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After the Great Barrington Declaration, the Great Bewilderment Declaration

It’s been over two months since BC joined a growing number of jurisdictions around the world that have thrown caution to the wind, embracing the public health approach that the Koch-funded authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have been pushing for all along. Why should we try to contain the spread of COVID-19, the authors asked, when we will eventually reach “herd immunity” if we just let ‘er rip?

It took two years for this eclectic group of cheerleaders for mass debilitation and death to largely achieve their policy goal: very few protections remain in place anywhere, for anyone. Even New Zealand, a worldwide leader in elimination strategy that experienced a total of 65 deaths in the first two years of the pandemic (Feb 24, 2020 - Feb 28, 2022), abandoned public health protections in mid-March, almost immediately launching their death toll to dozens per week. In the past two months alone, over a thousand New Zealanders have succumbed to the virus, bringing their total COVID-19 deaths to 1,086.

Here in BC, public health officials did a terrible job keeping people safe during the Omicron wave. They did not introduce additional layers of protection to keep people COVID-free for Christmas until December 22, inflicting unanticipated pain on many businesses. Once again, they failed to address aerosol transmission, ensuring restaurants remained unsafe despite capacity limits. They hoarded Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) like the Grinch.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Public Health Officer, claimed—despite all evidence to the contrary“If you’re vaccinated, your risk of shedding the virus in enough amount [sic] that it can be detected by the rapid test is not very high.” Nevertheless, as Omicron cases surged, PCR testing in BC was constrained, and many waited in line for hours for a PCR test, only to be turned away with (you guessed it) a single RAT. Meanwhile, other provinces handed them out like stocking stuffers.

BC begrudgingly rolled out 3rd vaccine doses  after the “infect-your-family-with-Omicron” break in December, but refused to make schools safer by implementing mitigation strategies against aerosol transmission, despite the arrival of a much more transmissible variant. Schools predictably became COVID amplifiers, seeding COVID in homes and communities. 

As a direct result of the failure of public health to adapt to a more transmissible variant, the proportion of BC residents who showed evidence of a previous COVID infection in a serology test shot up from 10% to 40% between October 2021 and March 2022, and children were the most affected. Nearly 2 out of 3 BC school-aged kids now test positive for antibodies from a previous infection.

How many British Columbians have developed Long Covid as a consequence? No one knows. Or at least, no one who knows is talking. BC public health has done very little to warn the public of the risk of Long Covid.

We think Charlie McCone, Long Covid sufferer, has a pretty good theory on the reasoning behind BC’s cone of silence around Long Covid:

“It would be difficult to promote a policy of ‘endemic infection that resembles a mild seasonal flu’ while simultaneously warning the public that 1 in 10 infected will go on to develop a chronic illness, regardless of infection severity. In other words, it doesn’t fit nicely with a strategy of unmitigated spread where we are ‘living with Covid’.” 

As the Omicron BA.1 wave was ebbing, leaving behind an imaginary wall of “super-immunity”, Dr.Henry removed indoor public masking protections on March 11. As the even more contagious BA.2 Omicron variant was taking hold in our communities, the timing could not have been worse. And the immunity? Well, it turned out not to be so super after all. Because BC based public health policy on presumed immunity (and many other disastrously wrong assumptions) BC communities are experiencing more infections and a faster pace of reinfections, sadly leading to more deaths and more Long Covid.

Now that our political and public health leaders have thrown in the towel on protecting the general public from a deadly disease that causes long term disability in a substantial number of those who are infected and survive, several high risk, public-facing industries are experiencing critical staff shortages, obviously. Not only our beleaguered healthcare system, but also schools, airlines, ferries and more.

Realising the error of their ways, governments around the world have adjusted their approach and reintroduced the additional layers of protection that have allowed us to keep infection more or less under control for the past two years.

Just kidding. No, they didn’t. In her May 10, 2022, briefing, Dr. Henry skipped her typical promises of a rosy, imminent post-pandemic return to “normal” to promise us a terrible, gruelling fall. Yet she has already indicated that she won’t do her job and implement robust public health measures to prevent a deadly and debilitating disease from steamrolling our entire population all the time, all at once, and forever.

The days of active intervention by governments and public health officials to contain the spread of a deadly infection seem to have drawn to a close, and will not be coming back any time soon.

And so we’ve entered a new phase of the pandemic, where the halls of power echo with feigned bewilderment.

Why are the lines at the airport so long?

A few weeks after viral videos washed over social media showing Alaska Airlines (and others) making a mid-flight announcement that masking is no longer required, the company revealed that there’s been a scheduling mixup (“not having enough pilots to fill our schedule”) that will require the cancellation of 50 fully booked flights per day until at least June. Many other airlines have followed suit.

Why is BC Ferries cancelling sailings?

BC Ferries announced that they will continue to cancel sailings through the summer into the fall, because there is apparently a “worldwide shortage of mariners” due to retirement, and “some challenges” with “staff illness.”

Why are emergency rooms shutting down?

As emergency rooms and clinics continue to shut down in Port McNeil, Merritt, Clearwater, and many other communities, all due to an “unanticipated” shortage of nurses and an “unforeseen” shortage of doctors, the government continues to ignore calls for improved working conditions and pandemic mitigations. Instead, Health Minister Adrian Dix tells us that “one way to attract people to the public health care system is to build extraordinary new facilities where people want to work!”

It seems that our leaders in public health and government are not yet ready to accept, let alone confess, that letting COVID-19 spread willy-nilly through our communities was a bad idea.

As ever-more-infectious COVID-19 variants burn through the general population, debilitating up to 20% of the infected workers, the entire apparatus of government power and influence has mobilised to persuade us we’re wrong to assume that the most obvious explanation for the snowballing societal impacts of perpetual mass infection is the correct explanation.

It’s understandable that public health officials would rather not acknowledge their mistakes when the cost can be measured in human lives.

The temptation to look for any other explanation must be immense. But we need our leaders to find the courage to face the truth, even when the truth is embarrassing. (Perhaps especially when the truth is embarrassing.) To conquer this virus, we must evolve and adapt our public health policies and mitigation strategies as quickly as COVID-19 evolves and adapts to evade our vaccines.

There’s nothing to be gained by burying our heads in the sand. COVID-19 is not going anywhere unless we can get out ahead of it. We won’t be able to do that if our public health officials keep refusing to look at the disastrous course this unmitigated community spread of COVID-19 has charted for us.

It’s time for our leaders to tell the truth.

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Archived Briefings from Protect Our Province BC

A Protect Our Province BC panel discussion about how we as a community, can pull together to create a safer learning environment for kids when school starts again in September! We can avoid another ‘tripledemic’ if we work together! Ready for Fall 2023? Briefing video:
“COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy and may protect newborns from infection, especially if vaccines are given in the second or third trimester. This is similar to what we are already doing with other maternal vaccines, including TDaP and seasonal influenza.” – Dr. Eastabrook
“If we had an epidemic of people with broken limbs and we saw people in plasters and crutches, it would be more evident. But there is a lot of disability that is happening, which is a hidden disability often, which is why we need to talk about it more, for people to understand what the consequences are. And that will help to make better decisions.” - Lynette

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