British Columbia

Health professionals dissatisfied with B.C.'s COVID-19 briefings to start hosting their own

A new organization — Protect Our Province B.C. — is going to start hosting its own regular COVID-19 briefings because of what its members say is a "worrisome lack of science-informed pandemic response" in British Columbia.

Protect Our Province B.C. will hold its first briefing Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. PT

Alternative COVID-19 briefings launched by a non-partisan organization will begin Wednesday that will not include Dr. Bonnie Henry or Health Minister Adrian Dix. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

A new organization — Protect Our Province B.C. — is going to start hosting its own regular COVID-19 briefings because of what its members say is a "worrisome lack of science-informed pandemic response" in British Columbia.

The group of self-described independent health professionals, scientists and policy analysts will stream their first live briefing on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. PT. The first briefing will bring together a panel to review the science on aerosol (airborne) transmission and the implications for health care, school and workplace settings. 

Family and palliative physician Dr. Amy Tan will facilitate the panel. She says B.C. health officials are not doing a transparent or thorough enough job relaying to the general public how big a role aerosol transmission plays in spreading COVID-19.

"It actually spreads like second-hand smoke," said Tan, speaking Monday on CBC's On The Coast.

She said government health officials have been reluctant to acknowledge that the virus can be carried in droplets much farther than the "magical two-metre distance" so often suggested. If the infected person is carrying enough viral load, Tan says, they can make even a fully vaccinated person sick.

"We really are about trying to make the science accessible and be able to help educate people in B.C. so they can actually make their own risk assessment and make decisions to help keep themselves and their loved ones as safe as possible," said Tan.

In a statement, the organization says the key feature of the virus is that it is predominantly spread via aerosol transmission, and that to better protect British Columbians several measures need to be taken, including effective ventilation, the widespread use of well-fitting, high-quality masks, easy access to rapid testing, as well as effective contact tracing and exposure notifications.

"We are now 20 months into the pandemic, and our government continues to downplay and ignore important scientific evidence, including consensus that COVID-19 is primarily spread through the air," said group co-founder and family physician Dr. Karina Zeidler in a news release.

"Refusal to accept the science and educate the public on such basic matters, means that we are never going to be able to put an end to the devastating effects COVID-19 continues to have on the health and well-being of people in our society."

Transparency and trust is key

Jason Woywada, executive director for the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said he had mixed feelings about the group's creation.

"These groups are created because there's a problem. The problem that is here is a lack of transparency, that the government isn't being transparent in what they are doing," Woywada said. 

The problem, he says, is that groups like these only further contribute to the erosion of trust at a time when there needs to be shared consensus on the basic facts so that the public can make informed decisions. 

"When I look at this group coming forward, I'm left to assume they are legitimate doctors that are making legitimate claims ... The problem is I can't differentiate them, as a member of the public, from other legitimate doctors that are making legitimate claims. That's why we turn to government institutions to make these types of releases."

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix was asked to comment on the new group during a provincial COVID-19 update Monday.

"There's a robust debate, as there would be on an issue with this much importance, and we're always happy to hear from everybody," said Dix.

Protect Our Province B.C.'s first briefing will be one hour and speakers will include Zeidler, as well as microbiologist and infectious disease physician Dr. Victor Leung and professional engineer Michelle Naef.

The livestream will be available on the group's YouTube, Facebook and Twitter platforms.

Subsequent briefings will include both analysis on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the province and presentations on a variety of pandemic-related topics. Dates will be announced on the above mentioned platforms.

A group of healthcare professionals and policy experts have launched “Protect Our Province B.C.” as a response to what they say is a lack of science-informed public health measures from the B.C. government. We speak with briefing facilitator Dr. Amy Tan. 11:54

With files from On The Coast, The Early Edition

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