More COVID-19 press briefings coming to B.C. but they won't feature Dr. Bonnie Henry
A group calling themselves non-partisan health professionals are holding their first briefing on B.C.'s COVID-19 response this week, citing a lack of transparency and a "worrisome lack of science-informed pandemic response" from officials in the province.
Protect Our Province BC says its members include scientists, infectious disease experts, policy analysts and community organizers. The organization wants to see the number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia drastically reduced.
Dr. Karina Zeidler, co-founder of the group and a family physician, says there's a growing disconnect between what the scientific community is learning about COVID-19 and the messaging coming from the province, particularly when it comes to how big a role aerosol transmission plays in the virus' spread. One of the key issues the group hopes to tackle is how to keep the virus at bay and dramatically decrease how much of it is circulating in the community.
"If the B.C. government is saying that the main mode of transmission is droplets and we're putting forward that the main mode of transmission is aerosol, then that's, you know, a criticism ... of the government," she explained to CTV News in an interview.
Zeidler said aerosol transmission means people inhaling smaller droplets that go farther and hang out in the air much longer than larger droplets.
Protect our Province BC says the government should implement several measures to try and reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, including effective ventilation and air purification, expanded use of high-quality masks, easy-to-access rapid testing, improved contact tracing, and better exposure notifications.
At the B.C. legislature, asked how the new briefings might impact how the public views the ones with himself and Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix said he wasn't worried.
"Dr. Henry is a renowned international expert on her subject matter, she’s an extraordinary public health officer," Dix told reporters.
"There’s a robust debate here in Canada and everywhere on these issues, and Dr Henry, I can tell you, listens to everyone, so she takes all of the evidence presented to her very seriously. We have an outstanding team, it’s why she has led pandemic response, not just on this continent, but on other continents."
The briefings will be modelled on ones being held in Alberta. Outspoken health professionals in that province are largely credited with helping pressure the government to implement enhanced COVID-19 measures that have started bringing down the number of cases.
Asked how the group would ensure the accuracy of its statements given it doesn't have access to the same information as government, Zeidler said the goal isn't to replace the B.C. Centre for Disease Control or public health experts, but to question whether more can be done and if the right measures are in place.
"I think that in every healthy democracy that holding our government to account is an important thing."
The format of the briefings will include commentary on case numbers, assessment of where the pandemic is headed, and will feature experts from a variety of fields to share their experiences and strategies to reduce transmission. Members of the media and public will also be able to ask questions. At this point, the goal is to hold them weekly with past episodes uploaded to the website protectbc.ca.