care outbreaks and where you start to see those types of scenarios that the vulnerable catch the virus, that's where you see hospitalizations and death – and that’s what we've been able to avoid."
Stanwick said officials expect the number of cases to increase heading into the fall and winter as people move indoors. That scenario could be compounded by the arrival of travellers from Eastern Canada who would typically head south to avoid the cold weather.
"If our border [with the United States] stays closed, we may see a lot of our snowbirds who previously headed south, head west," Stanwick said.
"So we could see an influx of RVs, we could certainly see people who wintered in basically Texas or Mexico, deciding to come to Vancouver and Victoria to avoid the colder weather."
The health officer said the recent spike in cases across B.C. is due to higher person-to-person transmission rates as public health restrictions have been eased.
"All through the spring and right into June," Stanwick said, "ten people who acquired the virus only passed it to four other individuals, so we kept it under one-to-one transmission or more. It's now snuck up that they're transmitting to eight, and so we have lost some ground."
Stanwick said despite the increasing number of cases in B.C. and on Vancouver Island, the overall pandemic transmission curve locally remains flat.