MSP extends to temporary residents for COVID-19 related claims

MSP expands to cover virus

Temporary foreign workers, international students and all uninsured patients in British Columbia will now have immediate access to MSP coverage for COVID-19 related claims.

Grassroots organization Sanctuary Health member Omar Chu says they are thrilled with the B.C. Government’s recent decision, as they've been lobbying for the Ministry of Health to make the changes for a long time. 

Many private insurers are not offering COVID-related care for temporary foreign workers, and therefore the Ministry felt it was essential to make MSP accessible for everyone to get that care, says Chu. 

"We were extremely worried for many people who were uninsured, who didn’t know what to do if they were to need healthcare during this time... there was an initial sense of confusion about what this means and will people have care? Certainly, there was some relief that a stream that has been built for uninsured people, but we’re still committed to fighting to make sure that actually works for people and that they actually have the care that they need."

The new COVID-19 stream means that if someone who is uninsured is directed by 811 or another medical professional to get COVID-related care, the province will cover those medical expenses.

There will be no coverage for any care not directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which Sanctuary Health wants to see changed. 

"We're calling for full coverage for people who are currently uninsured because it shouldn’t be on medical professionals to be considering what’s COVID-related care or not. They don’t have time to do that - they just need to make the best decision."

Chu says this must be taken into consideration, as well as questions like whether patients are covered for conditions that could decrease their immunity to COVID or place an extra burden on the hospital system during this time.

"For example, someone comes in with asthma - is treating the asthma that considered COVID-related care? Because if they were to receive COVID later, it would impact their chances. It's not clear." 

The three-month wait period for access to MSP in British Columbia has also been waived, ensuring that workers who have just arrived in Canada or been here less than three months can get immediate access to care.

"It looks like for as long as the province considers this a crisis they will waive the three-month wait period and provide people care upon arrival. We hope that continues, and we will push for that to continue beyond the current crisis because we don’t think it’s a good policy."

UBC infectious disease specialist Dr. Srinivas Murthy, who is leading a national research effort to improve clinical management of COVID-19, says this is a step in the right direction. 

“There is no ‘us’ against ’them’ in a pandemic. As B.C. and the world try to control the spread and mitigate the effects of COVID-19, it is vital for us to understand that our health is dependent on each other. Barriers to healthcare, especially for vulnerable populations, only increase risk.

"Covering COVID-19 related care is a good step forward but it should not stop there. It is important for preventative and primary care to be accessible to everyone too," Murthy said. 


Penticton youth getting creative in time of crisis

Kids helping out in crisis

Dale Cory

Penticton’s youth are doing their part to make the world a better place.

As the planet struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, local initiatives have all of us feeling better about the future, and giving us reason to smile.

The heart hunt was organized by Total Restoration, and asked people to put hearts in their windows, encouraging people to drive around and view the creativity. Cherilynn Bull and her young children decided to participate. 

“We’re doing it for the community so that everyone who is in self-isolation can drive around and look for the hearts and do something fun,” said Cherilynn.

“We all painted this, but my mommy drew the lines for me,” offered up four-year-old Heidi, pointing to the hearts on their window.

“This one says ‘Stay Strong’, and this one says ‘Stay Home’,” added Cherilynn. “We want everyone to stay home so this COVID goes away.”

While Heidi is excited about painting hearts, another Penticton youth has formed her own business, and providing random acts of kindness for residents.

Lola Latchford has been making bracelets, then hiding them around Penticton for people to find.

Accompanying the bracelet is the following note.

“My name is Lola. I’m 10 years old. I started my business a year ago. I just want to make people happy. If you find one of my bracelets it means, pass on the kindness.”

And now, Lola is getting return notes from the new owners of one of her personally crafted bracelets.

“This made my day, and that this made them happy,” said the Gr. 5 student at Uplands Elementary, reading from a note a bracelet recipient wrote online.

“Because of what’s happening around the world right now, I just want people to know we’re all in this together,” Lola explained.

All this makes for one proud mother.

“I think what she is doing is wonderful,” said Lindsey Schoenne. “It gives her the confidence she needs as she is a really shy kid. A little girl making a big impact, and it sure makes me a proud mom.” 

In the meantime, make sure you take a close look behind park benches and trees — you just may find one of Lola's bracelets!

West Kelowna residents irked by lack of virus location information

Residents demand more info

West Kelowna residents are upset with B.C. health officials for not doing more to alert the communities where COVID-19 cases have been identified.

Greg Ingram reached out to Castanet after reading our story on 75 Bylands workers self-isolating, "it's kind of like putting death at your doorstep, except, here is there and nobody even tells you."

Castanet has been inundated with messages from other readers concerned about the situation.

"Where did the infected people go and who did they have contact with?" asked West Kelowna resident Nancy Johnson "I am absolutely sickened by this."

Dr. Henry described the West Kelowna situation as the B.C.'s "large community outbreak" of COVID-19.

"Interior Health became aware of a number of the workers there with respiratory illness, and a number of them have tested positive for COVID-19," Henry said. "The business itself is being quarantined and everybody is able to be isolated effectively in the housing – the very good housing – that is on-site there."

She said the infected workers have had very little contact with the community since coming to Canada and had mostly stayed on the nursery property.

The announcement Tuesday also marked a departure for Dr. Henry who has in the past avoided naming the communities where COVID-19 patients are located, with the exception of outbreaks in care homes. Health authorities have also sent out a handful of notices advising the public of cases where the patient may have come in contact with others, like at a pharmacy.

Ingram tells Castanet he was deeply offended that "there was so many cases right in my neighbourhood and I wasn't told" prior to 14 cases being confirmed Tuesday.

"I believe the local community should have been told earlier."

Ingram says he is not taking exception to temporary foreign workers, rather his beef is with the practice of withholding virus location information. In Alberta, the province has provided the public with an interactive map that includes virus counts in different portions of cities. Ontario has provided patient's ages and public health unit.

In response to questions about the policy, Dr. Henry said Tuesday “this is not a non-disclosure policy. This is how we do business in terms of public health.” 

Dr. Henry and Interior Health, which covers a vast portion of the province, indicate the policy is meant to encourage people across B.C., particularly in small communities, to assume COVID-19 is everywhere and to take proper precautions.

"This is not about protecting people’s privacy, necessarily — although that is obviously an important consideration. It’s about risk to the public and understanding where that risk is, and the measures we all need to take right now in our communities across the province," Dr. Henry said.

Ingram complains, "Interior Health is a huge, huge region, very diverse geographically. I live in Lakeview Heights, not far from Bylands and my job requires me to travel throughout the Okanagan. If I knew there were a whole bunch of cases in a certain community, obviously I wouldn't go there."

Ingram says these days he's not working. The only time he leaves the house is to get groceries, "I'm sure those temporary foreign workers had to get groceries too, how do I know I'm not going to the exact same grocery store that they used?"


Kamloops school district offering online tools for parents at home

Tools for parents at home

In an effort to help parents staying at home with their children, School District 73 is regularly uploading tools and ideas to its website.

A specific parent resources page has been created, and Supt. Alison Sidow is hoping parents will check it often because it's being updated regularly. Included are lists of activities, virtual tours of museums, ways to keep kids active indoors and links to online educational entertainment.

"We're updating that frequently," Sidow tells Castanet. "There's also information on managing anxiety in children."

"It can be very stressful in some homes."

She adds the school district's meal program started on Monday; it provides food to children identified as needing support.

"We're doing everything we can to provide resources for families," she says.

Quarantined seniors beg for help for pooch's potty problem

Seniors plea for help

A retired Peachland couple, newly returned from the United States, are living in self-quarantine in their seniors' apartment complex on 6th Street.

Bruce and Bonnie Williams tell Castanet they have no problem self-quarantining but are having problems taking their dog out so it can do its business.

"We don't care if we don't go out, we are having groceries delivered and we've got lots of booze. We're fine with it, but we can't stop our dog's bodily functions," said Bruce.

Bruce says they got back from California last Friday and received a phone call from the police on Saturday acting on a complaint from someone who saw them walking the dog. "I said, 'are you gonna arrest me? 'They said 'no, we just want to find a solution.'"

They haven't had another call from the police since Saturday, but on Wednesday morning, after another complaint they called Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin to ask for advice.

"She said she'd see if there was a solution that we haven't thought of, but we feel like we're between a rock and a very hard place, we're getting harassed daily."

Bonnie Williams says she is a retried ICU nurse, is taking self-isolation seriously after returning to Canada on March 24 with no symptoms.

Bonnie says the dog is 12 years old and won't go out with anyone else, nor will the dog go on the balcony. "We practise social distancing and wear a mask and gloves. Now our apartment manager has called the police and the mayor is getting involved...please! Should we shoot the dog? I am at my wit's end!"

Bruce echoes his wife's words and says they don't know what to do and are open to any ideas, "if anybody's got a solution, please let us know."

Some local restaurants are making take-out and delivery work

Making take-out food work

A couple Kelowna restaurants are finding some success with their take-out and delivery options.

Last month, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered the closure of in-house dining at all B.C. restaurants, due to lack of physical distancing available. As a result, some local restaurants have temporarily closed, while others have tried shifting their business model to solely take out and delivery through services like Skip the Dishes and DoorDash.

Jack's Pizza & Liquor and Salt & Brick, which share ownership, teamed up last weekend, offering food and alcohol to go. And so far, so good.

“It's obviously not as good as being open could be, but Friday night was really good, Saturday night was really solid and Sunday night was way better than our last Sunday,” said Brian Atkinson, general manager at Jack's.

“When Salt & Brick came over, that was a big change for us. Chef James Holmes (at Salt & Brick) is well known in this community, and some of his staples, like the Brussels sprouts, the Smash Burger, mac and cheese, heirloom roasted carrots, people go to Salt & Brick for those items.”

Jack's and Salt & Brick were forced to lay off most of their staff last month, as did most restaurants in town. Atkinson said they've been operating with one chef and one front-of-house staff member, on a rotating basis, while they're opened for delivery and pickup Wednesday through Sunday.

“Because there is no real other alternative, this is viable and we've got to just keep pushing forward with that,” he said.

Last weekend, the restaurants saw about 60 per cent of their sales as deliveries. Atkinson says he expects more deliveries moving forward, as people become more used to self isolating.

Last month, the provincial government temporarily amended the Liquor Control Act to allow liquor deliveries from restaurants, but the alcohol is not allowed to be pre-mixed into cocktails. Atkinson say they're working to put together to-go cocktail kits that abide by the new rules and he's hoping to have them ready for this coming weekend.

“Keep supporting local,” he said. “Supporting the community and independent business is going to go a long way to having these businesses around when everything goes back to the way it was.”

Safeway implements one-way aisle traffic to limit contact

One-way grocery traffic

Grocery stores are taking measures to protect their staff and customers.

As panic shopping fills stores more than ever, Vernon grocery stores are among those implementing new steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

At the Vernon Square Safeway, a new one-way aisle system has gone into effect to help with social distancing.

And at Superstore, plexiglass barriers have gone up between the cashiers and customers.

At Walmart, staff were seen wiping down shopping carts with disinfectant on the weekend.

Shoppers in all three locations appeared to be courteous in keeping their distance from one another.

Several local stores have taped lines on the floor at the checkouts to stop people from crowding.

In a statement shared on Safeway parent company Sobeys' website and social media, CEO Michael Medline said:

"The world is facing an issue of enormous scale and uncertainty. It has never been more important for our company to ensure the safety and support of our customers, teammates and communities.

"We view our stores as an essential service. We are working around the clock to serve you. In the 113-year history of our parent company, we’ve never seen so many customers visit our stores. That makes sense. Canadians have never faced anything like the coronavirus outbreak before. And the first thing anyone thinks about in uncertain times is keeping their loved ones safe. I have great confidence in the incredibly robust grocery and food supply chain in Canada. We are working hard to keep our shelves stocked in the face of unprecedented demand for products."

The company is also installing plexiglass cashier shields across the country, and has reduced store hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to allow more time for extra sanitization and restocking. Staff are also asked to wash their hands every 15 minutes.

"I’m incredibly proud of our 123,000 teammates across our family of brands. Their efforts over the last few weeks have been incredible, and we know there is much more hard work ahead," said Medline.

Several other stores have also instituted early shopping hours for seniors and the health compromised only, including Save-On-Foods, London Drugs, Shoppers Drug Mart and more.

Kamloops real estate market showing signs of COVID-19 impact

COVID-19 hits real estate

The Kamloops and District Real Estate Association (KADREA) is reporting that despite a strong start last month, the impact of COVID-19 was felt in the market before March's end.

In the end, the month was about even to March 2019, according to KADREA president Wendy Runge. Last month's data kept the year-to-date stats ahead of 2019's pace.

However, the current trends show a slowing marketplace, with a 10 per cent drop in new homes up for sale when compared to March 2019.

"COVID-19 is currently having a dramatic impact on the real estate market, as it is in many other sectors, and this is likely to persist for some time," Runge writes in a press release. "Demand for real estate remains strong but most sales models are now forecasting a drop of anywhere from five per cent to 20 per cent (of sales) for this year depending on how long this pandemic lasts."

March 2019 and March 2020 were fairly even when it comes to prices, with an average single-family home increasing 1.2 per cent to $494,990. 

To slow the spread of COVID-19, Runge encourages potential home buyers to virtually tour houses.

YMCA of Okanagan now offering online classes, support groups

YMCA online classes

YMCA of Okanagan is offering a variety of online services to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the YMCA we pride ourselves on always being there for the communities we serve,” says YMCA of Okanagan CEO Sharon Peterson. “We are committed to supporting individuals with their health goals, which include providing resources for their mental, physical and emotional health during this pandemic." 

"We are all trying to adjust to a new normal and it has not been easy for most. Our commitment to you, is that we will continue to provide opportunities for you and your family to stay connected and active throughout this difficult time.” 

The online fitness classes include Y Thrive Home which has a variety of options for all ages.

“This is an excellent free online platform to help keep all of us healthy and active,” says Peterson. “Everyone is welcome and workouts are tailored for all levels and audiences including adults, families, kids and seniors.”

YMCA of Okanagan has also launched live classes on Facebook and Instagram.

“Our first Facebook live class saw nearly 80 people in attendance,” says Peterson. “Facebook and Instagram live classes provide a great virtual alternative for those who enjoy the group participation and community feeling that our regular group fitness classes provide." 

"We will be offering a few regular classes to start, with a goal of adding more options to our virtual fitness class schedule as demand grows. Between our live classes and Y Thrive Home videos we have something for every age and ability.”

All classes can be found here.

YMCA has also launched the YMCA Early Years Community Facebook group which offers educational resources and live sessions for families with kids up to six-years-old. Live sessions include story times, songs, crafts and other activities for at home.

YMCA's Career Development Services is now virtual as well, providing free online group services for individuals 16 to 30-years-old. Through phone, email and video chat, the services will help those who are struggling with their job search. It will offer help to enhance personal, educational and employment opportunities.  

Okanagan College passes 2020-2021 budget virtually

New $126M budget unveiled

Okanagan College has passed a $126.8 million budget for the coming year, despite the challenging circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board approved the budget on Tuesday, gathering virtually through an online meeting platform instead of meeting in person. 

Board president Jim Hamilton says OC intend to continue offering as many of its learning programs at all four major campuses, despite the changes they've had to make due to the pandemic. 

“The very nature of the meeting drove home the fact that circumstances are changing rapidly. We fully recognize the budget was passed as a starting place while the uncertainty associated with the pandemic resolves itself.

"We intend to continue to offer as many of those as possible."

The budget was pre-set before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and before colleges and universities throughout British Columbia cancelled classes or moved to online learning. 

OC vice-president of employee and corporate services Curtis Morcom says they will continue to monitor the situation going forward, and make necessary adjustments. 

“In the last three weeks things have changed dramatically and we cannot precisely forecast how these changed circumstances will affect our operations, especially revenue and expenses. There are uncertainties about how long the current situation will last and about what it will do to enrolments or costs. We have been and will be monitoring the impact on operations and will be adjusting expenditures accordingly.”

A group of West Kelowna residents play car hide and seek

COVID car hide and seek

For those who are struggling to make human connections during the COVID-19 pandemic, the outdoor game of 'COVID Car Hide and Seek' might be the perfect fix.

West Kelowna's Julie Pringle was intrigued after hearing the idea from a friend so she decided to invite her friends and family to participate in a game of their own.

Everyone who participated stayed in their own vehicles with their household members for the entire game, to follow proper social distancing practices. 

"I get my energy from other people and everybody's in the same boat," says Pringle. "It just kept everyone engaged and happy and kept their mind off of all this serious stuff."

The group of 10 cars met at one location with different coloured flags attached to their antennas. Before the game started, everyone downloaded WhatsApp onto their phones, to make it easy for people to group chat.

"You have to have a designated person in your car, obviously it's not the driver doing the active texting," says Pringle.

Once the game starts, the car that is 'IT' drives off to find a hiding spot. Once hidden, the 'IT' car texts the group chat with a clue on their whereabouts. After the clue is sent out, the 'IT' car sets a timer for 10 minutes.

If the 'IT' car is not found within the first 10 minutes, they must send out another clue and turn on their hazard lights, to make it easier for someone to find them. To keep the game going, the maximum time for one round is 20 minutes.

The first car to find the 'IT' car is the next car to hide. All vehicles will collect at that location before the next car goes to hide.

"I would say we did this in about a three kilometre radius with 10 cars," says Pringle. "It was moms, dads and kids and it was people within our community." 

Each time a group finds the 'IT' car they get a point. If the 'IT' car is not found within the 20 minute time allowance, they get one point.

"I think it's great, I encourage people to try it. Just make sure you're not speeding, some of the parents get a little competitive and excited," says Pringle.

City of Kamloops seeking new housing solutions during pandemic

City looking for shelters

The City of Kamloops is considering municipal facilities and parks as shelter for the city's homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release, the city states administration has been in discussion with BC Housing, Interior Health and social agencies about how to support vulnerable populations during the global crisis. This includes people experiencing homelessness, under-housed people, people with complex care needs, and people with mental health and substance use needs.

“We’re focused on the safety and health of all residents of our community,” Mayor Ken Christian says in the release. “We know that this population is particularly vulnerable to infection and may not have the ability to follow best practices for prevention or treatment on their own.”

Given that shelter for the homeless often requires individuals to sleep in close quarters, the province is working on solutions that would help limit the spread of COVID-19.

"These solutions include identifying alternative locations for shelter residents that allow for proper physical distancing as well as the isolation of high-risk or symptomatic individuals," states the city in the release.

City staff are now looking at city facilities and parks as possible shelter sites.

“This is an unprecedented time in our community, and it’s not business as usual,” says Christian. “Our primary objective at this point is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and minimize its impact on our community.”

More Coronavirus articles

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Map
COVID-19 Okanagan Community Resources

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