Tofino General Hospital chief of staff Dr. Carrie Marshall made an urgent appeal to the public on March 20 over the local airwaves to protect her small West Coast community from the threat of COVID-19.
“I think this is an unprecedented medical emergency. Everybody needs to take it seriously,” said Dr. Marshall in an interview with Tuff City Radio’s Cameron Dennison.
“There is no overstating the seriousness of this. At the end of the day if we have over-called this, if people have felt like we have overreacted, I am willing to take that on my shoulders because standing in the hospital and waiting for this to come, you’re not going to find a health care provider in this country that is saying, ‘We don’t really need to take this seriously’. All of us are standing there, we are ready for the fight. What we really need is the public to join us,” she said.
Dr. Marshall oversees the aging Tofino hospital, which has 10 in-patient beds and five stretchers. She said she is frustrated with trying to prepare for the world pandemic while simultaneously seeing at least 50 per cent of the patients who are non-residents.
“I will say openly that I called people that I knew personally and begged them to shut down. If you do not shut down and if you continue to violate these principles of infection, you will annihilate my staff,” Marshall voiced.
“I feel very protective of keeping that hospital up and running. If you are going to wipe out four out of six doctors, that’s a big problem,” she continued.
On March 17, the District of Tofino, Tourism Tofino, and the Tofino Chamber of Commerce released a joint statement asking visitors to make their ways home, to postpone upcoming trips, and to let our community prepare for the arrival of COVID-19. Authorities in Ucluelet released a similar joint statement the next day. Ahousaht First Nation has closed its community to non-residents and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has barricaded the entrance to their community from non-residents for then next 14 days.
On March 21, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) and City of Port Alberni united with West Coast communities in their urgent request to visitors not to travel to Tofino, Ucluelet, Long Beach, Toquaht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht, Bamfield, Huu-ay-aht and Uchucklesaht until further notice.
“Personal health and safety of our residents is the driving force behind this request. Communities on the West Coast have limited health care resources to serve their residents. Additional visitors and tourists to the area at this time will impact the health and safety of these communities and put additional strains on their already limited health care system. It is extremely difficult for these communities to self-isolate if visitors and tourists continue to travel to the area,” states the March 21 ACRD media release.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne posted a statement on social media appealing to “the last five per cent” of visitors who have decided to take trips to the area amidst the global pandemic.
“We are now deep in the trenches getting ready to find out next week how effective the measures being taken this week are. We are preparing for the worst,” mayor Osborne wrote.
“For an accommodation business to stay open to new visitors at this time is demoralizing and disrespectful. The hospital needs all our love and support right now, including removing all sources of unnecessary burden,” Osborne wrote.
“I’m urging everyone to join the fight so we do not put our community in a place where we have to divert critical resources to enforce a State of Local Emergency. I’m not asking for shaming, in fact I’m begging you not to shame people or businesses, instead I’m asking you all to embrace the fact that it’s not too late to join the fight,” Tofino’s mayor said.
Dr. Marshall could not confirm or deny that any cases of COVID-19 had surfaced in Tofino as of March 20.
“What the bottom line is, everyone in Tofino should assume that there are positive cases. We should assume that it is here and we should all be following the same guidelines, which is social distancing, social isolating and quarantine if you have symptoms,” Dr. Marshall said.