[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I know that time has lost all meaning, but try for a second to imagine where Canada was one year ago. Most of the country was under a hard lockdown, cases from the first wave of COVID-19 had just begun to fall, long-term care homes were devastated, and as we prepared for what health officials promised was a long battle to come, the country was looking for bright spots for places and people who had risen to meet the challenge, and they found one in British Columbia and its top doctor Dr. Bonnie Henry.
News Clip: To be kind, to be calm, and to be safe.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Henry won universal acclaim, as did British Columbia, for beating back the pandemics first wave with kindness and empathy. And for a long time, that reputation held up.
But like in so many other places, it [00:01:00] couldn’t last forever. BC’s daily case count in the first wave peaked at 80. In the third wave, it has peaked at 1,318. It’s not fair to directly compare those two peaks, so much has changed in a year and our testing capacity has greatly expanded. But it is fair to ask what happened in BC? How did it one of the biggest provinces in Canada handle the first wave so expertly, and then lose control of one a year later? Was anything different about their approach? Was it entirely due to the nature of COVID variants? Did public health advice change? Or did people’s willingness to follow it. And what can the rest of Canada alert from what BC has experienced and how the province has responded?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Liza Yuzda covers the BC legislature for [00:02:00] CityNews1130, and every so often talks to us too. Hello, Liza.
Liza Yuzda: Hello! How are you, Jordan?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I am doing just fine, Um, as well as can be expected. I hope you’re doing the same.
Liza Yuzda: Pandemically well. That’s what I’ve heard is the best you can hope for right now.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: That’s about right. Well, here I will start you with a bit of nostalgia. Do you remember, um, the first wave in BC? It peaked a couple of weeks a year ago.
Liza Yuzda: I remember it incredibly clearly because my mom was diagnosed with cancer a short time before, at Christmas time a year ago. And so I was, she lives in Bellingham, so I was going back and forth between Bellingham and here.
And so I was getting more and more concerned about going on the ferry and all of the things we had to do. So I am. Incredibly clear on it. And I’m incredibly clear our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. I remember it was in Saturday. I think it was the 7th of March, maybe a little later, but I remember she cried.
She, she, she had tears because, and it was a couple of days later-
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Mhm, we talked about that.
Liza Yuzda: Yeah. And it was a couple [00:03:00] of days later that the, we, we heard about the first death and, and yeah, I remember it incredibly clearly.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, and BC was, uh, acclaimed for its handling of the first wave. Do you know what you guys topped out at, uh, in terms of daily case numbers in the first wave?
Liza Yuzda: Ah, daily cases. Let me look. You know what, I’ve got all this on here.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I can, I can tell you, I looked it up. Eighty.
Liza Yuzda: Eighty. It’s funny with the conversation about this now, um, why did we do so well? And some people are saying, well, we didn’t even have a first wave, really. We, we kinda got off scot-free. It wasn’t until going into the fall and Christmas time that we actually had a pandemic, you know, I don’t know if the people who lost loved ones in that first wave would agree with you, but, you know, that’s when we really saw our numbers escalate.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What do you think it was that British Columbia did back then that worked so well? You know, you mentioned Dr. Henry who was obviously, uh, hailed as a, a great leader through that first wave. And we reported on you guys from Ontario as like, look, it is possible. Like [00:04:00] what worked?
Liza Yuzda: I think one of the things that BC did differently than some other places perhaps sooner is the work that was done in long-term care, because of course that’s the most vulnerable population. So I think that may have helped. Like looking back now, I think then like people had all kinds of ideas of what worked really well. And the people of BC listened, they did restrictions, they didn’t do lockdowns. I mean, there’s all kinds of things you can say. In hindsight, was it just good luck? I don’t know. I mean, we had some of the first cases here. We had the biggest growth and we had the connection to the United States.
But of course, East of us there was, in Ontario and Quebec, a later spring break and travel from other countries that made a difference there. So maybe it was just the way spring break was situated here in the province, that we went into spring break and never came back. Whereas, you know, in Ontario and Quebec, people did go away for spring break and brought a lot of cases back.
I think it’s really hard to say that we did [00:05:00] anything hugely well or differently than other people. I think, you know, we get into this real, like right now, there’s a lot of comparison. You mentioned Dr. Henry she’s, you know, she was beloved then, she’s vilified by a lot of people now, and people really want to compare apples and apples, but it’s very hard to compare apples and apples between provinces cause no province is doing exactly the same thing and no province is experiencing the same concerns, the same issues, the same breakdown of cases in the same places.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So tell me about the third wave then, uh, in BC, because that’s what we wanted to talk to you about today. When did it start and what has been different about it in your mind?
Liza Yuzda: When did it start? I mean, it was bad at Christmas. It was bad coming out of Christmas. We were in like the 600, 500 mark cases there.
And I remember when we got to like over a hundred cases and it was outrageous that that just seemed implausible, that we would ever have more than 30 new cases a day. And so we sort of tootled [00:06:00] along at the 400, 500 range for January and February, and then came spring break. And that’s where things, I think, really started to change.
And there’s a lot of people who wanted kids pulled out of school entirely. That seems to be when a lot of cases grew. That’s also though when the province said that people could gather together outside in groups of 10 and some are wondering was, you know, did people just go crazy and think, well, groups of 10 outside are great, so let’s just go wild.
And then they really, you know, it was the end of March that the numbers really exploded. It was, it was March 31st that we had our first thousand case day. And then it just sort of exploded from there. I do this spreadsheet to track cause I like seeing numbers and I didn’t even really do it for work, I just did it for my own mental health. Like I like to see how things are plotting along. And so I use colors. And so when we hit 700, I went to red. Cause I’m like, we’re never going to get worse than red, or 700. And then I got to the eight [00:07:00] hundreds and I’m like, I need to find a new color.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Oh, welcome to Ontario where we’re on our eighth different color or whatever it is.
Liza Yuzda: Yeah. Yeah. So I just, you know, in that, and that’s where it really went big and it was on, it was before we hit our worst day. Our worst day was March or- our first worst day, I should say, when we hit the thousand cases was March 31st. And it was a couple of days before that, that the province instituted the ‘circuit breaker’ here, they call it, which I wouldn’t say specifically is a lockdown, but there were, you know, that was when they stood restaurants, there was no more indoor dining. It was outdoor, only on patios and asking people to just not travel out of their community, really, you know? And then the cases went up and up from there. Fortunately we’re seeing fewer deaths, but again, if your loved one is one of the people dying, it doesn’t that’s like, very cold comfort.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So what has the province done, um, during this third wave? You mentioned the ‘circuit breaker’. I’m surprised to hear, and this is my fault for, for not paying attention to the daily news in BC, um, that the [00:08:00] restrictions had been relaxed that much before, uh, the cases started climbing again.
Liza Yuzda: I don’t know, were they relaxed that much? I like, I don’t know. I don’t know how much that is. Like we were allowed- essentially what they were letting people do is for two families essentially to get together outside at a distance.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Okay.
Liza Yuzda: There was also the big issue of the spring break. Like it was the two things at once. So it’s hard to peel apart, which was which, because it’s spring break, we know that people were traveling to go skiing, traveling to go see family, traveling, to go do vacations.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Liza Yuzda: And clearly, you know, Whistler was the, you know, the big outbreak of the P1 variant. Here on the Island, we we’d had some, um, clusters of cases on Vancouver Island, but we do have a large number of P1 variant cases now.
And so one can only presume that there are people who went to Whistler to holiday and then came back and, um, you [00:09:00] know, clearly people were not following the precautions. So I stumble sometimes on were the precautions too lose or were people just loosing and not following them.
And I think maybe a bit of both, but really like the precautions that are in place and the things that we’re being told to do, are the things that stop the virus from spreading. So if it’s spreading, it says that’s not happening, but maybe they should have closed indoor dining sooner. We know there was modeling done here that showed, you know, in the high risk areas, which is, you know, the Metro Vancouver area really, and, you know, restaurants and bars or lounges, whatever, were one of the top, um, transmission spaces of businesses.
First and Fraser health was manufacturing, but that’s sort of apples to oranges because Vancouver Metro area doesn’t have the same kind of manufacturing they have on the Fraser health, which is more like Surrey and Abbotsford and areas out there.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Liza Yuzda: But, you know, so maybe they should have closed down indoor dining sooner. There was a [00:10:00] lot of people who had issues with it. I’ve always been too nervous to go, but I think when done, right, there’s a lot of businesses that did it well. So yeah, I, you know, be interesting to see 10 years from now, five years from now, when all this is studied, God, I hope it’s over five years from now.
And to look at, you know, comparing jurisdictions in our country against one another. And if they can fetter out through the numbers of what really did work and what didn’t.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, when you hear from the experts and I mean, especially Dr. Henry herself, I guess how much of this is due strictly to the variants? I mean, we’ve certainly heard about BC being the epicenter of P1 in Canada, and I think the rest of Canada, uh, learned about it, obviously through what happened to the Canucks. Um, and I wonder, you know, could it be that we’re not doing anything that much differently, this is just a whole different virus?
Liza Yuzda: This is the thing that that’s, you know, it was a while ago that Dr. Henry said [00:11:00] that we were following closely in Ontario’s footsteps because Ontario had a greater proportion of a percentage of total cases than we had here. But she said, that’s where we’re going to end up, you know, the variant has, you know, the will to live greater than the regular virus, and so it will eventually take over.
Were we doing anything? I don’t know. Like they, we now presume that, public health presumes that all cases are variants. The P1 has been very concentrated. It really did, was centered around Whistler and has spread slightly from there because of people moving from city to city or town to town. It’s because of travel that it’s moved.
Yeah. I, I don’t, I don’t know what to say as far as like, are we doing anything different? I don’t know. Like what, what we’ve been told is that the same things that protect us from transmission with a variant is exactly the same as what protects us from transmission with COVID [00:12:00] original, but there is zero room for error.
And so what they’ve said is they’re seeing here, and I’m not sure if it’s the same in Ontario, but whereas someone would have the virus and go home and maybe they would see one other person in the house get it, maybe not. Now they are seeing entire households that come down with the virus they’re having like she, Dr. Bonnie Henry mentioned the other day that you know, both parents are in hospital in intensive care. And, you know, an aunt has to come take the children who also have had the virus to take care of them because there’s no one to take care of them. So it’s brutal, it’s relentless, and it has low threshold for anybody giving it, uh, a window to come in.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: How has that changed the public perception of the government? You touched on this a little bit earlier about, uh, Dr. Henry being vilified now.
Liza Yuzda: Huge. It, it, it has been such a difference. Schools has been a huge thing here. There’s a small, I think very loud, very vocal, very [00:13:00] organized group who are insistent that schools are vectors for transmission and increase transmission in the community.
This group also sometimes says that public health has said, “kids can’t catch it it’s not a concern.” That, that’s not what I’ve heard. I’ve heard public health say that kids are less likely to get, it less likely to get very ill from it, and that it is best for kids to be in school. And I think they’re looking at things like mental health, like families who need to work and that if kids are not in school and parents need to work, the kids are going to go somewhere. So then there’s more transmission possibilities there. Whereas in schools, there is a means to be able to control it.
So schools has been a huge one and that has led to great frustration with the government and with public health that schools are not closed down, that they have not reduced capacity, that there has not been a [00:14:00] push to have more online possibilities at, at districts across. They’ve left it to districts to sort of decide what works best for them, some have offered a lot of online options, some have only allowed what’s called distance learning. Which is not, you’re not still part of the school. You sort of go to different stream of, of kind of provincially supported homeschooling.
So that has been, uh, yeah, th th there has been a real turn. I’m trying to think of when it started, I guess before Christmas, I think fear is a huge part. People are scared. They want to know that this is being stopped, and then they’re seeing the cases go up. And of course, they’re looking to public health and saying, you have failed us.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So given that the government won a pretty big mandate, uh, right before the second wave started. Is it safe to say that they’re insulated a little bit from the political fallout, um, of all this? You know, in Ontario, um, there is just relentless criticism and probably deservedly so, uh, of the government, uh, because an [00:15:00] election is a year away and things have collapsed in terms of their support.
Liza Yuzda: One thing that I think is different here about, and I’m looking at from the outside, obviously in Ontario, but one thing I think is slightly different about the way the pandemic has been handled here is there has not been any wild swings in approaches. You know, Dr. Henry has said from the start, this is what I think. I think schools are safe and she has not relented on that. She has pulled out evidence that she says supports it. They did a study of schools in one health region that has been hard hit from September to December, and then another one from January to just before spring break in another hard hit area and looked at the number of transmissions that they say have happened in school. The people who want school pulled out don’t buy it. They don’t buy, they think essentially that the data has been doctored.
But you know, the public health approach I think, has been consistent throughout. And I think the government’s approach has been [00:16:00] consistent throughout. And so I think that maybe that buys a bit of insulation, whereas an Ontario, and we’ve certainly seen it recently, there have been wild swings in approaches to tamping transmission in the pandemic. And so I think that that’s a big difference in the way things are handled.
One swing that happened here was masks that Dr. Henry had said all along that masks were not the be-all end-all. And I always understood it as her concern was that people are going to rely on the masks and then not do the other layers of protection, which are more of a sure thing than a mask, which is distance and, and barriers between people.
So, you know, she changed on that and they finally, gosh, month, two months ago, it’s so hard to track time, made masks required in schools, grade four and up. So yeah, it, it it’s, I think that consistency has probably bought them some good will from certain groups of people and a great deal of [00:17:00] frustration from other groups, but those groups were frustrated already.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Do we have a sense, from the government or from public health, uh, if things seem to be, um, improving at all? I, you know, I took a cursory look at the case numbers, which seem to be dropping a little bit, is that, do we know what that’s due to and how long ago it took effect?
Liza Yuzda: So I, I think that it, it started about a week and a half ago that we saw it go from the eleven hundreds, twelve hundreds, and for about a week and a half, we’ve gone from a thousand down to the seven hundreds. And so on Monday when we had our public health update, the word was that it was an improvement and it’s believed that that improvement was coming because people are not traveling around the province, they, it was as of Friday that people were told that they couldn’t go from health authority to health authority, but there really is no teeth behind that other than a really nice ask, but it seems like people are doing that.
And I [00:18:00] think that people were scared. I think hitting 1200 cases a day, you know, shook people, but you know, in the past week and a half is also when our hospitalizations have peaked. When then, you know, it’s, it’s that lag indicator. When our cases were super high in eleven hundreds to twelve hundreds, we have about 350, 400 people in a hospital. Now the numbers are coming down, but we have 500 people in hospital and that sort of held steady for about a week now. So the cases coming down, I think is a good indication, but you know, word from the health minister and the public health officer is there’s a long way to go.
Like 700 cases, 800 cases a day is not good. That is by no means good. It is better than 1200, but it’s still not good. So, you know, we have until after the long weekend in May, so about another four weeks, to really hold steady and do everything we can to stay where we are and stay with the people we [00:19:00] know that that are in our household and hope that that’s enough to get it down, considering the variants are taking over.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Last question for you, just as somebody who’s covered various governments in British Columbia. There’s been a lot of ups and downs to this government’s pandemic response now, and I wonder how you think, you know, in the long run, uh, their response will be viewed, um, to your point a minute ago about, you know, four or five years from now? Like, are we going to look back and give them the credit for the first wave of the blame for the third?
Liza Yuzda: I don’t know. I think everybody’s fumbling to a certain extent with the knowledge that they have. I think there will be some criticism. I’ve certainly looked at the premier now where there used to be far more accessibility. He does about one press conference a week, usually tied in with, uh, another announcement they’re trying to make. I think there was some frustration this week. They did an announcement about some investment into [00:20:00] businesses for when the pandemic’s over and all the media questions were about the pandemic.
Nobody cares about investments after. Yes, of course the businesses do, I understand that, we need to get out of that, but we want everybody to get out of it alive and get their vaccination and be able to get through it in the immediate. So I think that will be some criticism that comes towards them, but that probably would’ve come anyways with a majority government.
You know, you function very differently, I think with, a minority versus a majority government, you know, you don’t have to, for lack of a better term, suck up to anybody when you’re in a majority, you’ve got your mandate, as you said earlier, and you’ve got your marching orders and you’re cruising through.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Liza, thank you so much, uh, for giving us a report from out there. I appreciate it.
Liza Yuzda: Oh, it was my pleasure. Stay safe.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Liza Yuzda of CityNews1130. That was The Big Story, for more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Find us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. Talk [00:21:00] to us anytime via email, thebigstorypodcast, that’s all one word and all lowercase @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. You can also find us in any podcast player or on your personal voice assistant.
Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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