It has been 362 days since a COVID-19 case was declared in British Columbia, 10 months since a provincial emergency was declared, and 80 days since all gatherings were banned in the Lower Mainland, with masks made mandatory a short time later.
In other words, people have been doing a lot, for a long time.
Which is why Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s message on Monday seemed, for many, to strike an off note.
“For the next two weeks, I’m asking you to do more,” she said, after announcing that the province’s decline in transmission from the height of the second wave had stalled, and that daily cases and hospitalizations were still too high.
“Take a step back. Stay home and stay away from others.”
A number of people wondered whether that advice was particularly helpful — including the leader of the Green Party.
“The vast majority of people are doing the best they can,” said Sonia Furstenau.
“They’re staying home if they can … they’re restricting their connections with other people. What we need at this point is actually for more effort to be coming from the government.”
Burden on the individual
Furstenau’s words are noteworthy because opposition parties have been generally reticent to criticize the government directly on health policy during this pandemic.
The Green leader said people still needed to follow the government’s orders, and expressed disappointment with those not following the guidelines.
But she said that if the strategy for reducing transmissions had stalled, there needed to be a more robust response than telling people to “do more.”
“If this remains the burden of individuals, when people are very exhausted and fatigued, we need to hear more … about what their policies are going to be to maintain these numbers downward.”
Some of those possible areas of change are entirely within provincial control — schools, care home policies, fines to people, and so on. Some, like new restrictions on national or international travel, are more legally murky or require changes from Ottawa.
Instead, Henry said B.C. was at a “precipice,” but also said no changes in restrictions or strategy would be coming for the time being.
“People have sacrificed a lot to try and keep these infection numbers down,” said Furstenau
“And in return for that sacrifice, it’s important … government at a time like this shows what steps they are taking to match the efforts being made by people.”
‘Now is a dangerous time’
Henry’s message was downbeat and put the onus on individuals, but the worry behind it wasn’t misplaced.
After six weeks of cases in B.C. declining — both on a daily basis and in active ones across the province — they’ve stalled out in the last 15 days. Delivery of the Pfizer vaccine is being drastically reduced at a time when workers and residents of long-term care homes are waiting for their second dose.
In addition, the number of countries where the B117 variant first seen in the U.K. is spreading continues to grow, with no details yet of specific changes that could be made to prevent its quick spread here.
“We need to recognize for the next few months travel is risky. That’s how these variants can come to B.C. and spread,” said Henry on Monday.
“Now is a dangerous time.”
It certainly is. And things could easily get worse, because among jurisdictions that have not adopted a COVID-zero approach, British Columbia continues to have low hospitalization and death counts, as it has throughout the pandemic.
It’s something to be grateful for. But when people are in their third month of not seeing people, and when dozens of people are still dying every week, it’s understandable people would be less gracious than before.
And it may explain why Furstenau thinks the people needing to “do more” aren’t the ones Dr. Henry was talking to on Monday — but the government itself.
“I have deep respect and admiration and empathy for everybody that is working on this. All the people in the health-care system, the ministry, Dr. Henry, I know that people are doing their very best,” she said.
“In times like this, it’s also really important to be responsive to what people are asking for.”