Are precautions enough?

Megan Walchuk

It’s easy to feel safe from COVID-19 in such a secluded part of the country. With the border closed, travel at a minimum, and with careful distancing, we’ve kept our numbers low. Even the mask policy, although largely disliked, has been adopted with an almost surprising amount of tolerance.

Whether it’s through luck, geography, hard work, or a combination of the three, the situation in the Northwestern Health Unit region is enviable.

But all that hard work can be quickly undone, if we let our guard down.

Northern Health in BC – a sprawling, sparsely populated region in Northern BC – prided itself on its low caseload. Like us, it worked hard to keep travel down, to keep outsiders out, and it paid off in its numbers.

That ended recently, when 17 cases emerged, with a dozen more in Northern Alberta, because of a single event.

It Is Time Canada was a three day prayer event, held on a farm in Deadwood, Alta., from July 30 to Aug 2. Organizers felt they took every precaution. Attendance was limited. The venue was remote and well ventilated. Masks and sanitizer were made available. Attendees were screened and temperatures were taken. Social distancing was practiced. Organizers insist they followed every rule, and took every precaution. Not a single person displayed a symptom throughout the entire event. Yet, it was ground zero for an outbreak of 29 people, with dozens of secondary contacts, spread across multiple towns and two provinces, now forced into isolation.

It may have happened on the other side of the country, but that one event has cost us all dearly. Even if every case survives unscathed, it has still strained medical resources, and endangered the general population, just as many hospitals and long-term care homes are easing visiting limits, provinces are lifting travel restrictions and schools are preparing to reopen their doors. Outbreaks like this make the general public appear irresponsible, and the rules too permissive, delaying re-openings for everyone else.

But if there’s a silver lining, let it stand as an example to other remote, northern communities – ours included – that see their remoteness and low caseload as security from COVID. Even when every precaution is taken, every rule followed, COVID can still spread.

Guidelines, no matter how faithfully they’re followed, aren’t guarantees.