Books·First Look

Read an excerpt and see the cover of Dr. Bonnie Henry's new book Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Lynn Henry will be available on March 9, 2021.

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Lynn Henry will be available on March 9, 2021

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe is a book by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Lynn Henry. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press, Allen Lane, Derek O'Donnell)

Dr. Bonnie Henry is an epidemiologist, or microbe hunter, and is currently the provincial health officer for British Columbia.

In her 2009 book, Soap and Water & Common Sense, she documented her interest in public health and preventative medicine, along with the three decades spent chasing microbes all over the world — including Ebola, polio, SARS and the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Soap and Water & Common Sense was reissued. 

Henry is now the co-writer of a new book about the first four weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe: Four Weeks that Shaped a Pandemic, is co-authored with Henry's sister, Lynn Henry, who is the publishing director of Knopf Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada.

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe reflects on "communication, leadership and public trust" and examines the balance between politics and policy in society.

The book title is derived from Dr. Henry's tagline at her regular media update briefings on COVID-19. At the time, B.C. had already recorded several cases and its long-term care homes started suffering deadly outbreaks.

After 10 months of this pandemic, there is finally a bit of good news on the COVID-19 front. B.C. will start rolling out vaccines by the end of next week. Carolina Deryk hears more from provincial health officials Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Ross Brown. 7:14

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe combines Lynn Henry's observations and knowledge of her sister's personal and professional background — with Dr. Henry's recollections of how and why decisions were made — to tell the story of the four weeks that changed all our lives.

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe will be published March 9, 2021.

You can read an excerpt from the book below.


Tuesday, March 17 — St. Patrick's Day — was a day of realization and reckoning for many people, including me.

Once again I'd started my morning early, this time to participate in a 4 a.m. WHO call with colleagues from around the world. The global news wasn't in the least heartening; quite the reverse.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the early exponential growth seen in some cities posed the biggest risk for everyone, and that rapid spread in communities from those with minimal or no symptoms was the biggest danger. 

Once hospitals became overloaded, the spillover effects to the entire population were dangerously amplified.

Once hospitals became overloaded, the spillover effects to the entire population were dangerously amplified.

Healthcare workers became infected because they didn't have sufficient time to use their PPE properly — or, often, were short of PPE to begin with. And everyone else couldn't get care for their health needs, resulting in increased sickness and death from all causes.

The provincial health officer is still hoping British Columbians will do the right thing in stopping the spread. 15:10

Transmission in large numbers between people with mild or no symptoms was proving to be the cause of that exponential growth. But more nuanced analysis revealed this to be situational and dependent on many factors. We still didn't know why most people spread the virus to only one or two others while sometimes a person with mild or even no recognized symptoms spread it to hundreds. Such stories were surfacing now: a wedding in Germany where the father of the bride, the only known infected person, passed on the virus to over two hundred guests, some of whom died. The public health investigation showed that he'd greeted every guest with hugs and cheek kisses. 

What if he'd been a regular guest rather than the father of the bride, we wondered, and hadn't greeted every person: Would the same tragedy have unfolded? And closer to home was an unfortunate and now famous event in Seattle, where 52 out of 61 people who'd participated in a two-and-a-half-hour choir practice with a person showing no symptoms became infected — despite maintaining distance from each other and using hand sanitizer. How could one pre-symptomatic person spread the virus to so many?

Bonnie Henry pictured alongside her sister, Lynn Henry and father William Henry. (Lynn Henry)

While we figured out these important details, keeping infected people away from others would be key. In public health we generally use one metre as a safe distance for risk of transmission of droplets (this virus's means of transmission, as suggested by the research to date), but the WHO was now increasingly recommending a distance of two metres. 

As well, the role of non-medical masks in preventing the expulsion of droplets was being closely studied, in a positive way. What was becoming apparent to me, having been part of such discussions for more than a decade, was that we were learning more in weeks about the transmission of respiratory viruses than we had in years. And in my mind there were clear gradations of risk with distance, time, and place: outside was safer than inside, and being inside with lots of open windows and few people was safer than being in a crowd in close quarters. 

The global challenge, and my own particular challenge, was how to convey that nuanced message in a way that would help people make the right decisions. 

There was no easy answer.

What was becoming apparent to me, having been part of such discussions for more than a decade, was that we were learning more in weeks about the transmission of respiratory viruses than we had in years.

Meanwhile, at home in B.C., things were moving fast. On that Tuesday, March 17, rumours of planned St. Patrick's Day parties in Vancouver that would attract large crowds in restaurants and pubs were causing concern. As the minister and I headed to our media briefing in Victoria that afternoon, I knew that the local medical health officer in Vancouver, with the support of the City, would pass an order closing bars altogether. Other municipalities were looking to do the same — and to address those groups of people who hadn't yet absorbed or accepted the restrictions we'd ordered across the province. And in the middle of all this, the safety of restaurants, bars, retail locations, hair salons — the list went on — was being questioned by staff and patrons of these establishments alike.

Now was clearly the time for me to declare a public health emergency. Such an act would focus attention on the gravity of the situation and enable me to make the necessary orders verbally as well as in writing, and as soon as possible.

Watch the first person in British Columbia get vaccinated against COVID-19

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4 months ago
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Dr. Bonnie Henry called it a monumental moment in turning the tide of the pandemic. 1:10

The minister and premier agreed without a beat. We all understood that I needed the authority not only to take action quickly but also to compel data that would help us track the movement and impact of COVID-19 throughout our province. I was struck, too, by the equal need to give people hope — to let them know that we'd weather this storm together, and that there were things each one of us could do to help ourselves and each other.

As I scribbled my notes for the media brief, words came quickly to mind, especially the word "kindness." In the way I thought about it, kindness builds community, which in turn builds resiliency. "Calm" was another word I wrote down, thinking of all we'd heard about people's increasing anxiety and frustration; how some were responding by panic-buying essentials. Finally, I scrawled the word "safe": What did we need to do to stay safe? This was clearly a question on everyone's mind. As the minister and I — and my sister Lynn, who was to be a rare guest at the briefing — made our way through the underground passage to the press room at the legislature, these three words were floating around in my head.

It had been a tough few days, I acknowledged to the assembled media, and I knew without a doubt that, given the virus's incubation period, more difficult days were in store.

That day I announced the second-ever public health emergency in B.C., and followed this with add-on orders closing in-room dining in restaurants, bars, and pubs, limiting these establishments to takeout and delivery only. The gravity of the situation was sinking in at last. And as if to make the situation even more resonant, new cases were rapidly popping up in communities across the province, many related to local dental workers who'd attended the Vancouver conference less than two weeks before. There were also new deaths, most notably and sadly in long-term care.

It had been a tough few days, I acknowledged to the assembled media, and I knew without a doubt that, given the virus's incubation period, more difficult days were in store. The people who were getting sick now had been exposed up to fourteen days earlier, and the people they themselves had exposed were now at risk. I explained that what we were seeing today reflected events of the recent past, events we couldn't alter. We couldn't get angry about what had happened, or that the virus had spread between people unknowingly. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix walk the halls of the B.C. legislature on their way to the COVID-19 briefing for Nov. 9, 2020. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

But we could change our future, I said, if we all took measures now to prevent the next case, the next exposure. Once someone was exposed, there was nothing we could do to prevent them from getting sick if they had the misfortune to have come in contact with a high-enough dose of COVID-19; all we could do was compassionately support these people in staying home and away from others, providing them with the care they needed.

Now that we knew the virus was here — and knew how it was spreading among those we were close to, our communities and families and loved ones — everything was up to us. From this moment forward, we all needed to do what we could to determine our fate for the next two weeks. And what we could do was clear: stay home as much as possible; keep a safe distance from others outside our household; clean our hands regularly; stay away from others, even family, if we were sick; and call ahead to our healthcare providers so that assessments could be carried out safely.

But we could change our future, I said, if we all took measures now to prevent the next case, the next exposure.

Glancing down at the words I'd scribbled on a sheet of paper, I ended that sombre media briefing with a phrase that would become a hallmark of my approach to the global pandemic we were to be embroiled in for even longer than I knew: "Now is our time to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe."

Excerpted from Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe: Four Weeks that Shaped a Pandemic. Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Lynn Henry. Published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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