As Nova Scotia prepares to drop COVID-19 restrictions, Dr. Lisa Barrett urges caution
'This virus is still changing far more quickly than most virologists and immunologists expected'
Nova Scotia has announced it will lift all COVID-19 restrictions on March 21.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett is concerned that there is still much that is not known about the virus and the potential impact of removing public health measures on the most vulnerable in the population.
On Thursday, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, told CBC's Information Morning in Halifax that the pandemic isn't over, but that Nova Scotia was entering a different phase where mandates and regulations would no longer be required.
Speaking on Information Morning on Friday, Barrett described the removal of "non-invasive precautions" as "challenging."
Her conversation with host Portia Clark has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
Listen to the full interview here:
What do you think of the timing to lift COVID-19 restrictions if things go well?
New pathogens and host virus interactions don't often follow strict year deadlines. I think it's important at this point for us to take a pause and recognize how we've gotten to this success point where we can consider some changes. And that's because we have a lot of great usage of vaccines, not just in Nova Scotia but Canada, and because we used other precautions to bring the virus down.
The next piece is to understand what might be the next moves of the virus so that we can be educated about our next move.
Do you have any questions about setting a firm deadline of March 21 and what should we be looking for between now and then?
This virus is still changing far more quickly than most virologists and immunologists expected. The impact of its ability to change quickly and away from our protective measures is not quite known yet, and we need to be aware that that could change very quickly.
There's uncertainty around how quickly this virus is going to [rise again] and how well having no public health measures will protect our most vulnerable. And because we don't know those things, it's very different than where we are with a virus that's been with us for many years, like influenza. It does seem a bit challenging to take away basic and non-harmful, non-invasive precautions altogether at this high point of uncertainty where we have had some success and that includes masking, testing and, of course, social distancing.
What have you been hearing from the medical community about the end of restrictions and whether there's support for this way of moving through the next few weeks to that deadline?
I think there is a lot of concern about removing altogether basic things like masking. We really do need to not just do standard testing, standard surveillance. Many expert groups are considering enhanced surveillance and quite a bit of testing, not just for the very highest risk because by the time we get to another wave and high hospitalizations we've missed the boat somewhat.
If we have easy ways of going forward that keep not just our vulnerable, but other people in our population, safe while we get through the next three to six months and understand more about what the virus is going to do, that makes great sense.
It sounds like a lot of people will keep their masks on at least initially, maybe until they feel more comfortable, but a lot of people who are immunocompromised, say they do feel vulnerable and they do feel very uncomfortable about the next steps. How concerned do you think they should be in this atmosphere of choice?
We certainly do need to do a good job of getting out to people who those vulnerable people are [and] making sure they know they're vulnerable and making sure people around them know that we have a responsibility to help protect them. We all share air. That's where a lot of our other public health measures around how we don't smoke and how we don't do things around other people. There are a lot of vulnerable people in Nova Scotia. And, hopefully, Nova Scotians, for the next few months while we're figuring this out, can take that approach.
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With files from Information Morning Halifax