Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Fernie area declared community COVID-19 cluster by Interior Health

81 cases have been identified since Jan. 1

Interior Health (IH) has declared a community cluster in the Fernie area as of Wednesday Jan. 27.

81 new cases have been identified in the local health area since January 1, while 63 are currently active.

“This week, contact tracing confirms new cases of COVID-19 where people are reporting higher numbers of close contacts which contributes to increased community spread and heightened concern,” said Dr. Albert De Villiers, Interior Health chief medical health officer.

“Declaring this cluster today allows us to continue working together in Fernie while strengthening our collective response.”

IH said that no single location or event is tied to the majority of cases, as they primarily appear to be associated with local social gatherings.

“These events are a significant concern and all residents are reminded to refrain from contact outside your immediate household and seek COVID-19 testing at the first sign of symptoms.”

IH reminded locals in the area to follow precautions, “and not stigmatize or judge others who seek testing or test positive for COVID-19.”

The Fernie local health area is defined as the region served by the Elk Valley Hospital (in Fernie), including all the Elk Valley and South Country.

Speaking with The Free Press, Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza said the COVID-19 cases currently in Fernie and surrounding communities are the result of community transmission and not out-of-province travel.

“Interior Health has informed me that currently the data suggests our numbers are actually based on community transmission, and not inter provincial travel. I know this is not what people want to hear, but community transmission right now is our largest threat,” said Qualizza.

She said that while B.C. Premier John Horgan has ruled out restrictions on inter-provincial travel, “we need to start talking non-essential travel.

“The premier said he is prepared to impose stronger restrictions on non- essential travellers, right now there has been zero clarification on what those restrictions would look like, and more importantly how they would be enforced.”

Qualizza said that given the uptick in local cases, she had “no reason to expect anything other than another extention” to provincial health orders discouraging travel.

As mayor of a resort municipality popular with tourists from Alberta, Qualizza said she hoped the winter season was not a wash.

“We need to work as a community to get those numbers back down,” she said.

“The declaration of a community cluster allows Interior Health to report on community-specific numbers. Fernie Local Health Authority numbers will be reported more frequently now until the cluster is deemed resolved.

“Cases locally are linked to a variety of social events and household transmission; we need everyone to reduce their potential of exposure by staying home and avoiding any unnecessary activities in the community.”

The next update from IH on the Fernie area cluster will be Friday, Jan. 29.

More to come…

READ MORE: Interior Health declares COVID-19 outbreak at Teck’s Elk Valley operations over



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