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LETTER: Relaxing of COVID measures ‘reckless,’ says doctors group

B.C. doctors says public health measures failing residents
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks during a COVID-19 update news conference. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The April 1, 2022 opinion piece from B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry seems to be a veiled response to the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner’s letter of March 16th.

“Given the benefits of the mask mandate for thousands of marginalised people and the minimal impact on those being asked to wear one, the balance at this time favours continuing the mask mandate.” - Kasari Govender

Our B.C. public health officer’s opinion was published on the same day B.C. surpassed 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, a number that experts have told us falls short of the true COVID-19 death toll in B.C. Dr. Henry’s piece also appears as B.C. is entering its 6th wave, with three of five Lower Mainland wastewater treatment plants showing rising viral concentration on March 28th and COVID-19 hospital admissions in the two largest health authorities (Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health) trending higher.

Instead of warning B.C. residents of the rise in cases in their community from the spread of the more contagious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, Dr. Henry explains why she feels she is justified in removing capacity limits and mask protections at this time.

She also goes on to state that “Vaccines we now know are the definitive intervention that provide by far the best protection against COVID-19.” A vaccine alone approach did not work last year, as the three most western Canadian provinces found out after having their own version of the “Best Summer Ever” while Delta was spreading. Why do we think that the “Best Spring Ever” will be any different?

“Now that we have reached a high level of immunity from vaccination the balance of requiring masks by a legal order is tipped.”

This could NOT be further from the truth, as our vaccines, while preventing severe infections, offer time limited protection against infection and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 with immunity waning after 15 weeks. As well, “fully vaccinated” against Omicron and BA.2 now means three doses. In B.C., only 49 per cent of our population has had three doses and many of our most vulnerable received their third dose close to five months ago. Additionally, 14 per cent of British Columbians are still unvaccinated, including 226,000 children under five. Why we would not want to continue protecting them is beyond comprehension.

Without focusing our efforts on stopping viral transmission, we will continue to see wave after wave of COVID-19 infections with the attendant toll it takes on our healthcare system, our citizens and our economy, not to mention the devastation of long COVID disability each wave leaves behind. Finally, we have a collective responsibility as global citizens to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to prevent the evolution of more contagious and deadly variants.

Waves are caused by bad public health policies and by failing to act quickly in the face of exponential growth in cases. There is now almost no testing and contact tracing happening in B.C., leaving any public health response to occur only once our hospitals and our burnt out healthcare providers are overwhelmed, again. We’ve all seen this story before and know how it ends and how it ultimately impacts everyone.

Perhaps more egregious still is that two years into this pandemic, our B.C. public health officer fails to acknowledge that the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads through the air we share and breathe. WHO, Public Health Agency of Canada, US CDC and the White House have all recognized the supporting science-based evidence and added “cleaning the air” to their recommendations.

“If you do not fill your glass with water from the toilet bowl, then during this pandemic think of the air you breathe in the same way.” –Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head Global Biosecurity Program Kirby Institute

Removing masks and other COVID protections without addressing indoor air quality, while a more contagious BA.2 sub-variant is spreading through the air, is nothing short of reckless. It is especially so when the B.C. human rights commissioner has raised the alarm over the negative effects of these policies on marginalized groups, including “immunocompromised people, older people, Indigenous and racialized peoples, people with disabilities, and low-income communities”, without forgetting people suffering from multiple chronic conditions and our children under five for whom a vaccine has yet to be authorized.

We can and should do better.

-Protect our Province BC’s Steering Committee, Dr. Brenda Hardie and Dr. Lyne Filiatrault

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