Skip to content

An open letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry

February 21, 2021

Dear Dr. Henry:

I cannot comprehend your on-going refusal to take any meaningful action about COVID-19 in British Columbia.

Under your direction and leadership, over 75,000 British Columbians have caught this virus.

More than 1300 British Columbians are dead.

On March 7th, 2020 – just under a year ago – you cried at a press conference after an outbreak at a long-term care home. At that point, you had still not taken any action at all to protect British Columbians from the virus (with a total of only 27 cases thus far detected here, keeping it out was still a possibility).

You cried. Even though no one had died yet!

And here we are, one year later. More than a thousand dead, and counting.

Your weak and vague guidelines (which some percentage of British Columbians continue to diligently follow, now on guidelines for one year – and which some percentage of the population does not think apply to them and have never followed and will never follow) have resulted in a year of:

  • economic devastation,
  • personal financial stress,
  • business closures,
  • undue mental and emotional stress for citizens,
  • as well as created a long-term financial burden that British Columbians will have to repay over years, if not decades.

And the worst part of that is that your weak and vague guidelines have not helped anyone or anything. You have only harmed us.

Your refusal to take any meaningful action is mind-boggling: You do understand the science, and you have many role models around the world where decisive action ahead of spread of the virus has limited or even stopped the spread of COVID19 and allowed citizens to return to somewhat normal life.

As examples, we have every one of Australia’s states, and countries like New Zealand, and our own Atlantic provinces.

(Caption to the graphic above: These are the data for new COVID cases in Australia for TODAY. The population of Australia is just under Canada’s at 25 million. Donuts mean NO NEW CASES in that state (yes, they are actually having fun with their stats!). HQ means a new COVID case in someone who was being monitored under Home Quarantine. So today, in Australia, there were ZERO new cases via community transmission, and a total of SIX new cases in people being monitored under Home Quarantine. Yes, a total of SIX new cases – in contrast to Canada’s average of around THREE THOUSAND new cases per day, and with the new variants unleashed here).

You have known all along what needs to be done. It is inexplicable why you have not taken action to protect the citizens of this province – who it is your duty, as our one and only Provincial Health Officer, to protect. It is inexplicable that you have allowed over one thousand to die (and countless to become “long-haulers,” changing their lives forever and also creating a long-term financial burden on our province).

But you have one more chance to do the right thing.

You understand that the spread of these new and more contagious variants will behave, in many ways, like the introduction of a completely new virus.

In the absence of a sufficient supply of vaccine at present, the B117 variant (which was first spread in our province because of ineffective “quarantine” procedures through infection of a traveller’s housemates), and possibly the other variants, are likely to soon become the dominant variant in our province. This has been shown by example in many other countries, and is also predicted by our own federal government’s modelling.

So here is your second chance, Dr. Henry.

You took no meaningful measures to protect British Columbians from the “first wave” or even the “second wave” (as our government focussed on getting re-elected rather than limiting virus spread over Thanksgiving).

Perhaps you have already have missed that opportunity with what is about to become our third wave, which will be driven by the spread of these new variants – now with at least 72 confirmed cases of the new, more contagious (and more lethal) variants in our province and likely community spread of those new variants.

But please, at least try!

You know what to do.

Lock down hard, and for real – for a short time. What some jurisdictions call the “circuit-breaker.”

This endless semi-lockdown is not helping anyone. Most of us have been doing it for a year now.

And those who aren’t, well, they never will – and they are the ones driving the spread, and keeping all of us in this horrible and interminable situation.

(As British Columbians continue to get sick and die).

It is time for you show some leadership and make those tough decisions.

I am confident that you know what must be done. You now need to do it.

Stop all travel. B117 is loose in Surrey, and probably elsewhere in our province too. Contain it!

Yes, it is horrible for the people living in regions which have a high case rate to have extra travel restrictions imposed – but everything about this virus is horrible. You needlessly allowed it out from Fraser this past fall, with lethal consequences for people in the north, the interior, and on the island.

Stop all travel – even between regions and communities – until we have curbed the transmission of every single variant (including the “original”). Many states and countries around the world have successfully slowed or stopped transmission by temporarily disallowing any travel – “any” travel meaning anyone being more than 5 km from their home. This harsh, but short-term, imposition is a far better option than this interminable and ineffective semi-lockdown, not to mention than allowing hundreds or even thousands more British Columbians to die.

Secondly, impose meaningful quarantine. “Isolation at home” is not quarantine – not unless no one else is entering that home for the whole period of that “isolation.”

You know that well. And you know that a failed “quarantine” is how the first known transmission of B117 occurred within our province. So do not allow that to happen any more. Any visitors (or residents returning) to British Columbia must undertake a 14 day supervised quarantine. Period.

The majority of British Columbians, who have given up all travel for a year now, must not be put at risk – nor should we be required to suffer this endless yet ineffective semi-lockdown, with all of its implications on our finances and on our mental health – for the sake of those few who choose to travel during a pandemic.

Finally, consider closing schools. For now.

You know very well that the phrase “There is no evidence that… (the infection can transmit from person to person, that asymptomatic people can transmit this virus, that the virus is airborne, that the virus can spread in schools)…” does not mean that this “thing” does not happen. It merely means that this is a NEW virus and we don’t actually know yet: we do not have the evidence either way.

There is, in fact, a lot of emerging evidence from around the world that transmission does indeed occur in schools, and that children may be vectors of spreading by bringing COVID-19 home. There is also emerging evidence from the UK that the new variant B117 has a higher attack rate in children than does the original “wild” variant. We already have B117 in our schools here in British Columbia.

Dr. Henry, you know what to do.

Your failure to act, for over a year now, has cost over one thousand lives. Time to practice what you preach: be brave.

Yours most sincerely,

Jacqueline Windh, PhD

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark C permalink
    February 23, 2021 7:12 pm

    I agree with every word of this, except for the first line: I do comprehend Dr. Henry’s refusal to take meaningful action. Our covid leadership strategy from the beginning has followed these three principles, in order:

    1) Keep the healthcare system from exceeding capacity
    2) Keep businesses open and running (preferably without bankrupting the government)
    3) Preserve personal liberties

    This structure defines the decision-making of nearly every jurisdiction in the western world. Even the much-lauded Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand admitted that the primary reason for pursuing covid-zero in her country was that their healthcare system was projected to fail anyways under the “bend the curve” approach taken by most other countries. Ironically, New Zealand’s lack of healthcare infrastructure resulted in a much more successful covid strategy in the long run. The rest of us have suffered by sticking to our guns and not changing course.

    Our relative success in British Columbia can be mostly explained by Dr. Henry “graciously” affording us more runway in our efforts to protect the hospitals. This past autumn we acted weeks sooner than our neighbours in Alberta, who waited until their rate of hospitalization was over 6 times ours’ before a lockdown was triggered. Places like California were even less conscientious. Governor Newsom didn’t act until his state’s rate of hospitalization was over 12 times as high as BC’s. This turned out to be essentially no runway at all, and California failed to achieve even the first goal of their pandemic response as hospitals filled up completely a few weeks later, resulting in emergency rooms turning away heart attack victims and having to set up patients in the gift shops.

    Under this model, our response last spring was actually a failure, an overreaction: we restricted too much, spent too much taxpayer money, allowed too many businesses to suffer. Our decision to not implement a mask mandate during the summer — when it would have made sense purely from a public health perspective — suddenly becomes crystal clear when viewed through this lens: there’s no need to impose a mandate on the public, however small, when the case numbers are so tiny — even though our models show exponential growth is inevitable! We’ll simply ride it out until the risk to our hospitals exceeds our predetermined levels.

    Similarly, our months long semi-lockdown is almost purely a result of protecting business interests. Everyone knows the only way to hamper the spread of an infectious disease like covid absent a vaccine is to reduce the amount of physical contacts between people, particularly those who are infected. Since we are prioritizing businesses and personal liberties, the bars and gyms and indoor dining all remain open, travel restrictions are mere suggestions, and mandatory quarantines are not monitored or enforced. And since everyone is still working, kids can’t reasonably stay home from school. So the only lever left to reduce physical interactions is private gatherings, and we must pull that lever as far as it can go if we’re going to achieve our goals. Hence, absolutely no private gatherings are permitted, for months and months and months (of course, this too is only a voluntary measure — otherwise it might actually work). This has of course generated lots of confusion among the general public, who see open bars and gyms paired with other restrictions and notice they don’t make sense. Are we supposed to believe that a crowded bar is safe but an indoor game night with 2 friends is unsafe? No, any close-quartered indoor interaction holds risk. Rather, the government is hobbling together whatever random rules they can to reduce physical interactions without harming businesses too much.

    The truth is our PHOs have always accepted a certain amount of suffering and death as part of their public health recommendations. Dr. Henry probably recognizes 1300 dead British Columbians as roughly equivalent to a pretty bad flu season, and when coupled with the fact that the covid interventions have eliminated flu deaths altogether this year, this spells success overall. Reducing the deadliness of the covid pandemic to bad flu season-levels *without* imposing a strict lockdown must seem pretty commendable from her perspective.

    I only wish they would take a more rational approach, based on minimizing suffering and death, that aims to reduce the overall casualties and time spent isolated over the entire course of the pandemic, rather than making short-term decisions based primarily on hospital capacity. Really, the moment we knew there were highly effective vaccines on the way was the last moment anyone could reasonably support this “bend the curve” approach. Absent some truly catastrophic economic fallout from triggering a strict, early lockdown (which I cannot envision), the moral calculus has clearly favoured a covid-zero/near-zero approach for some time.

    Finally, with vaccines having been administered to residents of long-term care homes (the most vulnerable group and therefore most prone to being hospitalized), we can expect Dr. Henry to act with even less urgency when the likely third wave arrives, since it will take more cases to fill up the hospitals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: