When the provincial health worker told British Columbians she was scrapping isolation requirements and testing for most of the population and compared handling COVID-19 in similar terms to the flu or the common cold , many people were shocked and some instantly alarmed.
Dr Bonnie Henry spoke to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, assuring them that they would have access to COVID-19 testing and that they should get tested immediately if they develop symptoms, so that they can access to treatment. In fact, she pointed out that the general public “has a responsibility to try to minimize our risk by doing what protects us and others,” which is getting vaccinated and following public health orders.
For many, however, these statements were overshadowed by Henry’s discussion of the need for balance and the reduced severity of the Omicron variant compared to the more deadly Delta strain – especially at a time when the healthcare system has struggling to maintain basic levels of care. .
“It feels like a betrayal, like we’ve just been forgotten and left out,” said Laesa Kim, whose kindergarten suffers from several serious health conditions and underwent open-heart surgery in the fall.
“I’m careful with my child, but I still want her to go to school, socialize and do the things she should be doing,” the Langley mother-of-two said. “People still send sick kids to school and think it’s no big deal, and then she’s home for three weeks recovering from a cold.”
Jeremy Franta is a terminal cancer patient in Delta. He has yet to send his daughters to school as most of their friends have had COVID-19 in the past two weeks and he is terrified of the potential consequences.
“Do we send my kids (to school), and they bring it to me, they kill me? I don’t care, but my kids have to live with it,” he said. “I feel like clinically vulnerable people have been left behind and nobody cares. We’re left in the wind to fend for ourselves.
MEDICAL COMMUNITY AND EXPERTS SURPRISED BY TIME
One of British Columbia’s most respected pandemic analysts pointed out that – while the tests are a useful barometer for public health officials and academics to track and assess virus patterns, resistance to vaccines and new features – a test does not change whether someone should or can get medical treatment.
SFU professor Caroline Colijn and her colleagues at the BC COVID-19 Modeling Group are also not convinced that we have seen a spike in hospitalizations due to the Omicron wave, and she pointed to the consequences of the start of the reopening of society for most but not all.
“I think we should pay attention to unfair charges and ask people who may be at very high risk to just protect themselves,” Colijn said. “The impacts on those who cannot work from home or those who are at risk of getting more serious illness from COVID-19, I think we have to take this into account and consider that as the number goes down, they can also concentrate in people at higher risk. groups.”
Disability analyst and researcher Gabrielle Peters wants the public to understand that these are not theoretical questions.
“Our individual ability to mitigate risk varies and is influenced by multiple factors such as poverty, the type of work you do, the housing you live in and the supports you need. BC has done none of that,” she said. “There has been an ableist bias in BC’s methodology for identifying the risks of people with disabilities and meeting our needs from the start. We did our best to survive despite this.
Former Doctors of BC president Dr. Matthew Chow said if he expected the transition to endemic management of the virus, he was surprised to see it now.
“I certainly hear colleagues who are concerned that we are moving too quickly,” he said. “But I’ll tell you I also hear colleagues say, ‘Let’s go, it’s such a widespread infection now, you can assume everyone has been exposed or will be exposed’, so there’s no no interest in more restrictions at this time because they are not likely to be significant.
Chow stressed that it is understandable and acceptable that people feel unsettled by the transition and that it will take time to adjust, but he believes the decision was not taken lightly.
“I’m glad I’m not in public health’s shoes and not in Dr. Henry’s shoes because it’s hard to know when to provide this content,” he said. “It became increasingly clear that the approach would have to change unless we wanted a company-wide shutdown.”
PROVINCIAL HEALTH OFFICER INSISTS OBJECTIVES REMAIN THE SAME
While maintaining the somewhat contradictory message of public health measures like bar closures and mask mandates while encouraging people to socialize and characterizing the management of COVID-19 like other respiratory viruses, CTV News asked Henry if his goals remained the same.
She replied that they remain unchanged: reduce serious illness and death, preserve the health system and minimize societal disruption.
When asked if the lack of isolation and testing indicated she had given up trying to control the virus and gone into endemic mode, she denied that was the case.
“We are clearly not in a place where it is endemic at the moment. What we’re doing is adapting to the changes we’ve seen with the new variant,” Henry insisted, noting that contact tracing and testing had a reduced focus, with the virus spreading faster and with a period of time. shorter incubation period, and with fewer people requiring hospitalization. care over all cases.
But she also kept talking about long-term COVID-19; diseases are considered endemic when they are found regularly in certain areas, but with low and stable hospitalizations.
“We can’t eliminate all risk, and I think that’s something we have to understand and accept because this virus has changed and is now part of what we’ll be living with for years to come,” Henry said. .
Without a clear plan or specific guidance for vulnerable British Columbians, they are waiting to see when their situation will be recognized or how long they should self-isolate as we move closer to our normal lives.
“So many people like to link family members with risk factors are just fearful and yes we are fearful because we have seen firsthand what any number of viruses can do to our loved ones,” said said Kim. “But we also want them to live their lives – I’m not scared insofar as I want to keep (my kindergarten) in the house for the rest of her life.”