Ontario has locked down for a month! Quebec has moved schools to online learning. Nova Scotia has closed its borders. What is BC doing? We are implementing an order requiring citizens to travel only in their heath region. But so it is not too harsh, we have turned five health regions into three. Not much of a restriction when you can legally travel one thousand miles to go camping. Yes, the Government is encouraging people to go camping! We are implementing half measures when other jurisdictions are taking their Covid situations much more seriously.
British Columbia’s pandemic situation has gone from bad to worse. On Thursday we had 1006 new cases. Our hospitalizations were 502 and we had 161 in ICU. We lost 4 more of our citizens. Even these numbers should be viewed skeptically as our testing rates are abysmally low. More frightening is that our deaths are getting younger. We have had 18 people in their 40’s pass, 14 in their 30’s, one in her twenties, as well as one who was an infant under the age of 2! Our positivity rate is over 9%. Nine hospitals have cancelled all elective surgeries. Patients are being turned away from hospitals overwhelmed with Covid cases and sent to other hospitals that are now becoming overwhelmed.
In schools we are having record exposure letters sent out. 95 in a single day last week. So many staff are dealing with Covid that schools can often not provide a full cadre of staff to teach their classes. Some schools report only 40 % attendance on some days. The rate of cases among 15 to 19 year-olds has reached an unbelievable rate of 200+ per 100,000. Schools are obvious vectors of spread among their community. The teachers are finally being prioritized for the vaccine although it is projected to take the full month of May to get close to 100% of the staff. Both teachers of my grandchildren have decided to take the rest of the year off rather than risk their health in the schools. It is not what I would wish for the boys, but I think the teachers have made the right decision because schools are not safe! The treatment of teachers in BC is one of the real tragedies of this pandemic.
The variants of concern now dominate in BC. The UK variant is first, but the more dangerous Brazilian variant is gaining rapidly. Perhaps even more worrisome is that the double mutant variant from India is in our midst. This week it is reported that the PHO has known about the presence of the double mutant for 2 months but failed to report it to the CDC. With all of this going on the PHO has given the OK to open Playland!
It is time for BC to stop fiddling while the province burns. In the Spring of 2020, we had under 20 cases and we closed schools to all but children of essential workers. We also closed all retail except for grocery stores and pharmacies. Construction sites were closed as were all other indoor public gathering places. We took Covid seriously and stopped the spread. We did what Tokyo did today when the city recognized an upswing in their spread. We need to follow Tokyo’s lead. We need to exercise the precautionary principle just as we did in 2020. We are gambling that our vaccine rate will outstrip the spread of the variants but in the meantime, people in BC are still dying, people are getting terribly ill with many suffering long term health effects, and children are getting infected at an alarming rate. Much more than half measures are warranted.
The first place to start is where the infections are increasing at an alarming rate: the schools. There are only six weeks left for secondary school classes and a little over seven for elementary. This time period simply amounts to a typical summer vacation. The PHO says, falsely, that children are safer in school than at home but we have no concerns for children when we close schools for the summer. We need to do what we did in 2020. Schools should be open for children of essential workers only with all other students finishing their year online. This will give the health authorities the time to roll out the vaccines throughout the community. By the end of June most of our population will have had at one dose and some will have received the second. The spread will have slowed, and the economy will become more robust.
We failed our province when we failed to close Whistler before spring break. We need to learn from this mistake. We also need to take a lesson from jurisdictions that have been successful in slowing the spread. They took full measures. They valued the health of their citizens over the maintenance of the economy. We need to pause non-essential retail. We need to stop non-essential travel out of your local community, and we need to return to remaining in your immediate family bubble. These strategies worked last Spring and they can work this Spring. It is simply a matter of getting our priorities right.
When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, I would sometimes put a half-hearted effort into a task. My Mother, who was the most loving yet wisest person I knew, had a saying that would check me up. If she saw me using half measures when I was cleaning my room, doing a school assignment, or digging the manure into the garden, she would say “don’t be a nitwit, half measures will prolong the work.” I follow her advice to this day.
My advice to each of the Premier and the PHO is: don’t be a nitwit, half measures will only prolong the pandemic and pain in BC!
Doug Player, April 24, 2021.