Hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of Ward and Vernon Streets in September to protest the provincial government’s vaccine passport program. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of Ward and Vernon Streets in September to protest the provincial government’s vaccine passport program. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW: COVID-19 explodes in Nelson

Case counts spiked during the summer, and tensions boiled over

The pandemic may have begun in 2020, but this was the year it became real in Nelson.

Although COVID-19 restrictions impacted businesses and residents in 2020, the city had mostly avoided infections with just 53 cases.

But the virus found Nelson in 2021. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), there have been 823 cases in the city’s local health area, which includes Salmo and parts of the Slocan Valley, between Jan. 1 to Nov. 30.

The year began quietly, and with hope.

In March, seniors began receiving the first doses of vaccines at Selkirk College’s Mary Hall gymnasium. Linda Taylor, who was receiving her shot on a day the Star visited the clinic, said the vaccines were like a miracle.

“It’s so hard to believe it’s happened in one year,” said Taylor at the time. “When you’ve lived as long as I have you think back to some of the other things that have happened in the world and it’s amazing that they are doing this in one year.”

But that hope began to fade in April, when exposures led to Rosemont Elementary at least one class of students under isolation. Families complained they weren’t being told the extent of the outbreak, and had to set up a Facebook page to share information.

One of the families impacted were the Littles. Rob Little, the general manager of The Adventure Hotel, was infected and became so ill he spent 26 days in the intensive care unit of Trail’s Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital. Little’s wife Kristina and two children were also infected. Their chilling account of the ordeal was one of the Star’s most-read stories of the year.

The virus began to spread more quickly in July, and exploded in August. Nelson’s local health area had 459 cases from Aug. 1 to Sept. 4, according to BCCDC.

That took its toll on Nelson residents, and put businesses in a quandary: stay open and risk infections, or close and lose business.

“It’s a very ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. Businesses need to keep going,” said Ostara Toews, a bartender who was infected. “We have a beautiful town that people want to come and visit, but I don’t think that it’s been conducive to helping ease those numbers.”

Tempers also flared when the provincial government announced its plan for a vaccine card.

In Nelson, a protest against the plan drew hundreds. Some framed the protest as being in support of health-care workers, which in turn was denounced by local doctors and nurses.

“It is making my difficult job as an ER physician a lot harder, and my empathy is running out for the patients who are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Mike Van Vliet.

As the year draws to an end, local cases have dropped to nearly zero. But fears of a surge caused by the Omicron variant have led to new restrictions, and new frustrations.

Earlier this month Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson said she was forced to run after two people became aggressive with her about vaccine policies.

We may all be done with the pandemic, but as we enter 2022 it isn’t done with us.

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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