Early pandemic numbers weren’t officially captured in Sun Peaks

Sun Peaks Health Centre doctor says diagnosed cases don’t reflect how many cases the community saw 

File photo.

Sun Peaks was a “hotspot” for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. 

That statement doesn’t come from some know-it-all you met on the chairlift, but rather the community’s principal family physician. 

Dr. Shane Barclay of the Sun Peaks Community Health Centre said he feels the number of officially diagnosed cases in the community don’t reflect the extent of infections that took place at the start of the year. 

According to Barclay, there have only been five or six diagnosed cases in Sun Peaks. Interior Health, the public health agency responsible for keeping track of diagnosed cases for the southern Interior region does not release statistics for infections by specific community.

In April, Barclay ventured to gain a sense of how many cases there were in Sun Peaks, sending an email to patients asking if they had experienced any symptoms consistent with COVID-19. 

“I stopped collecting numbers at about 65 or 70 cases,” said Barclay.  

So what do the deluge of responses tell him? 

“It tells me Sun Peaks was a hotbed of COVID,” said Barclay.  

Barclay added that if you look historically, international travel tends to be a driver of pandemics. 

“We get people from all over the world here, which is why I had patients in early January that had high fever and coughs and problems with COVID back then,” he said. 

The same story has played out at other resorts around the world. Ski areas in the Tyrol area of Austria were home to significant outbreaks. The country’s public health agency has since said they believed there were cases as early as February, a month before the first tested cases were reported. 

Many staff who spent the season in Sun Peaks and returned to Australia, New Zealand and Europe after resorts suddenly shut down, reported testing positive when they were tested upon arriving home. 

Other residents reported to SPIN being told to quarantine with symptoms but testing was hard to obtain at the time. 

More recently in July, resident Emma Christy spoke out about catching the virus, at the same time a small number of residents also tested positive or were told to quarantine after exposure to a local employee with the virus. Sun Peaks Resort and local businesses successfully opened and welcomed regional visitors throughout the summer season without any pandemic-related issues. 

In a message to SPIN, Interior Health said the entire Kamloops Local Health Area (which includes Kamloops, Chase, Barriere and as far west as Logan Lake) has seen 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the health authority has not identified a significant outbreak in Sun Peaks. 

“We can say that no specific outbreaks or clusters have been identified for Sun Peaks,” wrote a spokesperson for Interior Health. “The entire Kamloops Local Health Area has had 60 confirmed cases.” 

According to provincial statistics from Oct. 6, Interior Health has seen 548 diagnosed cases of COVID-19. This compares to 9,739 in the province, with Fraser Health (at 4,980) and Vancouver Coastal Health (at 3,580) being the hardest hit.  

There have been 242 deaths in the province. 

Barclay said he would have liked to conduct much more testing at the beginning of the pandemic, but was unable to acquire tests early on.   

“All of it comes back to the world, not just B.C., being completely unprepared for a pandemic,” said Barclay.

Canada has seen over 168,000 cases and over 9,500 deaths related to COVID-19, as of Oct. 6.