COVID-19 cases surging across the border south of Osoyoos - InfoNews

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COVID-19 cases surging across the border south of Osoyoos

COVID-19 cases are spiking just across the Osoyoos border as Washington's Okanogan County leads the state in per capita COVID numbers.
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August 06, 2020 - 7:30 AM

It may be limiting summer fun and summer travel opportunities but some sobering COVID-19 statistics in Washington State are making for a continued case for a closed border, especially in the Okanagan Valley.

The Washington side of the valley in Okanogan County, just south of the Osoyoos border crossing, is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the easing of phase one restrictions in the United States.

According to a recent state department health report, the Washington State county had less than 25 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people until June 24, but is now the county with the highest number of cases per capita in Washington State, with 892 per 100,000.

Okanogan County has a population of just over 42,000, around the size of the City of Vernon.

As of Aug. 4, the county reported 795 cases of COVID-19 and 8 deaths, with 283 cases in the past two weeks alone.

That compares with Interior Health statistics of 377 cases and two deaths for a population of 742,000 here in British Columbia.

Interior Health’s catchment area is 216,000 km², compared to Okanogan County’s 13,766 km².

In B.C.'s part of the Okanagan valley, (population 362,000) the B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported 252 cases of COVID-19 to July 30.

Canadian cross-border shoppers anxious to return to Okanogan County for day-trips might be less anxious when they see the numbers of COVID-19 infections in some of the small but popular communities. Eleven Kilometers south of Osoyoos, Oroville, for example, (population 1,700), has 30 positive cases. Omak, another shopping hot spot  77 kilometres south of Osoyoos (population 4,800) has 112 positive cases.

Okanogan County Public Health Department Community Health Director Lauri Jones says the county was “really late getting our first COVID-19 positive” coming around the end of March.

She says in the last month the county received adequate testing supplies and have since done a five-day mass community testing blitz in parts of the county.

Jones says some concerns in Brewster, an agricultural area in the southern part of the county, arose after testing down there revealed 485 cases.

The town has a population of 2,364 residents.

“We haven’t done such widespread testing in the Omak-Okanogan area, or the Oroville-Tonasket area, which we hope to do in the next few weeks,” she says. "We know the numbers look horrible. Ever since our government allowed us to go to phase two it’s like the floodgates opened."

She believes people resumed activities that were still somewhat restricted and many people just didn’t comply with the guidelines.

“We are concerned about that. We’re making pleas to our communities to not gather, work from home and make sure you wear a face covering and social distance when you can,” she says.

Jones says the positive cases are not restricted to any particular demographic.

“We’ve had eight deaths, two who were 30-something, and that is a concern. We are following this very carefully,” she says.

Jones says the county is working hard to keep from going backwards, but even so is now “way above the state average” for cases.

Plans are in the works for a social media campaign to try and unite everyone in a common goal to get through the pandemic.

At this stage, there are real fears schools won’t be able to open in September.

“At these rates, it doesn’t look promising. Then we're going to see the kids lose out,” she says.

Jones blames the sudden spike on a number of different things. The increased testing has alerted the health authority to more cases and the recent relaxing of restrictions to phase two resulted in many people thinking there wasn’t an issue anymore.

“It’s summer. People are used to being out, socializing in gatherings,” she says.

At the same time, Okanogan County became the destination to an influx of tourists with the reopening of the North Cascades Highway, a major summer route for visitors from the coast.

“Like you in Canada, we rely on tourism. People just paid no heed to the guidelines, and we are paying the price. The medical system is reaching capacity and there is a real fear of overburdening the health care system. People need to unite and do those non-medical interventions we’ve been harping on for so long,” she says.

“We began our testing in the south, and now we are set to test other places. I think we are going to come to the conclusion this is widespread, and there’s going to be a need to implement those things that would reduce the spread."

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