February ’21: COVID
We are living through a nightmare. An airborne virus is circulating in our communities. It is a terrifying enemy; it causes a high rate of fatal illness in the elderly and immunocompromised, while also killing some who are otherwise young and healthy. Many who catch it show no symptoms, turning them into ideal vectors for further spread.
Its symptoms are manifold and bewildering. COVID can rob victims of their senses of smell and taste, their lung capacity, their ability to focus and think clearly, and even their sanity. It causes symptoms that can linger for weeks, months, perhaps years; even those with “mild” cases may develop long-term disabilities. We cannot just live with it.
Yet, in BC, the government has decided that the interests of the oligarchs that run our economy outweigh the lives of our residents. #COVIDzero is not even discussed, despite the fact that Atlantic Canada and countries like New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, and China have made real progress toward it. We deserve the same ambition here in BC. John Horgan, his new NDP majority, and the PHO under Bonnie Henry have shown a deep disdain for criticism, science, and proactive measures to contain the pervasive threat.
They dragged their feet on masks until late November, denied that the virus was airborne until early January, and continue to traffic in falsehoods about community spread, rapid testing, masking in schools, and more. Now, their fixation is the vaccine—despite proven community spread of the vaccine-resistant South African variant, despite continued supply issues with no clear path to resolution, despite the fact that their most optimistic projections suggest most BCers over 18 will not be vaccinated until at least October. Yikes!
So, listen up, John: We have had ENOUGH.
Here’s our five-point action plan on COVID:
- Universal masking. It is time for masks in schools, along with healthcare facilities and other public spaces that still do not enforce mask mandates. Horgan/Henry’s narrative that cohorts provide protection is untrue, with COVID exposures at dozens of schools across the province. We need masks, everywhere, now.
- Emergency regulations. BC needs to ban evictions, provide shelter to the unhoused, restrict interprovincial travel, define a zonal bubble/lockdown system, and provide direct financial support to workers—including sick leave. With highly contagious variants circulating, we need the societal and health system supports urgently. The third wave is coming, like it or not.
- Good-faith transparency. BC continues to lag other provinces on the level of data they release publicly, and we need clear reporting with consistent timing. Too often, reporting is delayed and insufficiently granular. Research in the public interest, like the recent LTC report, should be made public. Leaders must stop maligning teachers and parents as “not real BCers” or “hysterical” and approach critics honestly and in good faith.
- Scaling test-and-trace. Right now, we are leaving tools on the table. BC is the only province without a COVID alert app; lacks a clear rapid testing plan for schools, LTC, and other facilities; and still does not allow universal testing for asymptomatic people. With under 10,000 tests/day, we are behind the August capacity goal of 20,000 tests/day. And, as variants spread rapidly, we need more viral sequencing and a scale-up of contact tracing.
- Protecting essential spaces. The government is keeping everything open, but has not made clear how we can ensure the spaces we interact in are safe. We need clear communications about when non-essential spaces like bars and restaurants will be expected to close, so business owners and workers can plan in advance. We need clear, consistent social distancing plans, including capacity restrictions. Schools need investments in ventilation, and CO2 monitors to indicate when too much air is staying in a room. Otherwise—we will be forced into lockdowns.
This call to action, sadly, is likely to fall on deaf ears. So it’s up to all of us to make Horgan and the NDP hear our pleas. We need to push the government to act, and shame them until they deliver. This will take grassroots effort, online and offline. But it can be done, and the stakes are too high not to go for it. We can build momentum and push BC to #COVIDzero if we start acting now. #WeHaveHadEnough!
Long-term systemic changes
With February coming to a close (and shockingly little action from the government and PHO despite a 700% increase in variant cases since January), we are ending the month with visions for the future based on the politics that created our COVID crisis. #COVIDzero needs to happen now, but once we’re done, let’s shift focus to:
- Essential worker power. For a government that ran hard on its union backing, education workers, healthcare workers, and all essential workers lack power to gain protections despite their high-risk situations. They deserve reforms that will give them that power and a system that reflects their will, without being forced to take work actions.
- Whole-person care. That means not just medical. Pharma, equipment (incl. vision), dental, and mental. With all the financial strain from the terrible policy response to the pandemic depression, the need is laid bare. We must deliver on the promise of socialized medicine.
- Whole-life care. We need affordable, public care from birth to old age, including daycare and eldercare, and even in death, with investments in hospice to achieve better patient outcomes. We need chronic care systems for everything from long COVID to ME/CFS. We need wellness and nutrition supports.
- Whole-society capacity. We need to renovate and build more healthcare capacity, including for advanced digital technology and mass testing/sequencing capacity. We also need structural reforms to the way we train medical professionals, reducing the cost and time associated with their development, and opening doors to create more jobs in the medical space.
- Addressing COVID’s legacy. We need to define a plan to care for the thousands of people who will suffer from long COVID. This means dedicated resources in our communities to provide support, training programs, research, the whole nine yards.