British Columbia·Analysis

'Follow those measures,' says B.C. government, as skepticism grows that those measures are enough

British Columbia announced 908 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest number since the peak of the second wave, as what was a slow increase in transmission in late February has become a much faster one in late March.

B.C. is approaching the heights of the 1st and 2nd waves but with fewer restrictions and more fatigue

Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix share a word during a news conference about Phase 2 in B.C.'s COVID-19 immunization plan at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

"I'm confident that we're on the right track," said B.C. Premier John Horgan on March 17.

If this is the right track, a lot of people would hate finding out what the wrong track is.

British Columbia announced 908 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest number since the peak of the second wave, as what was a slow increase in transmission in late February has become a much faster one in late March.

Since Horgan's "right track" comments, the rolling average of seven-day cases — which Dr. Bonnie Henry has said many times is a key determinant of their strategy — is up 29 per cent. Active cases are also up 29 per cent, and the number of confirmed variant cases has doubled.

Put bluntly: it's not good. 

"It is very worrisome. We are getting into a little bit of complacency," said  Dr. Michael Curry, a UBC clinical professor and emergency room doctor at Delta Hospital. 

"Given that we're loosening up restrictions, people are feeling a little bit freer, and we have these new variants, it is a recipe for trouble."

But while things are troubling right now in B.C., it's hard to predict just how troubling they will get.

Best case still means more COVID

At the height of the first and second wave of the pandemic, B.C. put in restrictions: shutting down schools and encouraging most businesses to close shop in March, putting in mask mandates and banning gatherings in November. 

Right now, restrictions are being removed. People can gather outside, families can visit loved ones in long-term care homes, religious services are being allowed on four days between now and the start of May. 

All of these measures in isolation can be defended, as Health Minister Adrian Dix did on multiple CBC B.C. radio programs Friday: vaccinations have reduced transmission in long-term homes to very low amounts, all evidence shows spreading the virus in small groups outside is unlikely, limiting religious services to four days, mostly outdoors, reflects a compromise at a time of year with many important events for different faiths.

But given the increase in cases and variants, you can forgive some for being skeptical.

"I'm very concerned that we're opening, up when we're seeing cases continuing to increase," said Tracey Saxby, a Squamish resident in her 40s who said she had the virus in the first wave. 

"I still have shortness of breath and I have extreme fatigue .... cognitive difficulties, there's a whole host of weird symptoms." 

The best case scenario for B.C. is that hospitalizations and deaths remain low in the weeks ahead due to the fact most elderly have been vaccinated, that people see the high case numbers and follow the guidelines more than they currently are and the effect of mass vaccinations puts the province in a good spot by the summer. 

That still leaves thousands and thousands of people with COVID in the weeks ahead, all of whom have a chance to end up like Saxby. 

'2 more months'

What should people do in the meantime? 

The province has shown no indication of increasing restrictions, and Dix defended the current approach on Daybreak North on Friday.

"Let's work to follow those measures, I think collectively. I think if we do that … we'll get to a good place," he said. 

British Columbians have been told "two more weeks" as a timeline for following a certain pandemic policy so often that it's become a Groundhog Day trope of existential dread, just as likely to provoke resigned shrugs instead of better behaviour.  

The good news is Dix seems to know this. The bad news is the language hasn't changed — only the timeline. 

"These measures, these very strong measures, need to be adhered to … it's been a year of this, I get it, people are tired of it, and they need to socialize," he said.

"But we're talking about two more months."

From two more weeks to two more months. It's a request that will come across as sensible to some, infuriating to others and not listened to by many.

But the evidence suggests it's absolutely necessary.

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