BY RENEE MERRIFIELD
BC Liberal Health Critic
and MLA for Kelowna Mission
PREMIER John Horgan recently asked British Columbians to dig a little deeper, to do a little more to get the COVID-19 virus under control. After 11 months of digging deeper and working harder together, it’s not surprising that these comments were not well received. What more can the average person do? Most people are following the guidelines as closely as they can, staying home, missing social events at the cost of their mental well-being, changing routines, and making countless other sacrifices.
I believe that we’re quickly reaching a point where the majority of people following the rules closely isn’t enough — a time when the responsibility instead falls on the government to dig a little deeper and get this virus under control. This means using all the tools and best practices available to protect people and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This NDP government needs to start testing in far greater numbers than done previously. We need increased data disclosure and transparency to help agencies, schools, institutions, and citizens make decisions, as well as better tracking of exposures and improved communication when they occur. We also need to use rapid testing at all long-term care facilities, acute care hospitals, and schools.
Rapid testing is one of the most obvious examples of best practices that is massively underutilized in B.C. For weeks the Official Opposition has been calling on the B.C. government to use its stockpile of COVID-19 rapid tests to provide an additional level of protection for high-risk environments like hospitals, schools, and especially long-term care.
However, these tests — which have been called a ‘game-changer’ in other jurisdictions — have yet to be adopted by the Province in a very limited capacity. This is particularly disheartening in light of a new modelling study out of Simon Fraser University, which suggests that if rapid testing had been made widely available in long-term care homes, the province could have prevented as many as half the COVID-19 related deaths. In addition to rapid testing, school mask mandates, increased testing and adoption of the national contact-tracing app have all been raised as other measures that could save lives.
It is of course important to keep in mind that governments have been forced to address the first global pandemic of this magnitude in a century — we have been learning about this virus as we have been facing it, which is no easy task. But governments can learn from each other, and it is hard to watch as certain measures like widespread rapid testing succeed in other jurisdictions but are altogether dismissed here in B.C.
Not only is action needed, but we also need honesty from government right now. We need to know why a report on long term care — that could have saved lives — was buried on the eve of a provincial election. We need our government to be transparent about COVID-19 data, so that communities can make better-informed decisions for their residents. We need leaders that hear the very real concerns of parents, teachers, health professionals, and families, and not dismiss them as hysteria, but work together to create environments in which everyone feels safe.
When we look back at this pandemic years from now, the reflection will not be on individual actions, but on our collective — and largely the government’s — response. None of us want to look back and ask why the government did not do more to save lives when the resources to do so were readily available. It’s time to see the NDP dig a little deeper, for the health of all British Columbians.