OPEN LETTER to Federal and BC Minister of Health and Chief Medical Officer on information urgently needed on Covid-19 cases in the DTES

There is growing fear among frontline workers and community members in the Downtown Eastside as they are receiving mixed messages about the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the community. According to recent media reports, Vancouver's Medical Health Officer, Dr. Patricia Daly is not providing a specific number on how many COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the Downtown Eastside. Instead, she suggests that we can assume COVID – 19 is “everywhere” in the Downtown Eastside. If this reporting is correct, given this latest development, this means that everyone in the community, including frontline workers, are at a heightened level of risk of exposure to the virus.
Frontline workers and community members in my riding are anxious and afraid. A frontline worker wrote to me informing me about the enormous strain on her mental health that working in dangerous conditions have caused. She also informed me that she has begun making plans with her family in the event that she dies from Covid-19. She is angry that health authorities will not clarify whether there have been confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Downtown Eastside community.

"April 2, 2020
Hon. Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
3 - 705 Red River Road 
Thunder Bay, ON P7B 1J3

Hon. Adrian Dix
Minister of Health
Room 337 Parliament Buildings 
Victoria BC V8V 1X4

Dr. Bonnie Henry
PO Box 9648
STN PROV GOVT 
Victoria BC V8W9P4

Dr. Patricia Daly
Chief Medical Health Officer 
800 – 601 West Broadway 
Vancouver BC V5Z 4C2

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer 
130 Colonnade Road 
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

RE: Information Urgently Needed on Covid-19 Cases in the Downtown Eastside

Dear Provincial and Federal Health Leaders,

I write to bring to your attention once again about the urgent situation in the Downtown Eastside in the face of the COVID- 19 pandemic. As you well know, the living conditions of the population in the Downtown Eastside mean that many actions that could help prevent the spread of the virus, such as self- isolation and aggressive hygiene practices, are not available to the community members. As such, once the virus touches down on the community, we know that the effect will be devasting.

There is growing fear among frontline workers and community members in the Downtown Eastside as they are receiving mixed messages about the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the community. According to recent media reports, Vancouver's Medical Health Officer, Dr. Patricia Daly is not providing a specific number on how many COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the Downtown Eastside. Instead, she suggests that we can assume COVID – 19 is “everywhere” in the Downtown Eastside. If this reporting is correct, given this latest development, this means that everyone in the community, including frontline workers, are at a heightened level of risk of exposure to the virus.

Frontline workers and community members in my riding are anxious and afraid. A frontline worker wrote to me informing me about the enormous strain on her mental health that working in dangerous conditions have caused. She also informed me that she has begun making plans with her family in the event that she dies from Covid-19. She is angry that health authorities will not clarify whether there have been confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Downtown Eastside community.

Another worker wrote to me about the concerns he has about being a casual worker working in multiple buildings and the cramped and unsanitary conditions that he works in. He tells me that the staff are “terrified” and about his feeling of abandonment and isolation as he tried his best to wipe down door handles with one of his few remaining sanitizing wipes in tears. Other workers tell me about community members who are reluctant to get tested for Covid-19 because they are drug users and they fear not having access to drugs if they are quarantined, while others express that there is no point to getting tested because they will have no home to self-isolate in even if they test positive.

These are just some examples to illustrate some of the stress and anxiety currently experienced by these vulnerable community members, many of whom have pre-existing health conditions, and by frontline workers who put themselves at risk for exposure to the virus everyday as they work to deliver what the Provincial Government has declared as essential services in our community. The challenges frontline workers face are further exacerbated by the organizations' inability to access protective equipment for their workers. I have heard from representatives from a large number of organizations, including those who have been declared as essential services in the community, who are deeply concerned about the safety for community members and that of their staff during this pandemic. Numerous inquiries to every level of government on how they could obtain personal protective equipment continue to go unanswered.

With the lack of information, concerns, anxiety and fear over COVID-19 are escalating. Given the circumstances, I cannot emphasize enough the importance for frontline workers and community members to get the support they need, and that includes receiving accurate information from officials. The last thing we need to add to this extremely difficult environment is for false or inaccurate information to circulate and escalate the already high stress levels that people are experiencing. On the other hand, if it is indeed true that someone who is infected with Covid-19 has come into contact with members in the Downtown Eastside, the community needs to be notified so that they can take appropriate precautions.

In light of rising concerns and heightened risk for workers and community members in my riding, could you please advise if you are aware of any cases where individuals who have tested positive for COVID- 19 have been found in the Downtown Eastside? If yes, how many presumptive and confirmed cases are there? Are you aware of any instance of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 from outside the neighbourhood having come in contact with members of the Downtown Eastside community? Could you also advise where the existing and planned testing locations are for the Downtown Eastside, how many people have been tested in the community to date, and if there are any targets or projections for the number of tests that will be conducted in the Downtown Eastside community? For organizations that are not receiving funding from B.C. Housing or operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, what is the plan for distributing personal protective equipment to these organizations? I also request that you share with me the response plan for the Downtown Eastside.

Frontline workers and organizations have stepped up in this time of crisis and they are asking for information, directions, and resources, from their governments. I understand that these are unprecedented times. I also understand that the shortage of personal protective equipment is a very challenging reality.

As such, I have made efforts in trying to obtain equipment from federal sources and I will continue to do so.

In closing, I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge you and your department's efforts in helping us meet the challenges of this pandemic. As always, my office is available to offer any assistance that we can. I look forward to receiving your prompt response on these urgent issues.

Respectfully,
Jenny Kwan
Member of Parliament for Vancouver East"
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