COVID Reflections and Happy Holidays

As we make our way through the tenth month of the pandemic, I trust that you and your loved ones are staying healthy and managing to connect, at least virtually. 

I’ve followed the pandemic response here in BC very closely, in part because it has dominated our media, but also because my graduate training is in public health.  It is fascinating to think back on how many times I needed to explain to friends what public health was when I left BC in 2006 to study public health in Boston. Now, basic public health and epidemiology are part of daily household conversations.

A friend from graduate school recently likened an ideal pandemic response to an orchestral performance, and I wanted to expand on this analogy.

UNA youth Patricia and Ethan Ho perform with the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra (VAMSO) at the Orpheum earlier this year. Photo from Patricia Ho.

As BC residents, each of us is a member of an orchestra, and in this pandemic, Dr. Bonnie Henry is our conductor.  We would be hard pressed to find a more qualified conductor for our orchestra. Dr. Henry has been at the centre of a number major international public health interventions – including working for the World Health Organization on polio eradication in Pakistan and the Ebola outbreaks in Uganda, and for Toronto Public Health, leading their severe acute respiratory disease (SARS) and H1N1 outbreak responses. Dr. Henry and her highly educated and experienced team of experts have dedicated their lives to public health, and their pandemic response is a continuation of the principles and practices that they have followed for years.  The team has access to data, information, studies, and decision-makers from across the country and around the world, and they are constantly determining and tweaking the best BC response based on this information.

As members of this orchestra, we are each given sheet music to rehearse. As we practice our parts, we can play around with the notes, improvise and ask questions about the rhythm or timing.  As citizens living through this pandemic, we have the right to question the orders and guidelines given. Questioning and exploring different points of view is a healthy component of democracy and is absolutely essential in the scientific process. I encourage you to read reliable sources of information about the pandemic and ask questions (whether you think the current guidelines are too strict or too lenient). However, when it comes to “show time,” that is, whenever we step out of our homes, we each need to play our parts as the written and follow the conductor’s cues.  This means following the basic public health rules regarding hand washing; staying home when sick; maintaining two metres of physical distance from others; and wearing a mask in public and when physical distancing may not be feasible; as well as following the orders and guidelines against gatherings and non-essential travel. You can read the latest provincial guidelines here.

As I’ve learned many times in my short tenure in regional government, every decision has consequences and trade-offs. Even, and even choices that seem obvious on the surface, reveal complexity once you understand the various impacts for different stakeholders.  Our public health leaders grapple with trade-offs and compromises each day, and I myself have questioned some of their decisions. However, I am confident that we would be hard pressed to find a more professional, compassionate, and perhaps most importantly, data-driven team of experts to lead our response, and even when I internally question the decisions, I trust that the decisions made are done so with more information and expertise than I have, and with all of our best interests in mind. 

As our orchestra’s performance drags on, some of us may feel like putting our instruments down and just walking off the stage. Unfortunately, this is not a good option right now.  Let’s continue to play our parts, staying focused and in tune, while closely following the conductor. During this holiday season, it will be particularly hard not to improvise as we play our instruments. However, with escalating hospitalizations and daily new cases around 600-700 per day here in BC,  and nearby provinces and countries demonstrating how quickly curves can rise, now is not the time to try a ‘B flat’ while the rest of us play a ‘B sharp’! 

Our efforts here in BC are working to flatten the curve, and if we are all “100% all in”, I am confident that we can reduce our numbers again.  In addition, there is finally a light at the end of this tunnel: safe COVID-19 vaccinations have begun for health care workers and vulnerable residents. We know know which tunnel to take to get out of this pandemic, but the road ahead is still fairly long.  Stay strong, stay connected (but physically apart), and in the words of Health Minister Dix, “If you are questioning whether an activity is or is not allowed right now, please don’t do it!”.

We are constantly influencing those around us with our words and our actions. Be a positive influence for your family, friends, and all those around you.

From our family to yours, we wish you health, peace, and a sense of hope as we look ahead to 2021.

Dr. Jen McCutcheon, Director for Metro Vancouver’s Electoral Area

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