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What happens when misinformation is spread by Public Health?

This past week has been full of what Dr. Henry calls “intentional disinformation” about COVID-19.

But the disinformation was not only spread by anti-vax and anti-mask groups. This week, our own BC public health officials joined in with two scheduled presentations: Child Care: Discussing COVID-19 with Public Health and North Vancouver School District’s Q & A with Dr. Mark Lysyshyn (the Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer at Vancouver Coastal Health).

It’s impossible to debunk all the flawed, misleading information they shared, so we will focus on the most unscientific—BC’s pandemic response pertaining to children.

1. On the risks of isolation periods being decreased to 5 days:

... and how did Public Health arrive at five days?

From the child care presentation:

The data was showing us that people who were vaccinated and had mild illness tend to get over it really quickly with Omicron and they are less likely to shed virus for a longer period of time. So that’s why we were able to change that period of isolation. It does not mean that there aren’t some people that shed for up to 10 days as we have seen with every other strain of SARS-CoV-2 [...] but it does mean that with the milder illness [...] we have seen it fall off. The risk of shedding live virus so you can infect somebody else after 5 days with Omicron is about 15%, so what we are doing is balancing those risks and the need to have people getting back when they are feeling well, getting back to work and school and childcare and education.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry (19:22-20:56)

The UK Health Security Agency considers the risk of still being infectious with COVID after 5 days to be 31% based on pre-Omicron modelling. Despite experts’ criticism, the UK did recently shorten the isolation period but, unlike BC, the UK requires two consecutive negative results on Rapid Antigen Tests, 24 hours apart, before ending isolation. In BC, rapid tests were promised, but school staff  have only received two tests each, while students have none, and childcare centres are still waiting.

A recent study followed 260 healthcare workers who had been infected with Omicron and were tested with Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) before returning to work. It found that 43% of  all RATs (134 out of 309) were positive between days 5 -10. After 5 days of isolation, 58% of healthcare workers who received their first Rapid Antigen test on day 6 (n=53) were positive regardless of symptom status.

In BC, because testing is unavailable to the general public, and isolation ends in 5 days whether you're infectious or not, many people are returning to work still infectious. Despite newly released study findings from the CDC showing that wearing N95 masks indoors dramatically reduces the risk of infection, these masks aren't promoted for the general public or made readily available to most BC healthcare workers. While the province does request that those who believe they've had COVID-19 wear a mask for five days after their isolation period ends, they do not promote what is now widely understood to be the most protective type of mask.

2. On the concerning effect of Omicron on the unvaccinated child (ie 0-4 year olds):

How is it safe for an unvaccinated child who has been exposed to COVID to return to a child care setting? Especially when the child is too young to wear a mask and the staff cannot physically distance themselves in this setting?

From the Child Care Presentation:

...with the Omicron variant, COVID has become an infection that is much more transmissible and is much less likely to cause severe illness, particularly in young children and [...] people who are vaccinated."

Dr. Lysyshyn (34:21- 35: 28)

As you may or may not realize, every child under five years old is unvaccinated, as well as half of the children who are five to eleven years old in BC.

Countries that are a little further along than BC in their respective Omicron waves are showing us what we can expect in BC with respect to pediatric infections and admissions.

England, France, and Spain have seen a steep increase in pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID.

Closer to home, in Alberta, the rate of infant hospitalisation was the same as people in their seventies over the period of December 16, 2021 to January 17, 2022.

Alberta's data shows that over one in one thousand infants and rising are being hospitalized for COVID complications.
Alberta's data shows that the rate of hospitalization for infants under one year of age matches the rate for people who are in their seventies.

There is no empirical reason to believe the situation in BC would be any different when it comes to Omicron’s effect on children under five. As shown below, paediatric hospitalisations are climbing, and are higher now than during any previous waves. 

65 children under ten were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 complications between January 1 to January 22, as well as 44 children between 10 and 19. About one in fifteen of these children were admitted to intensive care.

BC pediatric hospitalization rates by age group.

3. On the flaws of comparing Omicron to influenza:

It is really an infection that acts a lot more like other seasonal respiratory viruses that we are very familiar with like influenza. We need to shift our management much more to how we manage those types of viruses.”

Dr. Lysyshyn (34:40-34:55), Child Care Presentation

This is like a very bad influenza season,"

Dr. Henry, CBC Radio One, January 28th

Omicron is not like other seasonal respiratory viruses. It's highly contagious and is spreading rapidly enough to bring our healthcare system to its knees. In the month of January alone, it killed at least 203 British Columbians. 

In BC, in the first ten months of the pandemic, more people died from COVID  than died from the flu over the ten previous years.

CTV chart shows that more people died of COVID in a single year in BC than died from the flu in the ten previous years combined.

Unlike the flu, COVID-19  causes serious long term health problems. At least 10% of infected adults have not fully recovered more than a year after their initial infection.

Despite Dr. Lysyshyn's assertions (27:23- 27:27, North Van Q&A), children are not spared by Long COVID. In addition, after their initial infection, some children develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a rare but potentially serious inflammatory condition that can affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and / or eyes.

So, as we can see, Omicron is not like the cold or the flu.

4. On not having the data to claim that children “don’t spread COVID-19” with serious implications in schools and at home:

We know that kids are less likely to get COVID. They are less likely to transmit COVID. So that has always been something that keeps childcare facilities a little bit safer than some of the other environments that we see..."

Dr. Lysyshyn (35:29-35:42) North Van Q&A

Dr. Lysyshyn seems to have forgotten about the SFU Childcare Society’s  outbreak of February 2021, when at least 26 people were infected with COVID, not including any of the parents.

Not only do children get infected with COVID-19—they infect others.

From January 16th to the 22nd this year, the BC COVID 19 Situation Report showed that the only age group where the rate of COVID infections has increased is in children under 10. The rate of infection of children now exceeds all other age groups. 

Although early 2020 studies suggested lower COVID rates in children, Dr. Theresa Tam acknowledged in the fall of 2021 that schools were major drivers of community transmission. In Quebec, at the start of winter holiday closures, pre-schools and primary schools accounted for 32% of outbreaks, while childcare centres were responsible for 11%. 

As BC Public Health officers have thus far failed to cite their evidence, we can only conclude that they are using badly outdated or poor data when making these claims. 

household contacts are no longer required to isolate, and social contacts are no longer required to isolate, and that is regardless of vaccination status."

Dr. Lysyshyn, North Van Q&A (18:34-18:44)

Omicron (and its subsequent, emerging new variants of concern) is much more infectious than Delta. The Secondary Attack Rate (the proportion of household members who test positive 7 days after one of them tests positive) is 31% for Omicron, and 21% for Delta.

Interestingly, that same Danish study showed unvaccinated (or partially vaccinated) people were more likely to transmit the infection to others than vaccinated people, with those boosted being the least likely to transmit. This has major implications for families with children who are unvaccinated, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned after being infected by one of his children who had developed COVID 19. 

BC Public Health has thrown in the towel when it comes to preventing COVID transmission in our communities.

...as we started this fifth wave, we realised that unfortunately while always likely, it became abundantly clear that COVID 19 will continue circulating in our population for years to come and that everyone will be exposed."

Dr. Alex Choi, VCH Medical Health Officer, January 11th at the UBC CPD session (11:52-12:05)

exposure became unavoidable, it became a reality that most people will get COVID 19"

Dr. Alex Choi, VCH Medical Health Officer, January 11th at the UBC CPD session (12:14-12:21)

Protect Our Province BC disagrees with this statement and Public Health’s approach. Allowing COVID-19 to spread willy nilly through our communities provides virtually infinite opportunities for mutations to occur, leading to variants that are not necessarily less likely to be less deadly and debilitating.

With Omicron being largely uncharted territory, if anything, we should be more prudent, not less. We don't yet know how likely Omicron is to cause Long COVID, MIS-C or any other potential complication.

We invite you to explore our website to see what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.

5 ways to protect yourself from COVID

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