Lockdown Would Help Reduce Community Transmission, Protecting Our Province Says
Independent Group of Health Scientists, Doctors and Teachers Calls on BC Government to Declare Three-Week ‘Circuit Breaker’ to Reduce Infection Rates in Schools, Businesses and Health Care Systems .
The call comes less than 24 hours after the province recorded 4,383 cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day total of new cases since the start of the pandemic. (British Columbia reported 3,795 new infections on Friday.)
With the provincial laboratory testing capacity overwhelmed, the total number of cases is expected to be much higher.
A three-week “breaker”, a Protecting Our Province (PoP BC) panel said at a Zoom meeting on Friday, would help reduce community transmission. It would also give schools time to step up safety measures and businesses to predictively recover some of their sick workforce.
“We are asking for a circuit breaker not because we wanted it, but because we are at this point, because it can no longer be prevented,” said Dr Amy Tan, panel member, professor at UBC. and physician in family medicine and palliative medicine.
Tan said that without a full-scale shutdown, many people will not be able to access federal supports, which will create more hardship in the long run.
“So why not just rip the bandage off all at once and have us all collectively do what is necessary right now, rather than dragging on and on causing chaos…?” “
AIRPORT OR NOT?
British Columbia’s provincial health worker Dr Bonnie Henry announced on Friday that the province was abandon the period of self-isolation for fully immunized residents with acute infections of seven to five days. The move follows similar recent guidance from the US Center for Disease Control and comes amid a wave of announcements of change in British Columbia booster dose strategy to restrict visitors in long-term care homes.
Earlier this week, the province announced it would delay going back to school until January 10. At the time, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the one-week deadline would be used to make schools safer in the face of an increase in cases.
But PoP BC member Jen Heighton – also a teacher and co-founder of the Safe Schools Coalition BC – criticized the province’s schools’ week long delay as insufficient time to protect schools from the new variant. Many schools in the province, she said, still lack adequate ventilation to keep children safe.
Over the past two years, the province has invested $ 325 million to improve ventilation in schools, Minister Whiteside said earlier this week.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the BC Teachers’ Federation responded, saying good ventilation – along with free N95 masks, quick tests and plans for staggered schedules – were still lacking “in many schools.”
“We haven’t seen any details yet on how this money was spent,” Heighton said. “And the little we have been given shows that a lot of that money has been spent just on maintenance and regular upgrades versus the changes that actually need to be made in order to prevent an agent from passing through. airborne pathogen. “
PoP BC panelist Dr. Lyne Filiatrault criticized the province for failing to address the spread of COVID-19 in the air over long distances.
Evidence that COVID-19 is spread by airborne transmission has emerged in environments even under heightened security measures. In one case, a fully vaccinated traveler staying in a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong reportedly passed on the Omicron variant to another Canadian traveler across the corridor despite strict quarantine precautions.
“Until we look at the fact that the virus is spread by aerosols – not just through the air but through aerosols – none of the measures that we are going to put in place, whether in schools, long term care or hospitals, is not going to be enough, ”said Filiatrault.
A LAST REMEDY
Dr Karina Zeidler of PoP BC said her recommendation to move to a three-week lockdown is solely due to “public health’s failure to be able to proactively manage our Omicron wave.”
Zeidler cited the group’s earlier calls to speed up rapid antigen testing as a monitoring tool in low-risk situations.
“Of course they kept saying they didn’t have tests, it was too complicated to use tests, people couldn’t use tests at home. And then now they’re being distributed to test sites in order to diagnose COVID, ”Zeidler said.
Some health authorities in British Columbia have turned to rapid antigenic testing as a way to reduce the demand for a laboratory testing system as much as possible.
When freezing temperatures closed many drive-thru test collection centers in the Metro Vancouver area, constant streams of visitors flocked to UBC to retrieve rapid antigen tests in the lobby of the life sciences building. of the University.
Others, who chose to line up at a North Vancouver collection center – one of the few open – waited only hours to be given a quick test, part of a triage system to reserve laboratory tests for the most vulnerable people.
“They’re definitely used as ‘Uh oh we can’t track these PCR tests.’ But certainly not with a systematic approach, ”said Dr. Eric Cytrynbaum, professor of mathematics at UBC and member of the BC COVID-19 Independent Modeling Group.
Cytrynbaum said rapid antigenic tests offer a number of advantages – they are relatively easy to use, provide relief for healthcare workers, and can detect both symptomatic and presymptomatic individuals, albeit in a shorter window than laboratory tests.
The trap ? None of the positive cases is counted.
By losing control over the number of cases in British Columbia, experts say they have lost their main metric for projecting and planning what is to come.
“You have to wait until people end up in the hospital, so having cases to predict hospitalizations gives you a little bit of time,” Cytrynbaum said.
Cytrynbaum said the independent modeling group has been forced to turn to wastewater data, which it says doesn’t help prepare for an increase in hospitalizations.
Could a better system of self-reporting rapid antigenic results help?
“It would be better than what we are doing now. That would give us an idea of what’s going on, ”the researcher said.
RAPID TESTS NOT SUITABLE
Cytrynbaum said rapid testing makes sense for adding a layer of protection when visiting a grandparent, additional testing in an outbreak at school or in the workplace, or when symptomatic people cannot. go to a test site. With two tests, it can even work as a backup for people in remote areas.
Rapid tests like the Abbott Panbio have shown that they detect positive cases nine out of ten times. False positives, on the other hand, often show up in one in 200 uninfected people. With a second test – what Cytrynbaum called an “alternative protocol” – false positives would drop to one in 40,000.
But at Vancouver Coastal Health, those who test positive have been asked to take the only result as proof that you have COVID-19 and self-isolate for seven days (at least before the provincial health worker , Dr Bonnie Henry, on Friday announced self-isolation for vaccinated individuals would fall to five days). In times of crisis, what was supposed to be relief has become the status quo for thousands of British Columbians trying to find out why they are sick.
In addition to giving schools, health care systems and businesses a bit of breathing space, a three-week “blackout” would give the BC government a chance to reassess its rapid testing policy, PoP BC said .
Filiatrault points to Nova Scotia, a province with a long history of rapid testing and where residents are offered five tests at a time to make sure people don’t come out of isolation too early. But with a test, Filiatrault said British Columbians could be fooled.
“What’s going to happen in BC: people are going to do a quick test, they are going to say, ‘Oh, alright, I know I don’t have it. “
“Well, actually, they’re just incubating.”