More than a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, many have looked back at how the disease has changed the fabric of our lives.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is no different.
In leading B.C.’s effort to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry has gone from being a soft-spoken public health official to arguably the most recognizable face in the province.
Speaking to Global BC’s legislative bureau chief, Keith Baldrey, the province’s top doctor said her time in the spotlight has been challenging.
“I am an introvert and it takes a lot of energy for me to stand up and to talk publicly,” she said.
“To be a public face for this long takes its toll, but I’m also I’m very grateful. I have an incredible team of people that I work with … I am so proud and grateful to be the face and the voice of a really strong public health team here.”
Henry has earned praise for her calm demeanour, but she has also faced criticism for changes she’s made around public health orders.
Such changes could be viewed as flip-flopping, but Henry described them as “science in action.”
“I’ve come to recognize that change is very upsetting for some people and it triggers that feeling that we don’t know anything and that we’re making mistakes, whereas it really is learning as we go about the virus,” she said.
“So all of that stuff is normal. It’s how we learn. I think most important is not being rigid and sticking to something when we’re learning more of what we need to do. So change is inevitable.”
One of Henry’s most controversial decisions was to reopen schools last fall to in-class instruction after shuttering classrooms in the spring.
Henry said the decision was made after a team examined the unintended consequences of school closures.
“That is the information that has helped us understand things like how hard it was on families and children when schools are out,” she said.
“Not just some children — universally. It was everybody, even families that had a great internet connection and a computer for every child and everything that they needed, it was hard on families.”
As the province ramps up its vaccination program, Henry is cautiously optimistic that as more British Columbians are immunized, restrictions will be eased further and people will be able to have small gatherings.
“The things that I don’t see us having this year are those big international meetings and conferences and cruise ships,” she added.
“I’m hopeful, but I don’t want to be too hopeful because we still have many unknowns that we’re still learning about. We’re learning more about the variants and what it means and strategies to try and reduce transmission. But we have that hope of vaccine and that’s ramping up. So we need to keep our pandemic reality on an even keel.”
Henry is confident that vaccines will work, but she says it remains unclear just what post-pandemic life will look like.
“I think most of us are sort of realizing that COVID is probably not going away, but the pandemic will, which means it’ll be part of our life,” she said.
“So we may need to adjust. Next respiratory season, what effect is it going to have? There may be times when we’ll go back to wearing masks, where we’ll go back to making sure we have to keep distances or at least being really conscious about staying home if we’re sick and getting tested and it’ll become part of how we deal with our respiratory season.
“And I always say, somewhat jokingly, we’ll never have to stop cleaning our hands.”View link »