Dr. Bonnie Henry is eyeing a possible ease of restrictions by the summer of 2021, however, she says it will take some patience and resilience from British Columbians over the next few months.
Earlier this week, British Columbia’s top doctor sat down with CHEK’s own Rob Shaw in an exclusive interview to provide some further insight into the current COVID-19 landscape in British Columbia.
During the interview, the provincial health officer said the recent rise in COVID-19 transmission on Vancouver Island is creating some concerns, but residents also have reasons to be optimistic.
Dr. Henry told CHEK that if British Columbians can hold the line over the next few months while officials continue to vaccinate the most vulnerable, restrictions could ease by the time summer rolls around.
“If we can just get through these next few months and get to that place, we’ll be able to do a lot more this summer…and we’ll get to that point where we can get back to not wearing masks again, where we can get back to being together again,” said Dr. Henry. “But we have to have that patience and resilience and determination to get us through these next few weeks.”
“There is an end, but we need to get there as safely as we can,” Dr. Henry added.
With a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine available, Dr. Henry emphasized that British Columbia still has a couple more months of restrictions (at least) before it can prevent community transmission.
“Once we get enough vaccine into enough people, we’re going to see a dramatic drop-off in numbers,” she said. “We also know it doesn’t spread as easily in the spring and summer months, so we have a lot of things on our side.”
Since implementing the latest set of health restrictions – including mandatory masks, bans on events, and the limitations on gatherings – British Columbia has seen a flattening of its COVID-19 curve.
Despite the daily provincial case count levelling off, Dr. Henry says there is still work to be done as numbers continue to be in the several hundreds and transmission in the Island Health region is surging.
Additionally, there are new risks at play as B.C. health officials have detected cases of COVID-19 variants in the province. Both a U.K. variant and a South African variant of the coronavirus have been detected in B.C. and Dr. Henry says these slightly different strains are more easily transmitted.
“Probably a little more concerning is that we now have three of what we call the South African variant, which is slightly different but what’s also worrisome about it, is it being more easily transmitted between people,” Dr. Henry told CHEK News. “All three of these have been in the Lower Mainland, but none of them that we can find a travel connection to, so that is concerning that we have some transmission in the community. From the cases, we know we haven’t seen any onward transmission, but we still haven’t figured out where these people got the virus.”
Although Dr. Henry said in other parts of the world some of these COVID-19 variants have taken off, she also acknowledged that there is evidence that following safety regulations – things like washing hands, wearing masks and keeping safe distances from others – have proven effective in combatting the spread of these versions as well.
By summer, the provincial health officer thinks British Columbia will be in a very different position in regards to the virus but cautions that if we don’t practice patience and resilience, it will be “that much longer” before things return to normal.
In the full 17-minute exclusive interview, Shaw and Dr. Henry cover a range of topics including COVID-19 variants, whether or not health and safety habits will stick around beyond the pandemic, and the landscape of long-term care facilities among other things.