B.C. creating new COVID-19 isolation spaces for Victoria homeless

The B.C. government, in partnership with the City of Victoria and Island Health, is planning to create approximately 50 new spaces where people with COVID-19 can isolate if they are unsheltered.

Roughly 30 of the beds will be created in established shelters, while 20 more will be set up in a "pop up" space expected to open in early November.

The spaces will resemble the "pod" shelter spaces that were previously set up at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. In fact, some of those pods will be redeployed to existing shelters, if there is space for them.

"This will ensure that we have enough capacity for people who need a place to self-isolate or recover from COVID-19 even if we see a further increase in number," said British Columbia’s Attorney General and Minister for Housing David Eby at a live news conference Friday.

The spaces are intended for people with COVID-19 who may need medical support while isolating, but who do not require medical care, according to Island Health's chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick.

COVID-19 IN SUPPORTIVE HOUSING SHELTERS

"COVID-19 is present in all communities and all segments of communities on the island," said Stanwick on Friday.

He added that since Aug. 1, the island has confirmed more than 3,500 cases of COVID-19.

In September alone, hundreds of cases of COVID-19 were identified in Victoria’s supportive housing facilities

However, Stanwick says that clusters of the illness within supportive housing facilities do not pose a high risk to the broader community.

"The risk of COVID transmission from people who are unsheltered, or have unstable housing, to the general public is low," he said.

"These are different times from earlier waves," said Stanwick. "We have a largely vaccinated population and we know what works against this virus."

To reduce transmission in the unhoused community, Island Health is focusing on deploying outreach teams and training service partners to "meet people where they are."

The outreach teams are able to offer medical advice, medical referrals and personal protective equipment, such as masks, to people who may not normally seek medical care from traditional sources.

Island Health says it will not release where the new isolation spaces will be set up specifically to "respect the privacy" of those who are staying there.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says she's grateful for the coordination and work that the city has had with BC Housing and Island Health.

"As we stand here right now, if somebody has COVID-19 in the community and they are unhoused, there is an indoor space for them to stay 24/7 to self-isolate," she said.

The 50 self-isolation spaces will come online in the weeks to come and will likely be only partially occupied unless case clusters grow.

For now, Helps says isolation spaces are being assigned on a "triage" basis until more are available.