Precautionary principle saved B.C. from SARS-1, so why is it not being deployed against COVID-19?

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      I will start this article with three quotes because they're extremely important in understanding what we're facing in British Columbia. I encourage people to read each of these quotes twice so they really sink in.

      "The most common way COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another is through tiny airborne particles of the virus hanging in indoor air for minutes or hours after an infected person has been there."

      – Dr. Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Deputy Assistant to the President (March 23)

      "Everybody right now, I think, should still wear their mask and keep those layers of measures, no matter where you are in this country. Because even if you don't see a resurgence now, you're probably going to in the next days or weeks. And that will help reduce transmission and make sure that the impact on the health system is lower."

      – Chief public health officer Dr. Teresa Tam (April 1) in response to the spread of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron

      "I recognize that rescinding the legal, enforceable requirement to wear a mask in certain indoor settings, is concerning to some. I also recognize that for people who has [sic] been unable to wear a mask and faced social isolation, or people who rely on lip reading and were no longer able to do that, the option to choose whether to wear a mask is welcome news."

      – B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (April 1)

      Those three quotes sum up how B.C. stands apart from others on the issue of airborne COVID. 

      The White House's top science expert has been convinced that the the airborne route is the primary means of transmission of the virus.

      Canada's chief public health officer, Tam, is also aware of this (see her tweets below). That's why she urging people to keep masks on to stem the resurgence of BA.2-induced cases of COVID-19.

      And here in B.C., Dr. Bonnie Henry is celebrating the end of provincewide mask mandates by expressing sympathy for those who "faced social isolation", mostly because they refused to get vaccinated.

      In a recent commentary for Black Press, "The goal amid COVID is to never need a mask mandate or events limits again", Henry also tossed in a comment about lip-reading to show that she's thinking about people with disabilities.

      The end of provincewide mask mandates suggests otherwise, however, in a world in which airborne transmission is the dominant means for contracting COVID-19.

      The immune-compromised and those with comorbidities are now at higher risk of severe COVID-19. That's because they will likely face heavier concentrations of the virus than they otherwise would have every time they go to the grocery store or pharmacy, step on public transit or a ferry, or attend a class anywhere except on the UBC campus.

      Back in 2003, B.C. managed to avoid the SARS-1 catastrophe because it followed the precautionary principle by treating the virus as if it were airborne.

      An emergency room physician at Vancouver General Hospital, Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, encountered the first case of SARS-1 in Canada. 

      In a recent interview with And Now the News podcaster Bill Amos, Filiatrault recalled that on that day, she had read a medical alert warning of atypical pneumonia from mainland China. At the time, there were fears of an outbreak of bird flu.

      She told Amos that a recent traveller from Hong Kong had shown up in the emergency ward with respiratory problems. Filiatrault put him in isolation and it turned out that he had a new disease, SARS-1.

      In the Bill Amos–hosted podcast And Now the News, Dr. Lyne Filiatrault talked about the province's refusal to embrace the precautionary principle in response to the pandemic.

      Filiatrault is part of a group called Protect Our Province B.C., which is alerting the public to the shortcomings of the B.C. government's pandemic response. 

      In her interview with Amos, Filiatrault was asked what she considered to be B.C.'s worst mistake in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      “The biggest error in the pandemic in my mind in British Columbia has been not listening to or following the precautionary principle and also not evolving the stance of public health as the science evolved," Filiatrault responded. "So the biggest failure has been not acknowledging and acting in accordance that this virus is spread through the air that we breathe—that breathing, talking, singing, all of these are aerosol-generating procedures.”

      The White House now understands that. It's reflected in the statement by the head of its Office of Science and Technology Policy.

      Last November, Tam also demonstrated that her views had evolved in a series of tweets about airborne COVID.

      Tam, as a federal appointee, is not overseeing the B.C. response. That's being done by the Ministry of Health, which is headed by Adrian Dix.

      Dix has power under sections 3 and 4 of the Public Health Act to order local governing bodies to reinstate mask mandates to protect the health of the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities from airborne COVID.

      The health minister has chosen not to exercise that power. Moreover, the B.C. Liberals have not pressured him in any way to bring back provincial mask mandates to protect the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities from airborne COVID.

      This is notwithstanding Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender recent letter to Henry highlighting the impacts on the constitutional rights to life, security of the person, and equality for marginalized and immunocompromised populations. (BTW: where is our attorney general on this issue?)

      The chief medical officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, Dr. Patricia Daly, said earlier this year that there's still great debate over what Tam and the White House accept as fact. And the Vancouver Island Health Authority was still peddling droplet dogma as the cause of COVID-19 as recently as last month.

      Hong Kong researcher showed the way

      More than two years into the pandemic, Henry and Dix still haven't said that the "most common way COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another is through tiny airborne particles of the virus hanging in indoor air for minutes or hours". 

      Were they to acknowledge this, it would raise questions why they're not encouraging school districts to put HEPA filters and carbon-dioxide monitors in classrooms. 

      After the SARS-1 episode ended, a professor in the University of Hong Kong's department of mechanical engineering, Yuguo Li, studied the disease's mechanisms of transmission routes. His team examined short- and long-range airborne transmission, surface-touch transmission, and large droplet transmission.

      "Their work led to the findings of the roles played by airflow and ventilation in the 2003 Amoy Gardens SARS outbreak and in some SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in 2020," the Lancet COVID-19 Commission website states.

      This should leave people in B.C. with three questions. (The first two come courtesy of Toronto-based investigator Mario Possamai, author of a report called A Time of Fear: How Canada failed our health care workers and mismanaged COVID-19.)

      1. How many infections and deaths in B.C. could have been prevented had this province learned the lessons offered up by Li's research?

      2. How are we going to control future outbreaks of COVID-19 if we get the dominant transmission route wrong?

      3. How is it possible to avoid future lockdowns and mask mandates, particularly in fall and winter, if our public health agencies in B.C. can't be up front with the public and if they disagree with the White House and Tam about the dominant transmission route for COVID-19?

      "Which side of history do you want to be on?" tweeted Kimberly Prather, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment at the University of California San Diego. "COVIDisAirborne and protect us all. Or not...lawsuits are coming soon."

      I'll leave the final words to parent Kyenta Martins, one of the activists with Safe Schools Coalition B.C.

      "So many media have taken what the PHO has said at face value and not looked at the globally accepted science and looked at the messaging with a critical eye," she declared. "And now we have the majority of the population not able to properly assess their risk during a pandemic."

      I hope Martins's school-age daughters are proud of their mom. After all, she might have just made the most important comment of all during this entire pandemic in B.C.