For the first time in three years, Vancouver Pride is set for a full slate of in-person activities this weekend, but health officials say as excited as people are to be back, they also need to be careful about the spread of monkeypox and COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said that monkeypox has been limited almost exclusively to men and most of the cases reported in the country have been among men who have sex with men. However, community spread of the virus has been observed in B.C.
Tam said little is known about how monkeypox spreads, how people can protect themselves and whether asymptomatic carriers can spread it to others.
As of Friday, 61 cases were confirmed in B.C., with 54 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
Lee Keple, the interim executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, said organizers are looking forward to in-person Pride celebrations, but there are concerns around monkeypox and COVID-19.
“We’re in the middle of a seventh wave of COVID,” she said. “To help keep the community safe, we encourage everyone to consider bringing masks, even for the outdoor events, because we’re so densely packed in the West End for the parade.”
Keple said everyone planning to attend the parade should self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if they feel ill.
She also discouraged people from stigmatizing the LGBT+ community due to monkeypox.
“We didn’t do that [stigmatize] with COVID. And like COVID, monkeypox could affect literally anybody,” she said. “I applaud the members of our community for being vigilant and looking after themselves when they get the symptoms and seeking the vaccine.”
Simon Rayak, the Director of Health Administration at Health Initiative for Men (HIM), says his team is also making sure people know how to protect themselves and their loved ones. He hopes everyone can maintain a human perspective despite their fears.
“Stigmatizing ourselves and each other is not a way to go when it comes to dealing with a virus,” he said. “We need to make sure people are getting the health care that they need.
“While this is mostly impacting queer men, this is something anyone could get.”
Health authorities ramping up vaccination
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), says health authorities have been watching the situation closely since June when the region saw its first cases.
“We’ve really been trying to ramp up our response and ramp up our vaccination program to get the community ready for Pride,” he told CBC. “We haven’t been able to have these Pride festivals for the past few years and it’s really important I think for the community to have it this year.”
Lysyshyn says VCH has administered over 7,000 monkeypox vaccines so far and while there are still cases being reported, the numbers aren’t exploding.
He says the health authority worked with local clinics to reach people who are most vulnerable, set up its own mass vaccination site in the West End, and ran an outreach program in parks, at beaches and in local bathhouses.
This weekend, health workers will be at several Pride events offering shots and answering people’s questions about monkeypox.
“We’ll be at Sunset Beach, we’ll be at the nighttime Pride parties, we’ll be at the bathhouses again,” Lysyshyn said. “There’ll be opportunities for people to get vaccinated this weekend in the places they’re going.”
Half of the monkeypox cases in the VCH region are connected to travel, according to Lysyshyn, noting there are guidelines to follow in order to stay safe.
“People have to monitor their own health. If they develop fever, headache, a rash, that’s a reason where you might not want be in contact with other people you might want to get tested,” he said.
“Ultimately we want people to have fun at Pride and not worry too much about monkeypox. We’ve done the work to make sure that Pride will be fun and safe for everybody.”