Why B.C.’s summer of renewal likely won’t look the same for everyone

While many British Columbians are filled with anticipation over what pandemic restrictions might be lifted on Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix is in a zen state of mind. 

“This weekend is like last weekend and the weekend before, only one day longer,” he said on The Early Edition Friday, repeating his mantra about following public health measures and registering for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

There are times where the government’s consistent messaging has been misguided in retrospect. But this doesn’t appear to be one of them. 

Since their peaks last month, daily case counts in B.C. are down 61 per cent, active cases are down 55 per cent, and hospitalizations down 38 per cent. More than half of British Columbians now have at least one vaccine dose.

And in the only other large countries where that’s been the reality for weeks — Israel and the United Kingdom — cases have plummeted to less than 95 per cent of their peak, and stayed there. 

It’s why many people studying the pandemic are focused less on the next few weeks and specific timelines for reopening, but more on what the summer will look like — along with new issues it will bring. 

Different risk levels

“Most people are going to be exuberant. Most people are going to be bouncing back and can’t wait to be out there … but some people won’t.” 

University of British Columbia professor Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease, said that as restrictions are lifted in the next few months, different people will have different levels of risk tolerance. 

In Wuhan province of China, where the virus first originated, he said there were many people who didn’t leave their home for months after the government ended its original lockdown. 

“People with a history of mental health issues … are finding they’re having a tough time during this pandemic, and for some people it’s worsened,” said Taylor. 

“There’s a range of clinical conditions that are going to require attention in the aftermath.”

Valorie Crooks, a Simon Fraser University professor and Canada research chair in health services geographies, has been mapping how different areas of the province are likely to have higher secondary health effects, based on a host of demographic and occupational factors. 

“Once the ICU is no longer at capacity or beyond … once we’re through the rollout of vaccines, we do need to focus on the long game of these health impacts,” she said.

“People are going to be managing this for many, many years to come.” 

No change in broader strategy

It all adds up to a summer that on the surface will look similar to last year — an emphasis on outdoor activities and small group outings — but with some people more wary and governments deciding on new strategies if and when there’s a resurgence of cases. 

“It’s going to end up being quite safe. But it’s going to be different for different people in different locations,” said Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, an urgent care physician in Calgary.

“We get frustrated because the pandemic has forced us to do two things we don’t like doing: understanding and managing risk, and delaying gratification.” 

The province has shown no indication it will change its position that the virus can’t be fully eliminated from B.C. While health officials haven’t put a number on it when asked, there will be a baseline of cases that will be considered somewhat acceptable. 

At the same time, the hyper-regional approaches shown in vaccination programs for Prince Rupert and Whistler might be replicated if localized outbreaks appear. 

For now though, officials are focused on getting through the long weekend and ensuring that enough young people get vaccinated before focusing on any new messages.

“Long weekends have been a problem before so we really need people to bear down,” said Dix. “The one thing they can do this weekend is book their vaccination.”

Though perhaps a second thing they can do is figure out how much risk they’ll accept in the months to come. 

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