British Columbia

B.C. health minister defends Dr. Bonnie Henry in legislature over response to COVID-19 transmission in schools

Adrian Dix defended Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in the legislature on Tuesday, after the leader of the B.C. Green Party said British Columbians have been misled about COVID-19 transmissions in schools.

Emails revealed in report show provincial health officer sought data to fit a narrative, Greens leader says

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau has accused Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, pictured here, of seeking information to fit a narrative with regards to COVID-19 transmission in schools. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s Health Minister defended Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in the legislature on Tuesday, after the leader of the B.C. Green Party said British Columbians have been misled about COVID-19 transmissions in schools.

Sonia Furstenau questioned Adrian Dix about emails from Henry and public health leaders centred on the province's response to COVID-19 transmission in schools, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and published by the Burnaby Beacon and Capital Daily

Furstenau highlighted a December 2020 email written by Henry ahead of a press briefing asking health officials for data that indicated transmission in schools was low. 

"Could you please give me some of the stats from your school assessments for the media brief today," Henry wrote, according to the Beacon report. "We need to be able to give some data that supports what we keep saying transmission in schools is low."

Provincial government under fire for response to COVID-19 in schools

3 months ago
Duration 7:06
B.C.'s minister of health defended Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry Tuesday after the Burnaby Beacon and Capital Daily News published a story indicating she didn't have data to support her public message that transmission of COVID-19 in schools was low in December 2020.

At the press briefing, Henry said "the data shows us that we are not seeing schools as a place where transmission is spreading widely."

Furstenau suggested the emails show Henry was searching for information to fit a narrative. 

"She then told the public, over and over again, that transmission in schools was low, denying the reality that teachers and parents were experiencing in their real lives — over and over again, gaslighting," Furstenau said during question period on Tuesday. 

According to the Beacon report, Dr. Richard Stanwick, then chief medical health officer with Island Health, wrote to Henry in April 2021 warning of a spike in school exposures on Vancouver Island. 

Dix said the email was about how COVID cases during spring break were rising, as it had during winter breaks. 

"In other words, transmission was less during school than it was during break periods," he said.

Dix said Stanwick recommended the public be reminded to stay at home when they're sick, something the province has consistently recommended.

Dix accused Furstenau of conflating Stanwick's email and Henry's email, which were written months apart. 

"Dr. Henry has consistently provided her best advice, and the suggestion that she did otherwise is simply incorrect," Dix said.

"Does that mean that she's right every single time? Of course not. This has been an evolving pandemic that has challenged health officers everywhere in the world."

Furstenau said Henry co-authored a study that says at least 70 to 80 per cent of children and youth in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley have been infected with COVID-19.

The study, which lists Henry among 13 authors, says that in contrast, 60 to 70 per cent of adults aged 20 to 59 and about 40 per cent of those aged 60 and over have been infected.

The preprint study, which has not been peer-reviewed and was published on internet site medRxiv on Sept. 9, says surveillance reports of infections had understated the actual levels of infection by 92 times between March and August.

Protect Our Province B.C., a group of health-care professionals, scientists and advocates who say they want evidence-based policies, has called for Henry's resignation and a review of B.C. public health leadership.

"By cherry-picking information that only supported the message she wanted the public to hear, Dr. Henry has violated the trust of the people of B.C. and cannot be viewed as a credible leader anymore," said Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a member of Protect Our Province B.C., in a statement.

With files from The Canadian Press