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'It's going too fast': Modelling expert says B.C. needs to do more to curb spread of COVID-19

Last Updated Nov 17, 2020 at 10:21 am PST

FILE - Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

An infectious disease modelling expert says more needs to be done as B.C. continues to see rising COVID-19 numbers

Expert says 'sustained, rapid, community transmission of COVID' continues to be a major concern in B.C.

Caroline Colijn says B.C. needs to take charge and not wait for other jurisdictions' mistakes

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Is B.C. doing enough to fight COVID-19? That’s the question being put to an infectious disease modeller, who says that depends on what it is you’re looking to achieve.

“Enough for what? Enough to control cases? No, we haven’t been doing enough,” COVID-19 data modelling expert Caroline Colijn tells NEWS 1130.

“Enough to keep everything sort of under ICU capacity until today? Yes, I guess so, that’s enough. But where it goes from here is of course hard. So, are we doing enough? I guess the answer’s going to depend on, what’s enough? Enough for what?”

Colijn , who didn’t put together the information released by the province on Thursday, points to “sustained, rapid, community transmission of COVID,” particularly on the Lower Mainland, as one of the major concerns, saying more action needs to be taken ahead of the winter.

“Are we doing enough to keep workplaces open? I mean, it’s a hard question because, enough for what?”

What is clear, she says, is the rate by which the virus is spreading right now isn’t something we can continue to see happening. She notes we also can’t just wait for a vaccine to make everything better.

“It’s going too fast. We need to change something,” Colijn says.

British Columbians and Canadians across the country continue to be reminded to keep their social bubbles small to help prevent further spread of the virus, with some provinces enacting partial lockdowns in order to compel people to do just that.

However, in B.C., there continues to only be an order in place for the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions, restricting gatherings until Nov. 23. With Diwali on Saturday, concerns are mounting that some may ignore public health direction, potentially creating some challenging days ahead.

The Canadian Medical Association warns the country is at a “tipping point” and not enough is being down to mitigate the virus.

Colijn admits it’s tough to determine what to do at this point but she says options are still available, suggesting it could be time to consider breaking the curve with targeted, week-by-week clampdowns to keep the virus under control.

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“I would start thinking about what we could do that would be somewhat more planned, to say, ‘OK, we’re going to have one week out of four, two weeks out of six, or whatever, where we really close things down, but we know we’re going to do it,’ maybe that would be more palatable,” she explains.

However, one thing Colijn says is necessary is to not take a wait-and-see approach.

“We don’t have to wait for Europe, the U.K., the U.S., Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta to do this first. We don’t have to wait for their mistakes and make the same ones,” Colijn says. “If we control it, it’ll go up and down. If we don’t do anything, it’ll go up and up and up, right? Whether we see that up and down depends on us.”

Reducing social contact

Many have asked why B.C. doesn’t follow in other provinces’ footsteps by bringing in a more strict lockdown.

Colijn says, while she isn’t privy to exactly how decisions are made on the provincial level, she believes a total shutdown in B.C. isn’t on the table at this moment due to just how devastating it was on the economy in the spring.

“They want to keep as much open as possible and we’re trying to navigate how to do that and trying to keep as many workplaces and businesses open as possible,” she tells NEWS 1130. “And I suspect that’s why we’re testing the waters with, ‘Maybe if we ask people to stop socializing in their homes, that’ll work.'”

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Again, she believes more should be done to prevent further spread of COVID-19, including by addressing unnecessary indoor social contact.

“If there’s indoor social contact that we don’t need to do and we can function just as well without it, now would be a great time — two weeks ago would have been a better time — but now would be the second best time to start doing that and return to work from home where possible,” she says.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Thursday that B.C. had recorded 594 new cases over a 24-hour period between Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, setting yet another provincial record. That’s on top of the 536 cases reported between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Presenting the latest modelling data on Thursday, Henry said the primary driver of transmission in this province has been gatherings in households and in the community.

“We don’t put in those measures to keep us safe that we do in other settings” at these private homes, Henry said, adding getting control of the pandemic is at risk of getting out of hand.

With cooler weather setting in, the concern is only growing further.

-With files from Liza Yuzda