New weekly cases in Okanagan hit new high, but growth slowing

Weekly cases hit new high

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Okanagan continued to rise to unprecedented levels last week, but the rate of growth has slowed.

New geographical data released by the BC Centre for Disease Control Friday showed 414 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the Okanagan between April 9-15, the largest single-week rise in the region since the BC CDC began releasing the data in October.

Weekly case numbers have been rising rapidly across the province in the past month, including in the Interior, but the latest data shows that rise may be slowing slightly.

With 393 new cases identified in the Okanagan between April 2-8, the latest numbers show just a five per cent increase week over week. The week prior saw a 76 per cent jump in weekly cases in the Okanagan and the week before that saw a 45 per cent increase.

Elsewhere in the Interior, the Thompson-Caribou-Shuswap region saw new cases rise to 128, from 91 the week before. The Kootenay Boundary region remained somewhat stable with 39 new cases, and the East Kootenay region dropped to 59 new cases.

Across the entire Interior, active cases dropped for the first time in weeks on Friday, to 904 from 910 the previous day. There remains 23 people hospitalized with the virus in the Interior, 10 of whom are being treated in ICU.

Provincewide, there were actually 18 fewer new weekly cases between April 9 and 15 compared to the week prior, with 7,522 total cases. Total new weekly cases in B.C. have consistently risen since the beginning of February.

New cases have decreased in some of B.C.'s hot spot regions, like the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi region, which includes Whistler, along with the Northeast and the Vancouver regions.

It's been almost three weeks since Dr. Bonnie Henry implemented new health orders that shut down all indoor restaurant dining in the province. That order is expected to be extended on Monday.


Conservation officers investigating after drone seen harassing nesting eagles

Drone buzzes eagle nest

The BC Conservation Officer Service is investigating after a group of young people were seen flying a drone near a pair of nesting bald eagles on Knox Mountain Friday.

The incident occurred at about 7 p.m. in the Herbert Heights area of the park, on the west side of Knox.

“A group of six or seven youth were observed operating a drone chasing and harassing a pair of nesting bald eagles,” Conservation officer Ken Owens said in a statement.

“The bald eagles in this nesting area were extremely agitated by the proximity of the drone chasing them.”

Owens said the incident was a violation of B.C.'s Wildlife Act, which prohibits harassing wildlife with the use of a motor vehicle, aircraft, boat or other mechanical device. He added that such a violation can carry a maximum $100,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

“Wildlife are sensitive to disturbance, especially at certain times of the year — their mating seasons or when newborns are around,” Owens said. “The last thing they need is to be harassed by a drone.”

The Conservation Officer Service is looking for any information about Friday's incident. Those who witnessed it can call the Report All Poachers and Polluters hotline at 1-877-952-7277.

SD23 and teachers' union discuss COVID cases in school system

COVID-19 in the classroom

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.

While one Castanet reader said there were more than 100 people isolating at the Kelowna Secondary School due to COVID-19 exposures, the school's principal says this is simply not the case.

"At this time, we have fewer than 25 people isolating at Kelowna Secondary School," KSS principal Troy White told Castanet.

"We need to be cognizant and careful not to listen to rumours as this raises the anxiety of the entire school community. Such anxiety can negatively impacts mental health and learning."

White applauded the KSS community on their adherence to protocols during this unusual school year.

"Students and staff have been following our COVID-19 protocols extremely well and Kelowna Secondary School is a safe place," White said.

School District 23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal told Castanet that just because students are isolating at home, doesn't mean they're COVID-positive.

"They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution," he said. "One COVID-19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Last week, Provincial Health Officer said the data continues to show that B.C. schools are safe environments.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

As COVID-19 exposures surge within the Central Okanagan, school parents are asking why and what's being done.

Castanet continues to receive daily questions regarding exposures within School District 23. One anonymous question typifies the types of questions/statements we have received, "Kelowna Secondary School has so many COVID cases. There are over 100 people isolating and they make it seem like nothing."

The questions have made their way to B.C.'s top doctor. On Thursday Dr. Bonnie Henry referenced two studies in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions that showed that the limited transmission seen in schools does not appear to be driving transmission in the community.

Castanet reached out to SD23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal to gauge the school district's reaction to what appears to be increased cases in schools.

"Please remember that persons isolating are not infected. They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution. One COVID 19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Kaardal says SD23 works closely with Interior Health and takes their direction on exposure-response from the health authority.

"It is worrying that exposures are on the rise in the community and therefore in schools. I encourage everyone to follow public health advice to flatten the infection curve and to get vaccinated as soon as you are able and supply is available. As Dr. Bonnie Henry shared, schools have low rates of transmission. Schools continue to be safe places to be."

The Central Okanagan Teachers Union tends to agree with Kaardal's assessment. Union president Susan Bauhart says, "the only thing I can honestly say, safely, is that I do believe that the variants are here and have taken hold."

Bauhart says they are starting to hear that the school district is running out of teachers on-call, and are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for replacement teachers. "It's every day now. It's either repeats in schools or more schools added and it's spreading and it's spreading fast."

Bauhart says her members have expressed concern over the spread of COVID-19 variants and she has written a letter to Interior Health on behalf of her membership asking, "can you please get them vaccinated."

"I would really like to see everybody tested in some of these schools and then see what the real numbers are," says Bauhart. "I think it's pretty well known that B.C.'s testing is not up to the levels of other provinces, they haven't been testing as much."

It appears the province has been listening as Dr. Henry has said that school staff will be prioritized for vaccines in the coming weeks.

To date, no school-age children in B.C. have died from COVID-19, and about one in 200 people under 18 who become infected with the virus require hospitalization.


The northern lights were visible above Kelowna Friday night

Northern lights return

The northern lights made another appearance over the Central Okanagan Friday night and early Saturday morning.

After an Oyama photographer snapped some beautiful photos of the northern lights last month, the Aurora borealis reappeared above the Okanagan overnight.

This time, photographer Kei Diaz captured some photos of the phenomena from Old Vernon road, near the Kelowna International Airport. She took her photos between 11 p.m. and midnight.

The lights were also visible in the Lake Country area, while others as far away as Golden also caught a glimpse.

The northern lights are caused by disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere by solar wind. As the name would suggest, they're more commonly seen in high-latitude regions.

Kelowna aims to send a message to graffiti vandals with lawsuit

Lawsuit to 'send a message'

The City of Kelowna is hoping to “send a message” with two lawsuits filed this week against a pair of alleged prolific graffiti vandals.

While lawyers are expensive, the municipality spends about $350,000 a year dealing with graffiti, a crime the criminal justice system pays little attention to.

“These particular individuals are causing extensive damage to our community,” Kelowna crime prevention supervisor Colleen Cornock told Castanet on Friday.

The lawsuits allege Daniel Eide and Dylan Martinello are responsible for nearly 2,700 tags between them over the span of 16 years.

“In addition to cost recovery, the civil action is really about specific deterrence for these particular offenders, but also to send a message and public denunciation and general deterrence of graffiti vandalism,” Cornock said.

“What we are seeking to do is send a message that graffiti has a significant impact on our community and we are willing to pursue those options for recovery and the message that it sends.”

City council approved the lawsuit behind closed doors in July of last year.

Cornock said the city will be seeing where this civil claim lands, leaving the door open to similar lawsuits against prolific vandals if these claims pay off.

A criminal charge for mischief under $5,000 against Martinello was stayed by prosecutors last year. Charges were also pursued against Eide back in 2013. Cornock could not say why it was city lawyers and not provincial criminal prosecutors dealing with the file.

Cornock said graffiti impacts a community’s sense of safety, so they take it very seriously. She said the city has seen a 41 per cent increase in reported graffiti the first quarter of 2021 when compared to last year.

Kelowna seniors tricycling through the pandemic

Tricycling through COVID

Darlene and Allan Fischer have been riding bikes together for more than 40 years.

After Darlene had a fall on her bike, she no longer felt safe on the road.

But 84-year-old Allan was determined to bring her along on adventures.

“It wasn’t being used, and I thought, well we have to do something with it,” Allan said, referring to a tricycle that he has now retrofit by installing a second seat.

The Fischers say the tricycle rides have brought them a lot of joy during the pandemic.

“You get the fresh air, you get to see the animals and the birds, the people” said Darlene. “It isn’t depressing like sitting in the house all the time and watching TV. It’s just fantastic.”

With the pair out riding for hours at a time on occasion, Allan attached a motor to the bike last year.

“Now I can go anywhere,” Allan said.

“You meet people, everybody waves to me,” added Darlene.

The Fischers hope their story inspires others to get outside and get some exercise, no matter what age you are.

Planning to attend a farmers' market? if everyone follows the rules, you should be safe

Safety of farmers' markets

How safe are outdoor farmers' markets from the spread of COVID-19?

Very, if everyone follows the rules.

As farmers' markets begin opening up around the Southern Interior, questions have been raised concerning the safety of everyone involved, including vendors and shoppers.

During Thursday's weekly news briefing, Interior Health chief medical officer Dr. Albert de Villiers said there are always concerns, before adding a "but."

"Yes, we're always concerned when people start congregating together," he said.

"But, if people follow the plans, and these places are all supposed to submit a plan, I am confident you will be safe in that sense."

Markets are required to admit no more than 50 people inside at any one time. Masks are mandatory, physical distancing is required, and food sampling is not permitted at the present time.

Markets are also required to space vendor booths at least two metres apart. Many are controlling the flow of traffic with one-way movement.

Dr. de Villiers said it's when people start breaking those rules, congregate outside or in the parking lot, when issues crop up.

"No place will be open that hasn't been screened, and hasn't submitted a plan," he said.

Taxi driver discovers customer unresponsive in back of cab

Unresponsive in back of cab

A Kelowna taxi driver may have saved the life of a client on Friday afternoon.

Kelowna Cabs spokesperson Roy Paulson says a driver was taking a customer to the shelter at 550 Doyle Avenue on Friday and arrived at the destination as planned.

“The driver turned around to see if he needed to help the guy into the building and he was unresponsive,” Paulson said. “No life to him at all.”

The driver quickly phoned 911 and an ambulance rushed to the scene. Paulson said the paramedics told the driver the man was minutes from losing his life.

At this point it’s not clear what type of medical emergency the customer was having, but Paulson said driving a taxi can be an eventful job. “It was kind of a panic situation for [the driver].”

“Just some of the things, the challenges in our business and the things that we have to deal with.”

COVID-19 exposures reported at 3 more Central Okanagan schools

3 more school exposures

The Central Okanagan School District has announced three more COVID-19 exposure incidents in the region.

Coronavirus exposures were confirmed by IH on Friday at Rose Valley Elementary, Rutland Elementary and Rutland Senior Secondary.

Impacted students and staff are self-isolating at home with support from local public health teams. Interior Health follows up with anyone potentially exposed to a confirmed case directly through contact tracing.

“The safety and well-being of students, families, and staff remains our highest priority. Central Okanagan Public Schools will continue to implement the strict health and safety protocols and procedures that are in place so students and staff can continue to attend school as safely as possible,” the school district said.

There are currently 13 Central Okanagan schools with active COVID-19 exposures, according to Interior Health's website, which has been updated inconsistently.

City highlighting this year's infrastructure investments

City's 'high impact' projects

The City of Kelowna is highlighting a series of “high visibility and impact” infrastructure investments being made this year.

This year the municipality is spending $65M on infrastructure improvements and additions.

Projects include rehabilitation to the exterior of historic fire hall no. 2 downtown, various road and sidewalk re-surfacings, upgrades to the Lakeshore Road bridge and more.

“Infrastructure projects are typically associated with inconvenient traffic impacts or construction disturbance,” said Brian Beach, infrastructure manager. “But these projects are vital to maintaining or enhancing the public spaces, transportation networks and urban centres we all value.”

Park improvements include finishing touches at Rutland Centennial Park, which includes construction of a basketball court, paths and landscaping. A new washroom will be constructed for the park this fall.

Among many active transportation improvements is completion of the corridor along Ethel Street to Raymer Avenue, and will then be extended down to KLO Road. This corridor provides a safe pedestrian and cycling corridor between Pandosy and downtown.

An interactive map of the projects can be found here.

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