Edited for accuracy: April 13, 2023.
A POP BC Blog with the contribution of Anneke Wijtkamp
B.C.’s Long Covid cover-up: what they knew and when they knew it
As we enter our fourth pandemic year, just how much do you know about Long Covid? For those of you who know something about it, chances are it wasn’t learned during a B.C public health briefing. In fact, most people still think that the overall risks are low, and that young “healthy” people are somehow immune. Others falsely believe that vaccines will prevent Long Covid. These widespread misconceptions aren’t surprising since the overriding public health message has become Omicron is “mild.”
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, her medical health officers, Minister of Health Adrian Dix, and his health ministry have never warned you about post Covid health impacts beyond an acute infection. They’ve never told you about the chronic debilitating medical condition that can affect every organ in the body, including your heart, lungs, pancreas, kidneys, brain, gut, blood vessels and more. But they’ve all known about these harms for three years. They’ve known that no one in our population is without risk. They’ve known all this and yet have continued to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19.
So, when did B.C.’s health leaders first learn about Long Covid? As far back as April 2020 according to a legislative fact sheet uncovered in this freedom-of-information response (pgs.6-7). This is when regional Health Authorities, Provincial Health Services Authority and BC research organizations, started plans to develop a post Covid interdisciplinary clinical care network. In other words, B.C.’s health leaders recognized post COVID-19 complications were severe enough to create a new clinical care program back in early Spring 2020, yet they did not think it was important enough to inform British Columbians about the long-term risks of COVID-19.
What did B.C.’s health officials know about Long Covid?
The detailed revelations about all that was known and not shared just keep unraveling too, thanks to a comprehensive Right to Information Response uncovered by our friends at Protect Our Province New Brunswick. The unveiling starts with a letter dated June 30, 2020 addressed to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam and all the P.H.O.s and chief medical officers of health, including B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry. Written by Long Haul Covid Canada (now known as Long Covid Resources Canada; read the response they received from the BC PHO) it described the group’s disabling COVID-19 symptoms, lasting well past their initial infection, as well as their difficulty accessing care and support.
In July 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada shared a presentation outlining persistent post-infection COVID-19 symptoms including cardiovascular (heart disease and stroke) and other chronic disease impacts with all whose name appears on this list. Recipients included B.C’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Assistant Deputy Minister Covid Response and Health Emergency Management Division Dr. Ian Rongve, Deputy P.H.O.s’ Dr. Reka Gustafson and Dr. Brian Emerson.
From then on, health officials across Canada were all regularly updated by both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Office of the Science Advisor of Canada, Dr. Mona Nemer with the accumulating international evidence on Long Covid.
Also, in the summer of 2020, the Provincial Health Services Authority was making the business case for a provincial Post-COVID-19 program, as is revealed by this August 12, 2020, F.O.I. Ministry of Health decision briefing note (pgs.3-4). Specifically, it laid bare that COVID-19 caused “ongoing problems including fatigue, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, achy joints, foggy thinking, a persistent loss of sense of smell, and damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain.” This further confirms that our B.C. government officials understood, very early on, the potentially devastating long-term health impacts of COVID-19.
Thanks again to PoP NB’s investigative work, the scientific evidence just kept flowing from there. There were the regular PHAC reports dating back to May 2021, confirming that long Covid was affecting “both adults and children,” the non-hospitalized and “young working aged adults.”
Health officials Canada-wide also received detailed monthly, then bi-weekly updates from the Office of Chief Science Officer including 340 Long Covid studies dating back to August 2021. And B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s Epidemiology Lead Dr. Danuta Skowronski, Medical Director Dr. Monika Naus, and Public Health and Preventive Medicine Specialist Dr. Mayank Singal were all on the recipient list.
What did B.C.’s public health officials do with the Long Covid information?
The OCSO also included these cautionary words for health officials: “Policy responses need to take into account the complexity of Long Covid.” “Public health response to COVID-19 needs to adequately address long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.” And yet in B.C. our pro-infection policies persisted, and Dr. Henry continued to push “hybrid immunity,” or vaccination plus infection.
All this accumulated evidence highlights the lasting impact of SARS-CoV-2 on multiple organ systems well after the acute infection has resolved. It highlights that it can affect otherwise healthy people. That it can debilitate those of us who only had a mild or asymptomatic acute infection. That it can profoundly compromise even young working aged people, and that it’s disproportionately impacting women.
That it can happen to you.
Let this all sink in. Since June 30, 2020 and possibly earlier, B.C.’s government and public health officials, including our P.H.O., have all known about the significant risks of post-Covid chronic health conditions and viral syndrome. Yet Dr. Henry, the person in charge of protecting the health and wellbeing of all British Columbians, has never told you that the best way to prevent these outcomes is to avoid COVID-19 infections, nor has she told you that repeat infections increase your risk.
On April 1, 2023, the Ministry of Health closed its four in-person Post Covid Recovery Clinics. Understandably, British Columbians with Long Covid feel abandoned.
The truth is that we’ve all been abandoned all along.
Negligence: A breach of the standard of care that is owed by a person who has a duty of care. This usually includes doing/not doing something that a reasonable person would do or not do, considering the circumstances and the knowledge of parties involved. Source: Canadian Public Health Association website