British Columbians may be able to remove their masks and rejoin family and friends for outings this spring and summer if they can hold the line on COVID-19 cases until then, says Dr. Bonnie Henry.
In an interview with CHEK News on Monday, Henry said she’s hopeful that if people rally to lower B.C.’s daily case count, and the province does not see a large-scale outbreak of the U.K. or South African variant of the virus, that we can enjoy a summer with more freedoms than we saw last year.
“Once we get enough vaccine into people, we’re going to see a dramatic drop-off in the virus,” said Henry. “We also know it doesn’t seem to spread as easily in the spring and summer months. So we’ve got a lot of things on our side.
“If we can just get through this next few months and get to that place, we’ll be able to do a lot more this summer than we ever did last summer. And we’ll be able to get to that point where we can get back to not wearing masks again, where we can get back to being together in that way we all so want to.
“But we have to have that patience and resilience and determination to get us through these new few weeks.”
Not having to wear masks in certain situations is a possibility, she said.
“I absolutely think by summer we’re going to be in a very different situation. As long as we can hold our line right now. Because if we start to see things take off again it’s going to be that much longer before we can ease back on things again.”
But the path to get to the summer won’t be easy.
Henry on Monday called on British Columbians to buckle down, follow restrictions and try to reduce B.C.’s daily new COVID-19 case counts from current levels. She said the province is a critical point, especially with delays in vaccine supply from the federal government disrupting the planned vaccination schedule for long-term care homes. She also on Monday pushed back the length of time to get a second dose of vaccine to 42 days.
Of particular concern is the threat of variant versions of COVID-19, which are more contagious and easily transmissible. Vancouver Island saw three cases of the U.K. variant this month, but they were contained before spreading, said Henry.
“Probably a little more concerning is we’ve had three of what we call the South African variant, which is slightly different but also worrisome about it being more easily transmitted between people,” said Henry.
“And all three of these have been in the Lower Mainland but none of them we can find a travel connection. So that is concerning . . . we still haven’t figured out where these people got the virus.”
Vancouver Island has seen its daily new case count trend upwards in recent weeks, centered around the mid-Island. On Monday, there were 73 new cases announced.
“We have seen an uptick on the Island, but also across the province and it does reflect increased transmission in the community, people who have travelled and come back to Vancouver Island,” she said.
“Where we’re most concerned is central Island where we’ve had quite a bit of transmission, in Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Duncan. So absolutely the focus is on that area and trying to get it under control.”
She urged those residents to maintain their distance, cut down on interactions with others, washing their hands and going back to the fundamentals.
Henry also said she hopes some of our societal changes made during the pandemic might become permanent in the future.
The use of social restrictions and masks have reduced B.C.’s regular influenza spread – which often kills numerous seniors annually – to almost nothing this year. Hospitals, which are usually overflowing due to the flu at this time of year, have yet to reach max capacity.
Henry said the basics we have gotten used to in order to prevent COVID-19 would have a large benefit on our society if some of them continued. She cited diligent hand-washing, not attending work or school if sick, and covering your mouth when you cough as major societal changes she hopes are permanent.
But Henry wouldn’t go as far as saying distances in lineups, plexiglass at restaurants and mandatory masks in public should stay – noting people need a return to normalcy to feel part of a community.
“I think there’s a balancing here,” she said.
“I think about the times we have those social interactions in a restaurant with friends and music and that feeling of connectedness of community. We don’t want to lose those things. And having those barriers are hard. But those thoughts of making it okay not to go if we are not feeling well, making it okay to stay away if we’re feeling the least bit unwell, making it okay to wear a mask if we are not sure. I think we want to keep some of these things.”
Watch the full interview with Henry in the video below
Dr. Bonnie Henry's full interview with Rob Shaw
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