SFU researcher calls on B.C. government to ‘do more’ in fight against COVID-19

Click to play video 'SFU professor urges province to ‘do more’ in fight against coronavirus' SFU professor urges province to ‘do more’ in fight against coronavirus
Dr. Scott Lear, an SFU professor in the health science department, is calling on the province to do more in the fight against COVID-19 – Jan 29, 2021

B.C.’s top doctor and premier have spent the week asking British Columbians to do more to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, a Simon Fraser University researcher is asking the province’s top officials to do the same.

In an open letter to Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, faculty of health sciences professor Scott Lear says the province has been slow to adopt technology and pivot to new science and it is time to catch up.

“Our per capita death rate in December was greater than Ontario’s,” Lear writes. “In Taiwan, with a population nearly five times that of B.C., there have only been seven deaths in total.

“New Zealand has gone two months without community transmission, and the Atlantic provinces have some of the lowest rates in the world.

“You were slow to acknowledge asymptomatic spread; we were the second-last province to implement a mask mandate, despite months of supporting research; and it wasn’t until Jan. 5, 2021, the B.C. CDC acknowledged that COVID-19 can be spread through small droplets (aerosols) and float in the air. As you ask us to do more, there is much more you can do for us.”

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British Columbia struggled in December compared to other jurisdictions, but since a wide-sweeping ban on social gatherings and events, the province is now performing better for cases per capita than the other big Canadian provinces.

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READ MORE: Bonnie Henry warns that British Columbia is on ‘brink’ of another spike 

Lear is suggesting the province ramp up testing. Asymptomatic testing has not been a big part of B.C.’s plan to fight COVID-19.

Overall, British Columbia has tested at a rate of 206,046 tests per one million people. The national average is 457,522 tests per one million.

British Columbia has capacity for 20,000 tests a day and conducted 10,041 from Wednesday to Thursday. Lear says four months after promising to increase capacity, the province is still not testing at high rates,

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Click to play video 'Made in B.C. app for contact tracing' Made in B.C. app for contact tracing
Made in B.C. app for contact tracing – Jun 14, 2020

Lear is also calling on the province to implement a contact-tracing app. Last April, the B.C. Ministry of Health began developing outlines for a contact-tracing app and is still the only province either not using the federal app or using a B.C.-specific app.

“B.C. has some of the best health and technology professionals in the world. A contact-tracing app would support the work of our overstretched manual contact tracers and minimize the spread of outbreaks,” Lear writes.

Henry has often said the federal app is not well-catered to curbing the spread and B.C. is doing contact tracing well without the technology.

Lear focuses on two issues the province has been questioned about a lot recently: rapid testing in long-term care and masks in schools.

The argument made in the open letter is that the U.S. CDC has long recommended rapid testing to minimize outbreaks in LTC facilities and a pilot project led by a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital found such testing to be 75 per cent accurate overall and nearly 100 per cent accurate in individuals with symptoms.

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Click to play video 'The push to expand the use of rapid COVID-19 testing' The push to expand the use of rapid COVID-19 testing
The push to expand the use of rapid COVID-19 testing – Jan 15, 2021

Lear writes that as demonstrated in Nova Scotia, these tests are also easily administered by non-health professionals.

“Public health leaders mention concerns that LTC staff will take fewer other precautions following a negative test, a concept referred to as ‘risk compensation,’ yet there is no evidence to support this supposition,” he writes.

“In fact, evidence exists to the contrary. As a result, over a million of these test kits — which expire this fall — have sat in storage since early November, instead of being used to save lives.”

Lear is also advocating to support schools that want a mask mandate. Henry has rejected the idea multiple times, citing figures showing spread in young people is lower on average than the general population.

Click to play video 'More calls for mandatory masks in B.C. schools' More calls for mandatory masks in B.C. schools
More calls for mandatory masks in B.C. schools – Nov 27, 2020

“Transmission among students and from students to staff is low as long as all recommended public health measures are followed. However, many classrooms are unable to have students physically distance and the U.S. CDC has recommended universal mask use in schools,” Lear writes.

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“With the emergence of new and more-robust variants, we cannot afford to wait. We also cannot hold out hope for vaccines to save us in the short-term. As recent days have proven, we can expect delays in vaccine delivery and distribution here in B.C. and around the globe.”