U.S. epidemiologist calls B.C. the "Florida of Canada" for its COVID-19 mask policy in schools

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      A U.S. epidemiologist has stirred controversy for calling British Columbia the “Florida of Canada” based upon how the province is currently handling COVID-19 issues in schools.

      Eric Feigl-Ding, who is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and based in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, first took aim at Quebec’s mask policy for schools.

      He then deemed B.C. comparable to Florida due to similar mask policies for schools.

      When B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked about the remark at the B.C. COVID-19 update yesterday (February 25), Henry said she was unfamiliar with the comment.

      "I think in some ways we're the Florida of Canada in that we have milder winters, but I don't think in terms of the pandemic that we have many comparisons," she said.

      Previously, masks were mandated to be worn in schools by middle and secondary school students and all K-12 staff in indoor spaces with high-traffic areas or uncontrolled interactions (hallways, libraries, lunchrooms, buses, and more) but not within their own learning group.

      After longstanding calls for masks to be made mandatory in all schools, Henry and B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced on February 4 that masks must be worn by all individuals in indoor spaces in schools, except for elementary school students.

      Henry had explained that there were several reasons for making elementary school students exempt from the policy: that they don’t transmit the virus as much, aren’t as adversely affected by it, young children have challenges wearing masks for extended periods, and that children wearing masks can be counterproductive due to fiddling or touching the masks.

      In an interview with CTV News Vancouver, Feigl-Ding claimed that his intent was to “warn people to be vigilant, not trying to mock any location” but that his message, which has received both serious criticism as well as humorous responses, was misinterpreted.

      In response to the reactions, Feigl-Ding has since tweeted a clarification.

      Concerns about COVID-19 in B.C. schools have been heightened due to the presence of variants in schools within the province. On February 21, Fraser Health stated that there were six schools in Surrey and one in Delta found with variant cases. As of February 25, B.C. has confirmed a total of 116 variant cases. 

      On February 22, B.C. deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson explained that testing for variants had been increased over the previous three weeks, which resulted in more variants being detected (over the three-week period, not all at the same time). She also repeated what Henry has said in the past—that cases in schools mostly reflect transmission within the community, and very little transmission has actually taken place within schools.

      According to the B.C. Centre of Disease Control’s weekly surveillance report, as of February 13, B.C. has recorded 3,246 cases among younger than 10 years old. That’s four percent of all cases, which is lower than the nine percent that this age group represents in B.C.’s overall population.

      There were 7,028 cases among those aged 10 to 19, which is nine percent and close to the 10 percent that this age group comprises in the overall B.C. population.

      During the pandemic, B.C., which has a population of over five million, has recorded a cumulative total of 78,673 cases with 1,348 deaths.

      Florida, which has a population of approximately 21.5 million, has reported 1,898,223 total cases with 30,624 resident deaths and 538 non-resident deaths.

      However, Henry has warned that there has been an uptick in the reproductive number of the virus in the past few weeks, and that current COVID-19 levels in B.C. remain too high and susceptible to rapid growth.

      Feigl-Ding gained viral social media attention in January 2020 when he was among the first people in U.S. healthcare to publicly raise the alarm about the pandemic.

      He had begun a tweet thread (which has since been deleted) with: “Holy mother of god—the new coronavirus is a 3.8!!!”

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.