UPDATE 1:15 p.m.
Interior Health says it has been unable to positively confirm the source of the Bylands Nurseries COVID-19 outbreak in West Kelowna — but they have a hypothesis.
After declaring the outbreak over, IH medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema said Monday the outbreak was fully contained to a group of 63 temporary foreign workers.
The first two members of the group arrived in West Kelowna in January, when the virus was of little concern outside of China. Of the 63 foreign workers who eventually would arrive, different groups came at different times in January, February and March.
“Our hypothesis is that one or more of the workers that came in March could have been incubating the disease when they arrived,” Dr. Mema said. “We were not able to pinpoint an individual person as the index case.”
Luckily, the infected workers left the Bylands property very few times while they were in West Kelowna and were having food delivered to them.
“The very few outings that had occurred in the first days, I believe they had to go and get some paperwork sorted out. We looked into that particular encounter and determined that there was no risk.”
“We are fairly confident that there wasn’t any community spread as a result of this outbreak,” Dr. Mema added.
She declined to comment on the medical condition of the workers, but noted the outbreak was first identified when two of them presented themselves to the emergency room with symptoms.
Another dozen Canadian staff of Bylands were also quarantined as a precaution, but none of them ended up testing positive. In all, 23 foreign workers tested positive. The outbreak was announced on March 23.
Dr. Mema said measures have been put in place by the provincial and federal governments moving forward to prevent another outbreak amongst foreign workers, primarily, requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
None of those regulations, however, apply to the large influx of migrant workers that travel to the region from within Canada, primarily Quebec, to pick fruit.
Dr. Mema acknowledged “that has been a concern” and says IH is working with employers and the provincial government to mitigate the situation. She noted the BC CDC has developed guidelines for farmworkers and tree planters, and they are working to make sure are adhered to.
Last month, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen took over the Loose Bay migrant farm worker campground outside Oliver after the non-profit that previously operated it dissolved due to liability issues. At its peak in June, the campground could see up to 300 people.
ORIGINAL 11:30 a.m.
Interior Health has declared the end of the COVID-19 outbreak at Bylands Nurseries in West Kelowna.
"The successful conclusion of this outbreak is the result of excellent co-operation and partnership from everyone involved, including Bylands Nurseries Ltd. and the workers who were quarantined in on-site housing until the virus was eliminated," IH stated the release on Monday.
"The hard work and commitment of the nursery workers and owners, as well as IH’s infection control and environmental health experts, were critical to the containment and conclusion of this outbreak, says Dr. Silvina Mema Interior Health Medical Health Officer
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry thanked West Kelowna for supporting both the families and the temporary foreign workers.
“I know the community rallied together and brought food and other necessities to people in self- isolation. That's what we do in B.C., to support our neighbours and help keep our communities safe and healthy,” said Dr. Henry.
None of the infected workers were in roles that interacted with customers and had minimal contact in the community. Interior Health says there were no community cases of COVID-19 transmission as a result of the Bylands outbreak.
The nursery looks to fully operate in the near future, in compliance with the measures laid out for all businesses by the B.C. provincial health officer.