'We have been successful': B.C. premier downplays infection numbers as new record broken
VANCOUVER -- On the day British Columbia broke yet another record for COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection numbers remained high, the premier called the province's approach successful.
John Horgan held a media availability on Tuesday where his opening remarks included a small boast about how B.C. has fared against Alberta in the past week, neglecting to compare his jurisdiction to other populous provinces with significantly fewer active cases per capita.
“We have been successful, compared to our neighbours — an example, over the past seven days there have been 7,000 more cases of COVID-19 in Alberta than there have been here in British Columbia,” said Horgan. “Although the numbers are unacceptably high here in British Columbia, we together have flattened the curve over the past couple of weeks.”
According to federal government data, Alberta currently has 483 active cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, while B.C. has 219. But for several weeks, the province has had about double the active cases as Ontario on a per capita basis (114 per 100,000).
B.C. also has more cases per capita than Quebec (196 per 100,000), where strict new lockdown measures were announced for a “circuit breaker” over the holidays, just hours after Horgan was challenged on his rosy spin on the numbers.
“We’ve seen an unacceptable increase in fatalities, largely as a result of COVID returning to our long-term care institutions and we need to work harder in that area,” insisted Horgan. “That's the real difference between what's happening in Ontario at the moment and what's happening in British Columbia.”
But that message appears to be at odds with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's explanation of where the infections are now taking place: rather than large gatherings or care homes, she says they’re now taking place primarily at workplaces and within households.
"We are looking out through this next few-week period," said Henry on Monday. "We have flattened, we are not back down, and part of that reflects the fact that we had flattened at a fairly high level and there's still ongoing transmission in those close environments."
The risk of complacency and stale messaging
Academics and communications consultants alike are warning government health officials they need to freshen or revise their messaging since people are becoming numb to the risks and warnings after so many months — at a time when British Columbians need to be fully aware how poorly we’re now faring.
“I’ve been talking now for months about what I call the myth of B.C. exceptionalism — this idea that British Columbia is doing a great job in the fight against the pandemic,” said Navigator Ltd. senior consultant, Alex Shiff.
“Certainly, in the first wave B.C. fared better than many other provinces in Canada but the facts show that that is simply no longer the case. British Columbia currently, today, has a higher active case count per capita than Ontario and Quebec but if you ask the average man or woman on the street, they really have no idea and what that causes is a sort of lack of awareness of how serious our situation is.”
Shiff said he would advise the government to inject an urgency to their messaging, repeated by various government and health officials at all levels rather than just coming from Henry or Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“I think what we need is a direct appeal to British Columbians explaining to them every day how serious the situation is, particularly in places like Fraser Health where Fraser Health has some of the highest positivity rates in all of Canada and yet we don’t see additional restrictions, we don’t see any real change in strategy or messaging from the government and I really don’t now how to explain that,” he said.
“In communication, repeating a similar message over and over is extremely important. We need everyone driving home a simple message that things aren’t great right now and people need to be doing the right things to protect our most vulnerable populations”
But Horgan downplayed the virus surge as a widespread, seasonal phenomenon.
“We've flattened out comfortably in terms of the raw numbers,” he said. “The raw numbers are just too high, but they've stayed relatively flat at you know between 650 and 700 ... numbers that would have knocked us over in March and April, regrettably, is where the world is at with the second wave. This is the time when viruses such as this are transmitted, people are going indoors more than they would have been the summer months.”