With plunging temperatures and significant snowfall forecast for much of British Columbia in the coming days, advocates are urging people to reach out to vulnerable seniors in their lives.
Environment Canada has issued a slew of weather alerts for southern British Columbia, and temperatures could fall as much as 15 C below the seasonal average on the coast and 20 C below average in the Interior, starting this weekend and running to the new year.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province had learned from the deadly extreme heat this summer, and had issued early warnings and was actively communicating with local governments in preparation.
“This government and your First Nation or local government are all doing our part given the forecast conditions, however it is vital that all of us step up to prepare to do what is necessary to protect themselves, their families and vulnerable friends or neighbours,” Farnworth said.
The summer heat dome, which the BC Coroners Service has determined led to nearly 600 deaths, disproportionately affected vulnerable seniors.
With a different extreme now on the way, advocates for seniors said being prepared can help ensure the province doesn’t see a repeat of that tragedy.
“In the heat wave (the guidance) was get out of your hot house, and in the cold it’s stay in your warm house. But the message is the same is check on your elderly relatives, friends and neighbors,” BC Seniors Advocate Isobel MacKenzie told Global News.
“Stay home, stay warm, stay well fed, stay hydrated, take your medications. And make sure you call and check on your mom, your dad, your neighbour and that they’re OK. Don’t assume they’re ok. And that’s the other thing from the heat wave, don’t assume.”
Along with the dangers seniors face from isolation, MacKenzie said they are also particularly at risk from slipping and falling in the cold weather. She urged seniors to prepare from the weather ahead of time, and not to venture out onto icy sidewalks or roads unless necessary.
Seniors in need should call the BC 211 line if they need help connecting to resources, the 811 nursing line if they have health questions, or 911 if they are in an emergency, she said.
Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said many seniors face mobility challenges, and could need an extra hand when it comes to clearing their own sidewalks.
That help could be particularly important, he said, as many seniors rely on home care for essential services like medication — care that could be affected if staff can’t get to their homes.
“If they don’t have their sidewalks cleared of ice and snow it will affect their ability to be looked after properly,” he said.
Christmas is the worst time of year for people to be feeling lonely and isolated, Lake said, but added that due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases amid the arrival of the Omicron variant, people will need to exercise caution when connecting with the seniors in their lives.
“That may mean you take a present around and leave it on their doorstep, it may be you just go shovel their sidewalk and leave a nice note for them or you phone them up and wish them a happy Christmas and make sure they’re doing OK,” he said.
“With this severe weather, we want to make sure their heating system is working, that their hot water tank is operating properly. It does come down to being really community-minded.”
Heavy snow has already been falling in parts of the Interior, while rain mixed with snow could begin on the South Coast by Thursday night.
The more extreme cold temperatures are expected to begin in earnest by Christmas Day, according to Environment Canada.