Despite some mild optimism from provincial officials that B.C.'s COVID-19 growth rate appears to be slowing down, the medical director of the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC) said that Whistler is likely still in the early stages of the crisis.
"We're still on the upslope of the curve," said Dr. Bruce Mohr.
Because testing is now limited to patients requiring hospital care and frontline healthcare workers, officials only have so many data points to extrapolate the virus' prevalence in a community.
"If they're not in a long-term care home where a breakout has occurred, and they're not in a hospital, they're not being tested," Mohr explained. "We don't really know, but we're assuming there is a significant incidence of disease in our community."
Last week, provincial officials carried out disease modelling based on best- and worst-case scenarios, which suggested the COVID-19 growth rate in B.C. "is being impacted by the measures we put in place in the last couple of weeks," said public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a press conference.
Those positive indicators are all the more reason to stick to the physical distancing guidelines that have been implemented—including the younger demographic, explained the Whistler Medical Clinic's Dr. Karin Kausky, who doubles as co-chair of the Sea to Sky Division of Family Practice.
"There's been a lot of messaging that young people are much more likely to have a milder illness, but I'd really like to get out there that young people actually can get sick with this. They can be carriers and they can transmit this virus to family, friends, to community when they're not even symptomatic," she said.
Mohr noted that although staffing and medical supply levels have been strained, the WHCC is still adequately equipped to deal with the crisis.
"We're looking after the people that need emergency care, and we're continuing to hone our skills for caring for those who may become more sick," he added.
The WHCC is currently only home to one ventilator, however, and that would be relocated out of the resort if needed. Anyone needing intensive care would also be relocated.
"[The Whistler Health Care Centre] does not run an intensive care unit, so if people needed further levels of care they would be moved appropriately, and those plans are in place," medical health officer Dr. Meena Dawar told Pique on March 20.
Local doctors continue to urge Whistlerites to avoid the WHCC unless for urgent care, and to contact their family doctor to set up an appointment by phone or teleconference for non-urgent issues. Those without a family doctor can still consult a GP remotely through a virtual clinic set up last week at www.divisionsbc.ca/sea-sky.
If, after consulting a doctor, a patient requires an in-person visit, that will be arranged—with the necessary precautions in place to prevent the spread of infection.
Emergent care will continue to be offered at the WHCC. Patients are asked to call the centre at 604-932-4911 before visiting the emergency room, if possible.
"I want to make sure that we're not putting people off accessing the Whistler Health Care Centre for emergent issues, because we need to keep doing that," Kausky said. "What we're trying to do is let people know there is a better venue to access non-emergent, primary care and that is either through their family doctor or through this link to the virtual walk-in clinic."
All elective dental treatments have been suspended until further notice, but Whistler's dental offices are available for urgent care.
"We're screening patients by phone to assess their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and to determine the urgency of their dental issue. From there we can determine if minimal treatment is required or to refer appropriately," wrote Dr. Jake Bessie of Alpenglow Dental in an email.
FYidoctors Whistler is currently focusing its services on urgent patient care only, and regular eye health exams and eyeglass adjustments have been suspended.
The clinic is using tele-optometry technology for consultations, and is encouraging patients with questions, concerns or broken glasses to call 604-932-2600.
The expiry dates for most contact lens prescriptions have been extended so that patients can order contacts at this time even if they are due for an eye health exam.
Contact lenses can be shipped directly to clients or picked up at the clinic.
Coast Mountain Veterinary Services is only allowing pets in the clinic for the time being as a precaution. Hospital manager Elke Ruijters said pet owners can call the clinic at 604-932-5391 and a staff member will go over the pet's medical history and determine if an in-person visit is necessary. Please advise staff if you or a member of your household have flu-like symptoms or have recently travelled out of country so that staff can take the necessary precautions and don personal protective equipment before caring for your pet.
Pets should be dropped off at the clinic's front door so a staff member can retrieve them. The clinic is also asking that clients remove their pet's leash at drop-off to help prevent infection.
"We want to take care of everyone's pets as best as we can while keeping our own safety and our clients' safety in mind," Ruijters said
A representative for Twin Trees Veterinary Clinic wrote in a Facebook message that the pandemic "has hardly changed anything for us" as a clinic that only deals with emergencies.
This article has been updated since publication with information on eye care.