The perfect storm is upon us. The BC healthcare system is still struggling with Delta. Many healthcare workers have quit. Those who remain are burnt out. For the public, pandemic fatigue has set in, with long-awaited, deeply yearned-for events and social gatherings planned for the holidays.
In comes the Grinch—a new variant that spreads so easily that it managed to replace Delta in South Africa in only two weeks. A ravenous beast of a virus that had already spread to eighty-nine countries, including Canada, before the ink was dry on new travel restrictions arbitrarily imposed on various African countries.
To make matters worse, emerging studies show that Omicron is evading immunity. Many breakthrough infections are occurring in double vaccinated individuals.
In other words, the vast majority of people in BC are now vulnerable to infection with Omicron. This spells disaster for our healthcare system.
A wave of Omicron infections is coming to BC that will unravel our battered healthcare system, traumatize its workers, and infect many more people than we’ve ever seen before. Omicron will ruthlessly expose and break any weak links in our pandemic response, however vividly rose-tinted the glasses of our public health officials might be.
We urgently need to expand our hospital capacity. This is about so much more than just ”beds”. Hospitals rarely run out of furniture, but the people who keep the health care system running smoothly are in limited supply, highly specialized, and not easily replaced. BC health workers were already reporting staffing shortages, burn-out, and exhaustion before Omicron arrived. Now, after all they’ve been through, their numbers will soon be further reduced by the need to isolate due to infection.
What’s BC’s plan to support health workers and pick up the slack? As Premier Horgan’s government doesn’t appear to have one, we can offer some recommendations.
- BC needs a circuit breaker. Those who are able to stay at home should do so until third doses, N95s, and rapid self-test kits have been distributed across the province.
- Health care workers in BC must be prioritized for third doses, and provided with N95s or the equivalent, as they are in Ontario.
- The public must have equitable access to high quality masks to protect themselves against airborne transmission. These should be made mandatory to enter any public building, and offered for free at the door.
- All Covid Public Health Safety Protocols must be updated to address aerosol transmission, especially in Long Term Care facilities, hospitals and schools.
Omicron moves faster than any virus we’ve ever seen. If the BC government continues to take a “wait and see” approach, it will inevitably result in a “too little, too late” public health strategy. So how can BC residents help to reduce the strain on the healthcare system?
- BC residents should do everything they can to stay safe until a third dose of the vaccine is made available to all.
- We need to improve the effectiveness of our masks. Cloth masks and “baggy blues” were never enough. Wear an N95 or equivalent mask indoors in public spaces.
- Wherever possible, work from home and avoid social gatherings right now. Contacts and time spent indoors in public buildings should be limited.
- Anyone who is sick MUST stay home, and employers MUST support self-isolating workers, both financially and in their workplace culture.
SARS CoV-2 is spread through the air we share, and limiting our exposure is now more important than ever. But unlike in March 2020, we know what to do and how to stay safe.
BC Public Health’s unwillingness to act quickly and effectively in the face of Omicron will lead to exponential growth in hospital admissions, even if its symptoms turn out to be much less severe.
This government must be more proactive, and all of us must do everything we can to protect the healthcare system and its exhausted workers until effective measures are finally implemented in BC. Let’s put the public back into Public Health. Our healthcare workers can’t do this alone.