Public health’s main role is to keep the population safe and healthy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, each of us has learned to calculate our own personal risk and the risk of other members of our households in order to stay safe.
This is similar to the process of shared decision making in medicine, where a clinician and patient collaborate to come to a treatment decision, each bringing their own expertise. The clinician brings expertise in risks and benefits, while the patient intimately understands which risks and benefits are best suited to their individual goals.
Just like with shared decision-making for individuals, risk mitigation in our communities cannot be done without timely and accurate information.
In BC, Public Health leaders have failed to inform BC residents and business owners of the main mode of COVID transmission: the air we share. By not keeping up with the science, Public Health has jeopardized the wellbeing of all BC residents.
Without a clear understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, individuals are unable to keep themselves and their families safe. The same goes for businesses, their employees and customers.
On November 12, 2021 Dr. Teresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and on December 16 2021 Adalsteinn Brown, Co-Chair of the Ontario Science Advisory Table, finally acknowledged that COVID-19 is airborne. On December 22, WHO issued “updated guidance” for health workers, stating that “respirators which include masks known as N95, FFP2 and others, should be worn in care settings where ventilation is known to be poor.”
Both Dr. Tam and WHO have finally acknowledged what scientists have been shouting about since Spring 2020—SARS-CoV-2 spreads through the air we breathe and share.
In BC, public health officials would have you believe “it is just semantics.” But is it really “semantics” when it leads to people getting infected, developing Long COVID, or dying?
On December 24, Dr. Bonnie Henry came close, but still stopped short of acknowledging that COVID is airborne and is transmitted through aerosols that can float over long distances and remain suspended in the air for a prolonged period of time.
Ignoring the main mode of transmission will lead to an astronomical number of infected individuals
Omicron is much more infectious and transmissible; it replicates more rapidly and evades our antibodies from prior infection or two vaccine doses. We watched exponential growth happen in real time as cases exploded in Denmark, the UK, and Quebec. And now it’s happening here in BC too.
Omicron’s much shorter incubation period, and BC’s lack of testing capacity for both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid antigen tests (RATs) are a dangerous combination. By the time you learn you are infected, you will have infected your whole household and your close contacts. In turn, they will have gone on to do the same, and so too will the people they’ve infected.
These chains lead to explosive outbreaks and an exponential growth in infections. The BC Modelling Group has illustrated this well in their report BC is facing an Omicron tidal wave.
Omicron will not be stopped if we don’t understand once and for all that wearing the best mask possible is our most effective protection. The cloth masks that our BC PHO frequently wears are wholly inadequate.
Now is the time to level up our mask game and move to higher grade masks with the best fit and function possible.
N95 masks or the equivalent should be made mandatory for entry into any public building and provided for free at the door.
Until we mandate and implement the infectious aerosols precautions for ventilation and filtration recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), our buildings will continue to create high risk environments for COVID-19 outbreaks. Because of its increased transmissibility, Omicron will only amplify the impact of poor ventilation on the spread of COVID-19.
Finally, when it comes to risk mitigation, Public Health needs to be transparent about COVID-19 hotspots.
As Vancouver Coastal Health Public Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly shared on December 20, 80% of COVID cases in Vancouver were the Omicron variant. What she did not share is where Omicron is spreading like wildfire.
This analysis, provided by Rob DuMont, amateur data and policy analyst, reveals where the 7-day test positivity rate is extreme (>15%) and where you are most at risk (as of December 23rd) for picking up Omicron and bringing it back to your home and your community.
The local health areas with the highest positivity rate are Kitimat (32%), Revelstoke (28%), Upper Skeena (26%), Vancouver Island North (25%), Vancouver Island West (25%) and Howe sound (23%).
This is déjà vu, as you will recall the Gamma variant was allowed to run rampant in Whistler in the winter of 2021 and created a provincial and national super spreading event. Knowing which communities have the highest COVID risk, allows you to make the best decisions for you and your family. It also permits responsible business owners to evaluate the risk to their employees and clients and thus make timely decisions around options like work from home, curb-side pick up and for restaurants when to shift to take-out.
When each person and business is provided with timely, transparent data and is empowered to make informed decisions, our communities become safer and we all benefit.