As countries around the globe are swiftly acting ahead of an anticipated Omicron variant wave, BC is also battling massive damage from floods and mudslides. Not only that, but BC’s hospital systems are strained to the limit, as Protect our Province BC discovered when we asked healthcare staff to tell us their stories.
Looking at how BC fared with handling the Delta variant over the summer, the growing concerns over the Omicron variant make it obvious that BC needs to change their COVID-19 response to follow the established science to allow BC to function while also mitigating spread.
The government and public health need to enact immediate actions that will contain the virus and prevent further illness and suffering. These actions have proven to work in other countries and jurisdictions and are backed by solid science.
In this POP BC briefing, we examine scientists’ concerns regarding the Omicron variant, how BC has failed to respond in the past to evolving threats, and what BC can do to avoid another COVID wave, which we can’t afford given our over-stressed healthcare systems.
Facilitator: Dr. Amy Tan, Palliative Care & Family Physician, Researcher, Educator, Clinical Associate Professor, UBC Faculty of Medicine
- Dr. David Fisman, Professor of Epidemiology, University of Toronto
- Clip from PoP BC Briefing #4,
- Dr. Brenda Hardie, Family Doctor, Vancouver, BC
- Dr. David Forrest, Infectious Diseases and Critical Care Physician, Nanaimo
Highlights from this briefing
Summary of Key Points
- BC is not “post-pandemic” or “endemic”
- BC’s COVID policies have not been evidence-based.
- BC must start following the science and take preventative measures now.
Omicron is unlike any COVID-19 variant we have seen before.
Dr. Fisman discusses Omicron, the newest Variant of Concern. This virus is like nothing we have seen before. Omicron is highly mutated, including mutations that make it spread more easily. It isn’t clear if the rapid increase in cases in South Africa is due to Omicron being more contagious, more capable of evading immunity from vaccines or previous infection, or both.
It is possible that Omicron has been widespread since as early as September. Early data shows that people with a third booster are less likely to get seriously ill, but unvaccinated people appear to be getting more seriously ill than with Delta. Dr. Fisman encourages us all to get vaccinated and remain aware of the fact that COVID is airborne and spreads through the air we breathe.
In a briefing from BC Public Health, COVID was incorrectly described as ‘endemic’.
Dr. Fisman defines “endemic”: A pandemic is defined by widespread susceptibility. Over time, the number of people infected by one person (R) is reduced from exponential growth (one person infects several others) to an R closer to 1 (one person infects one other person). This is when the endemic stage is reached.
Nowhere in Canada has reached the stage of endemicity. The Maritimes have done particularly well, as they have paid attention to the science and used mitigation strategies more effectively than BC.
Dr. Fisman is critical of BC’s pandemic strategy, which does not provide rapid tests to the public and limits the data being shared. He describes this as trying to fight COVID with one arm timed behind your back, and says keeping the truth from the public is disempowering and unacceptable.
BC is grappling with three crises: the COVID pandemic, the opioid crisis and the devastating impact of climate change.
Many healthcare workers have answered the POP BC survey to reveal the healthcare system in BC is so overwhelmed that many healthcare workers do not believe it can no longer provide the level of care British Columbians deserve.
Dr. David Forrest reveals that ICUs are overwhelmed and workers are exhausted.
Dr. Forrest fears that once this pandemic is over, many nurses will leave the healthcare system. Some hospitals are struggling to cope, with only one RN per ward.
Vaccines are effective to prevent severe disease, but if 10% of the Canadian population becomes ill and 1% of those require ICU, it means tens of thousands of ICU admissions. This increase in demand will will overwhelm our healthcare system.
The crisis is exacerbated by fact that the typical length of stay for a COVID patient is weeks long, and these patients consume a tremendous amount of hospital resources while in the ICU. A steady trickle of patients in the ICU while few are able to leave to free up resources is enough to overwhelm the system, even without a massive increase in admissions.
We are very concerned about the viability of our healthcare system.
Dr. Amy Tan is critical of the fact that we continue to see an increasing number of cases in B.C. After 20 months, requiring another lockdown will represent a failure of public health policy.
In order to remain open, BC needs a VaccinePLUS policy. This means that on top of vaccines we need to test, trace and isolate, use masks, clean the air we share and make widespread use of rapid tests.
Vaccines alone will not stop the pandemic. We need multiple layers concurrently to protect us.
POP BC supports:
- VaccinesPLUS policy
- Better access to PCR and rapid tests
- Clear ventilation and filtration standards
- Free, high quality masks for the public
- N95s for healthcare workers
- Investment in air quality in schools, long-term care and hospitals
- Public health information campaign on airborne/aerosol transmission and rapid tests