Dr. Bonnie Henry responds to criticism after asking people to 'do more'
VANCOUVER -- A day after pleading with British Columbians to do more to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases, the provincial health officer is clarifying her remarks.
In a statement, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she’s asking those doing all they can to help those who are wavering.
"For the few who have chosen to put aside the public health precautions we all need to follow and make exceptions for themselves, now is your time to join or rejoin us in our efforts,” the statement said.
On Monday, Dr. Henry warned the province needed to reduce daily numbers or risk a rapid escalation. She said daily new cases have been around 500 for the last couple of weeks, a stage she called a plateau.
"Take a step back and remember that COVID-19 is still that unwelcome guest in our homes and our workplaces, in our communities. I'm asking you now, as much as possible, more than you've ever done before, to stay home. To stop those social interactions. To focus on the key things that are keeping us together, focusing on our work from home if we can, focusing on making sure children can go to school, focusing on making sure our health-care system can continue to function."
Some pointed out many are already doing what they can.
Green party leader Sonia Furstenau said she takes no issues with the public health officer’s advice, adding she thought “the vast majority are doing so much already.”
She called on the NDP government to take action on several fronts: increasing school safety precautions, offering PPE to front-line essential workers like grocery store clerks, offering sick pay for those who don’t currently have it, and rapid testing in long-term care homes. Furstenau also suggested the province take action to restrict non-essential travel.
On Tuesday, Manitoba announced it was doing just that – days after B.C. rejected the idea.
“Anyone returning to Manitoba, including western Canada, must self-isolate for 14 days,” said Premier Brian Pallister. The new rules take effect Friday.
In a statement last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan said the province couldn’t stop people from coming here but there could be steps taken to reduce non-essential travel. The statement said that could be something that happens in the future.
If needed, the province may implement stricter rules.
When asked what those restrictions might entail, Dr. Henry said she couldn't say specifically, but that they may have to look at ways to stop transmission in communities.
Currently many businesses that are open in B.C. are closed in Ontario but, she said, they're following their own strict rules to ensure they operate as safely as possible.
And she urged people to avoid any situations with close contact with crowds, speaking loudly, not wearing a mask and not keeping their distance.
Any future steps are dependent on what residents do now, Henry said.
Henry said she knows people are tired, frustrated and want this to be over.
"We need to hang in there. We are so close, but we need to do this."
A psychology professor at the University of Victoria says COVID-19 fatigue is widespread and part of the problem may be that people are tuning out. He said several “dragons of inaction” are at play. The term refers to why people may not do things they think they should, explained Dr. Robert Gifford.
“Environmental numbness, that's just hearing the information so often you start tuning out of the whole topic," he said.
Gifford added some may think the message isn’t for them because they don’t consider themselves a risk factor. Others may choose to live their life as close to what they usually would, because they believe they’ll survive.
When all factors are equal, he added one group may have it harder.
"People in general that must be suffering the most are people who live alone,” he added.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said even with a vaccine program in place, the public can't relax just yet.
"This leaves us at a precipice, at the brink, where we can see rapid takeoff, particularly if we start to see any of these new variants starting to transmit in our community," the provincial health officer said.
Henry said the data suggests B.C. is getting a handle on long-term care, but it's still circulating in communities, and while the immunization program has begun, there are still months to go.
"We are at the threshold of where we were in late October, November, when cases started rapidly escalating," she said, adding it's also been noted in other provinces and elsewhere in the world.
It's possible that things will spike again. There are two options, she said.
"We will have more people severely ill, when we have lots of people infected, even young people become severely ill, end up in hospital. We will have more of our family, our community who are hospitalized, who need ICU care, and who will die from this virus. We will have more of our health-care workers under strain, and more restrictions will be needed to slow things down in our community," Henry said of the first option.
"Or we can have less… Less is where we need to go, and I need your help to get over the next two weeks."
She said it's a critical time, when there's a limited number of vaccine doses so the province can only target areas where it will do the most good