Premier defends B.C.'s fourth wave pandemic struggle as Ontario controls Delta
Premier John Horgan is insisting British Columbia's fourth wave surge in cases and hospitalizations was unavoidable, even though Canada's most populous province continues to see low COVID-19 case counts and deaths.
On Thursday, Horgan acknowledged his province has “unacceptably high case counts and disconcerting numbers of hospitalizations,” but rejected the suggestion the fourth wave was largely avoidable and insisted public health officials and policymakers were doing everything they could.
“The difference, largely, between Ontario and ourselves in this instance is that we have moved to keep our economy moving,” Horgan said. “We have tried to make sure the immunization access as available as it possibly can be, but we have pockets of resistance to that good sense and that's where we're seeing the increase in cases; that's where we're seeing the hospitalizations.”
Every province has variations in vaccination rates, and overall, Horgan was proud to claim B.C. is tied with Quebec for the highest percentage of eligible people vaccinated.
What the premier didn’t acknowledge was that B.C. has relied almost completely on vaccinating its way out of the fourth wave of the virus, while the Delta variant is proving to be much more contagious than the other variants. Despite a lower vaccination rate, Ontario has continued to observe roughly one-quarter the active COVID-19 cases per capita that B.C. has seen for weeks. In the past two weeks, British Columbia has had more than twice as many deaths when adjusted for population, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A MORE CAUTIOUS REOPENING PAID OFF
Even though Ontario’s active cases dropped over the summer, that province kept in place most of the public health measures from its third wave, which experts believe contributed to a slight rise in cases in September, rather than B.C.’s surge in August.
“We didn't really lift restrictions during the summer and then also there are mask mandates and limits on gathering,” noted Dr. Sahid Butt, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Waterloo.
“That really helped us during the summer and now we're in the fall and in a much better situation than (most) of the provinces.”
Last week, a prominent epidemiologist also pointed out that Ontario schools had taken extra measures to mitigate airborne spread of the virus, including portable HEPA air filters, improved ventilation and an all-ages mask mandate from the first day of school.
"All of the stuff works better if you do it proactively rather than reactively, and that seems to be a big problem for B.C., attitudinally,” said Dr. David Fisman, a physician and epidemiology professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“The idea is you do this when it's quiet, proactively, because it's light-touch stuff.”
A SIMILAR APPROACH TO ALBERTA
Throughout the course of the pandemic, when asked why B.C. wasn’t adopting best practices and the most effective strategies from other provinces, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has grown defensive. She has often reiterated that “we’re each fighting our own pandemic.”
But her counterpart in Alberta revealed Canada’s three westernmost provinces had worked together on summer reopening plans that were similar: dropping mask mandates, removing most or all gathering limits, and enthusiastic announcements that the worst was behind us with the influx of vaccines.
"Based on consulting with other colleagues, as you know, the three western provinces all moved to release restrictions, because all of us were looking at the data, and all of us believed that we would see a decoupling (of infections from hospitalizations), similar to what was seen in the UK,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, last month.
“In early August, when we saw that the data began to diverge from what we expected, we changed that approach.”
When asked about B.C.’s late implementation of mask requirements for students in Kindergarten through Grade 3, Henry said she’s “not the only person who makes these decisions.”
On Thursday, Horgan stood by Henry’s decisions and his administration’s handling of the fourth wave, which has seen overwhelmed hospitals fly patients across the province for help and persistent, long waits for testing in much of the province.
"I take full responsibility for the success and failure of the government, but I believe we're doing everything we can to protect people,” said the premier. “We'll continue to do that."