A British Columbia woman is feeling frustrated after she allegedly learned second-hand that a fellow passenger on her flight from Vancouver to Kelowna had tested positive for COVID-19.
On Tuesday, March 10 Barbara Szymczyk flew to the Okanagan, for work, on WestJet flight WS3326.
Five days later, on Sunday morning, news broke that a passenger on the flight had tested positive for coronavirus.
Global Okanagan received a press release from the Kelowna airport about the case that morning and published this article.
However, Szymczyk, who had since returned to the Lower Mainland, said she was never notified directly about the case by health officials or the airline.
Instead, the Burnaby woman said she found out early on Sunday evening when she was contacted by co-workers.
In the meantime, Szymczyk said she had visited her 66-year-old mother twice since the flight, including on Sunday afternoon.
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That’s of particular concern to Szymczyk, as she said her mother, Zofia, has a impaired immune system.
“I’m frustrated because I can only imagine that…someone else on the flight might not have their co-workers know that they were on the flight or even friends that they were on that exact flight,” Szymczyk said.
“I just think that it’s not containing the situation if there is people on the flight that are just roaming around not knowing that there was someone on that flight in close proximity possibly to them that was infected.”
In a statement, WestJet said that passengers in rows 10 to 16, where Szymczyk was sitting, should be considered close contacts and that health officials are recommending they self-isolate for two weeks.
The Kelowna airport, meanwhile, released slightly different information, stating that only rows 10 to 14 are close contacts, and that would not include Szymczyk’s row.
Szymczyk said she is now self isolating and working from home.
“I’m doing okay. I’m not showing any symptoms, as of right now, and my mom is doing okay, as well,” she said on Tuesday morning.
“The incubation period is 14 days so there is definitely unease and stress and fingers crossed that there aren’t any symptoms that develop.”
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WestJet said in a statement that it is following notification processes outlined by health authorities “which includes providing manifest information to the health authority and notifying WestJet employees that worked the flight.”
The airline pointed out it has also been posting information about impacted flights on its website and social media and said it is “going above and beyond to ensure we are being open and honest about any flights that have been impacted.”
However, WestJet said it does not have the capacity to notify guests individually especially as it does not always have passengers’ contact information.
“In this time of crisis and due to the rapid increase in infections and reports this is not a task we can manage alone,” read a statement from WestJet.
“We ask for the media’s help in sharing this as understandably the burden has become unmanageable across the board.”
Indeed, B.C.’s provincial health officer said it is very challenging to reach passengers.
“It’s not easy. You actually don’t show up as a name and a contact information on most flight manifests,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a media briefing, on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a matter of linking with things like passport information.”
Global News has reached out to the provincial Ministry of Health for comment.
The health ministry said officials are checking their records to verify Szymczyk was contacted.