Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix looked back at B.C.’s response to the pandemic on the two-year anniversary of the first recorded case of COVID-19 in the province.
The duo held a news conference on Friday, Jan. 28, something they have done many times during the past two years. Though their briefings may look the same as they did years ago, the pandemic has changed greatly.
Looking ahead, Henry said things could change by Family Day if B.C. continues on its current trajectory. The most recent public health orders are up for review on Feb. 16. Henry said if B.C. continues on its current trajectory some restrictions could be lifted — though she cautioned that any reopenings would be gradual.
Henry reflected on how B.C. moved through the waves of the pandemic from the early days of the initial response in March 2020 to the present.
“We’re in a very different place than two years ago,” Henry said. “Remembering where we have been and what we have come through can help us put where we are today in perspective.”
B.C. has gone through five distinct waves of COVID. The first wave came with many unknowns, but B.C.’s case counts were low compared to other regions in Canada.
The second wave saw B.C.’s case counts rise to new heights and emphasized the impacts of COVID-19 on the health care system. During that time, B.C. instituted restrictions on personal gatherings and instituted a provincial indoor mask mandate that remains in place.
Waves three and four were shaped by new variants of the virus, like Alpha, Gamma and Delta. Those waves saw measures like the March 2021 ‘circuit breaker’ that restricted indoor dining, group fitness and faith services.
The first vaccine doses were administered in Dec. 2020 and the vaccination campaign ramped up through March into July. Summer 2021 saw a “return to normal” for personal gatherings and non-essential travel. The Delta wave saw regional health orders imposed on the Interior and the North, as well as the implementation of the B.C. Vaccine Card.
“One of the most important and wonderful days we had was the arrival of safe and effective vaccines,” Henry said. “I can’t say how many times I’ve seen the happy faces of people getting their vaccine and the relief and optimism that brought with it.”
But in late November 2021, the Omicron variant was first detected. It would go on to become a “game-changer” in B.C.’s management of COVID-19, as even fully vaccinated people became infected. New health orders were imposed on Dec. 21 restricting indoor events and shuttered gyms, bars and nightclubs. Omicron has driven the highest rates of infection and hospitalization of any wave.
In recent days, B.C. recorded some of the highest death tolls seen so far in the pandemic. Henry said 40 per cent of January deaths have been related to outbreaks in long-term care and most of the people dying outside of those outbreaks are older people who have underlying conditions, or are unvaccinated.
“This virus, even in this form that it is now, does cause severe illness in some people,” Henry said. “We’ve had two people in their 40s who have died from COVID this week.”