Kelowna Chamber wants better access to rapid tests

Chamber wants rapid tests

Victoria Femia

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce is calling on the provincial government to improve access to rapid tests and loosen event capacity restrictions, while suggesting B.C. is falling behind other provinces.

Chamber executive director Dan Rogers says the limited ability for small businesses to access rapid test kits is a major concern for the organization.

“It’s not perfect but it’s another tool in the tool box. We’ve seen across the country,... have made rapid test kits available for small businesses and communities,” said Rogers.

“Whether they’re in Alberta or Ontario and in Ontario’s case, thousands have been distributed, but B.C.’s lagging behind.”

Rogers added that he’d like to see the province be more active, particularly for small businesses, calling rapid tests “a great way to keep people safe.”

On Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 6,931,175 rapid tests have been received in B.C. to date, 4,130,656 of which have been deployed to "key strategic areas."

Tests will be going to heathcare workers, longterm care homes for testing of staff and visitors, rural, remote and Indigenous communities and schools.

The province has also announced that 250,000 rapid tests will be allocated to child care professionals.

Another major concern for the chamber is the restrictions on indoor event capacities.

Under the current restrictions indoor events at venues can only have 50 per cent capacity, no matter the size. Rogers says those restrictions are "lingering in the background" and "will impact the tourism sector, that’s a lot of uncertainty."

He would like to see the province work with industries and businesses to find a way to begin to safely lift the restrictions.

“Develop the regulations, as you have done with gyms and fitness centres and don’t close them down or shut them down or prohibit them, look at ways to make them safe,” said Rogers.

“I think most industries and businesses are willing to work with the province.”


Central Okanagan School District reports absenteeism levels still acceptable

SD23 absenteeism still OK

The superintendent of School District 23, Kevin Kaardal is pleasantly surprised about how well things have gone since students returned to school at the start of 2022.

Higher COVID-19 case counts, driven in part by the Omicron variant combined with the traditional flu season
is a cause for concern and Kaardal says the school board is watching those numbers very closely.

"We're concerned of course and monitoring the absences of both students and staff," but despite concern, Kaardal says it's been going, "surprisingly well."

Education, like many sectors across the country, have been challenged by absenteeism and lack of available testing for COVID-19, forcing schools to rely on self-reporting from staff and students.

"We are seeing absences of staff on the rise and that's a concern, but so far we've been able to manage to keep in-class instruction open and we have not experienced any functional closures," Kaardal said, adding so far they have managed to re-assign staff to support classes when they have run through their casual teachers on call.

The absenteeism threshold for concern is 20 per cent, according to Kaardal, but they have to alert Interior Health once that figure hits 25 per cent. At that point, the health authority will send a team to investigate and decide on next steps.

Kaardal said prior to COVID-19 it was not unusual for absenteeism to hit the 20 per cent mark for one or two days during cold and flu season, but COVID-19 brings different challenges.

"We are watching and we are concerned that we could end up having functional closures because we don't have enough staff to safely operate."

Tim Hortons donuts in support of local Special Olympics athletes go on sale this weekend

Donut for Special Olympics

Cindy White

A donut tastes good just about any time, but it’s especially sweet when it’s helping support Special Olympics athletes.

Tim Hortons is launching a limited-edition #ChooseToInclude donut that goes on sale this weekend.

All the proceeds raised through sales of the colourful baked treats will be donated to Special Olympics Canada, to support athletes and coaches like Kelowna’s Tony and David Wilkinson.

“We really appreciate them. They’ve been a long-term, great sponsor for Special Olympics. They help us be able to run our programs and get our athletes out for competitions, which is life-changing for our athletes that we do have in Special Olympics,” explained David.

The funding will go towards supporting Special Olympics athletes as they start to return to year-round, in-person programs that offer vital friendships, connections, and healthy activity.

Tony would have been at the winter games in Kazan, Russia right now but they’ve been postponed to 2023 because of the pandemic. Instead, he’s training for a regional competition next month.

“Right now I am training for Russia and I’m going for snowshoeing, once again, to my second World Games. I’m really excited for that, and I’m looking forward to it.” said Tony.

Don’t wait to sink your teeth into these Special Olympics donuts. They’re on sale from Friday, January 28 until Sunday, January 30 at participating Tim Hortons, while supplies last.

“They’re actually available a little bit longer this year. We have them for a three day period and 100 per cent of the proceeds go to the Special Olympics,” explained Tim Hortons store owner Lori Olsvik.


Kelowna woman is hoping the public can help find her missing ring

Help find missing ring

A Kelowna woman is hoping the public can help find her ring after it went missing at a local nail salon last week.

Paytyn Harvey said she lost her ring on Jan. 20 around 7 p.m. near Exotic Nails and Spa.

She said the ring, which was hooked onto her keychain, came loose and fell. Harvey noted that the ring may have fallen inside or when she was outside the nail salon.

Harvey went back to the salon after noticing it had been missing, but unfortunately did not find it.

The ring is oval shaped with a diamond and a halo with smaller diamonds around it and a silver band.

Harvey says she is heartbroken after losing her ring and is asking if anyone spots it to call her at 250-258-7626.

Liberal leadership candidate in twitter feud after letter supporting truck convoy and denouncing extension of vaccine passports

MLA in new Twitter feud

A new Twitter battle has erupted between Kelowna-Mission MLA and BC Liberal leadership hopeful Renee Merrifield and former Liberal MLA and current talk show host Jas Johal.

Johal, in a nine-point rant, took exception to Merrifield's Twitter post seeking support for her leadership campaign.

In the lengthy letter, Merrifield threw her support behind the truckers convoy heading to Ottawa and disagreed with the province's decision to extend the vaccine passport until at least June 1.

"The truckers rally currently driving across Canada is what happens when politicians have lost sight of common sense solutions, and have turned instead to divisive language," she wrote in part, saying truckers have kept the supply chains open throughout the pandemic.

"And (Tuesday) when the vaccine passports were extended to June 1, I wondered why?

"At a time when polls are showing one-third of British Columbians are struggling with their mental health because of COVID-19, and one-quarter report being depressed, why wouldn't we look to reduce restrictions and allow people to be together again?"

Johal, who last year also lashed out at Merrifield for comments about the NDP's lack of diversity, called the email irresponsible for anyone running for the leadership of the BC Liberal party.

He said the convoy is not representative of the trucking industry or the broader Canadian population.

"Ms. Merrifield joins Conservative MP’s, in playing footsie, with a fringe movement of anti-vaxxers, and anti-establishment types," he wrote.

"Already reports show people online are calling the trucker convoy Canada’s version of the U.S. Capitol insurrection and for the truckers to ram their trucks into Parliament, and people encouraging the hanging of politicians."

He also said health officials have stated unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to require hospitalization and 27 times more likely to require intensive care.

"Whoever wins the leadership race, must never let Ms. Merrifield near the Health portfolio ever again," wrote Johal.

Merrifield reached out to supporters, thanking them for their support over the past 24 hours, while lashing out at Johal.

"It’s attitudes like this that discourage good people from public service. No wonder our province & country are in trouble. Political debate on policy is fair game. Unprovoked attacks without accountability cross the line. Sorry you disagree.

"This is the third time this media personality has taken a run at me, and made disparaging remarks about my character. I’ve never spoken to this “man.” Despite repeated offers to speak him about his unprovoked attacks, he has not once returned my call."

The BC Liberals will elect a new leader Feb. 5.

Unvaccinated Central Okanagan teachers will not have to pay for weekly tests under planned mandate

Vax mandate next steps

Meetings will be held over the coming days to decide how to implement a vaccine mandate for staff in Central Okanagan schools after the elected board approved the idea Wednesday night.

The BC Public School Employers Association has reached letters of agreement with the BC Teachers Federation and CUPE and now the details have to be ironed out with local union representatives.

“We’re going to go through that process in the next couple of days,” said Kevin Kaardal, Superintendent of Schools/CEO-School District 23. “Part of that means that there’s another grace period for people to decide whether they want to get vaccinated, test, or take a leave from their position.

“What’s great is that no one loses their job. There’s also choice within this agreement to choose to come to work, continue working, as long as you’re part of a regular testing program organized by the district in compliance with a federal government testing program, I believe,” he adds.

The tests would be provided for free from the federal government, but the school district would incur costs related to administering the testing program.

Details on the federal test kits are still being worked out, but during Wednesday’s meeting, Kaardal reassured Central Okanagan Teachers Association President Susan Bauhart that, under the mandate, the weekly testing for unvaccinated staff would not be done using tests from another program for teachers recently announced by the province.

Bauhart said she’s been hearing a lot of concerns about how many students and staff are coming down with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but yet most teachers can’t get tested under current public health guidelines.

“You just look around. This person’s away, that person’s away. And running a program in a classroom when you’ve got this group of kids away one day and the next few days it’s a different group, it’s challenging. People’s nerves are shot. They’re frayed, they’re frustrated," said Bauhart.

The COTA president also had several questions for the board after trustees approved the mandate Wednesday night.

She wanted to know the date when employees must be vaccinated, if there will be medical exemptions allowed, how privacy provisions will be dealt with, and whether there will be an end date for when employees have to decide if they will take unpaid leave.

The letters of agreement between BCPSEA, the BCTF and CUPE Presidents’ Council are set to expire June 30, 2022.

The superintendent is confident the local unions will work with SD 23 to implement the mandate.

“I’m going to be an optimist. We’re going to get co-operation and move forward in a good way and really be able to give our employees choice about how they respond,” said Kaardal.

Kelowna bylaw officers intervened after garbage began piling up in city laneway

Cleaning up trash heap

Tenants of a home on Martin Street in Kelowna got off with a warning after allowing open garbage to pile up on a lane behind their property.

Castanet was alerted to the problem by a neighbour who said the garbage had been piling up for a number of weeks, causing a health hazard.

Paul Markowski said the garbage was attracting rats to the area, and bothered his young daughter when they would go outside.

He says garbage collection wouldn't touch the open garbage during their weekly collection runs.

Markowski said he contacted bylaws on a few occasions, but turned to Castanet when the problem wasn't resolved.

City bylaw manager Ken Hunter told Castanet News Thursday afternoon the tenants are in the process of cleaning up the mess.

"This is certainly an offence against the good neighbour bylaw, and something that shouldn't be tolerated," said Hunter.

"By the picture you sent me, it's a gross offence, and something that shouldn't be going on in our city anywhere.

"There are all kinds of offences...you're aware council just put in an attractant to wildlife bylaw."

COVID-19 outbreak at KGH declared over after 16 cases, one death

KGH outbreak declared over

The latest COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital has been declared over, after 16 people contracted the virus and one person died.

The outbreak was declared on Jan. 11 in Unit 3W, which is a surgical unit.

Eight staff members and eight patients contracted the virus over the past two weeks, and one of these 16 people died.

The local hospital has dealt with several outbreaks throughout the pandemic.

With the latest KGH outbreak declared over, there remains COVID outbreaks at 11 long-term care homes and one assisted living facility in the Interior.

Of the 62 active healthcare facility outbreaks across the province, 11 are in acute care facilities like hospitals.

Real estate firm plunges into Okanagan Lake in support of mental health

Plunge for mental health

Madison Erhardt

A group from Venture Commercial Realty took the plunge into chilly Okanagan Lake Wednesday in support of mental health.

Miriam Halpenny, the creative team lead for Venture Commercial, says the idea came together as a way to help support the community.

In 2021, the team did the dip and raised a total of $700 for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna.

"This year we had a little bit more time to plan so we wanted to do it again. We are hoping it is going to be an annual thing now. We challenged some other community members and others who worked on Bernard Ave. and we got a group of 14 people to jump in with us," Halpenny said.

To date, this year's polar bear dip has raised a little over $1,000.

"It was my first time doing a polar dip and it was honestly quite terrifying. I think jumping in was more fun than trying to get out. It was bone-chilling. I couldn't even move my muscles."

Although a little scared to brave the cold, Halpenny says it was all worth it.

"Everyone knows right now with the pandemic it is really important to raise awareness about mental health, especially right now. I think people are just feeling really tired of social isolation. That is a big thing that contributes to mental health."

"We just really wanted people to know it is OK to talk about it because there is still that stigma around it. We wanted to get out there and raise awareness for the great things that CMHA does," Halpenny added.

CMHA Kelowna provides support for families and individuals through programs that promote positive mental health and support recovery. To donate, click here.

Four-in-ten Thompson-Okanagan kids aged 5-11 vaccinated

40% of kids vaccinated

Roughly four in ten children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the Thompson-Okanagan have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Child vaccine uptake rates vary wildly across B.C. since the shot started being offered to kids in early December.

Parts of Vancouver and Victoria are reporting uptake rates as high as 75% while other regions — the Peace in northern B.C. and Kettle Valley in the southern interior — have yet to crack the 20% mark.

Here is a list of child vaccination rates for communities in the Thompson-Okanagan, as of Jan. 25.

  • Penticton - 46%
  • Kamloops - 45%
  • Central Okanagan - 44%
  • Summerland - 42%
  • Vernon - 41%
  • Oliver/Osoyoos - 34%
  • Princeton - 34%
  • Salmon Arm - 31%
  • Keremeos - 30%
  • Grand Forks - 30%
  • Merritt - 25%
  • Armstrong/Spallumcheen - 24%
  • North Thompson - 23%
  • Enderby - 22%

The highest child vaccination rates in the BC Interior are in Trail and Kimberley (54%). Vaccine coverage percentages for children are climbing steadily week by week.

Vaccination rates for those 12+ are around 90% for most of the large centres in the Thompson-Okanagan.

The risk of severe illness for children who catch COVID-19 is very low. From the start of the pandemic until Jan. 11, there have been 72 hospitalizations in the age group in 21,240 confirmed cases.

“What we are seeing is that five-to-11-year-olds, thankfully, remain at low risk of severe disease, but the number of children being hospitalized because of infections has gone up, as the number of infections has gone up across our communities," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Jan. 25.

“In addition, we have new and reassuring real-world safety data from millions and millions of young children who have been protected through vaccination."

For those parents awaiting invitations to book their child's second dose, Henry offered assurance that B.C.'s Get Vaccinated system will be sending those invites.

Want to get your child vaccinated?

In order to be vaccinated, five-to-11-year-olds must first be registered in B.C.'s Get Vaccinated system, after which time an invitation will be sent (by text or email) to book an appointment.

You can find all the information online at B.C.'s pediatric vaccine webpage, or call the central vaccination line at 1-833-838-2323.

with files from Vancouver is Awesome

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