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B.C. public health officials made an 'error' communicating COVID rules. An expert weighs in.

"I would challenge the health officials to explain why their advice is changing from one day to the next," said an infectious diseases expert.
Bonnie Henry January 22
An infectious disease expert says officials need to explain coronavirus guidance in a way that everyone can understand to avoid the "flip-flops."

An infectious disease expert says B.C.'s health officials need to explain the evolution of coronavirus guidance in a way that everyone can understand to avoid the "perception of flip-flops."

Dr. Brian Conway is the medical director at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre (VIDC) and an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia. He told Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that the science on COVID-19 is evolving rapidly and there is an "unfortunate lag" between new discoveries and updated formal guidance, such as written or online documents. 

But that doesn't mean public health officials shouldn't strive to explain in plain terms why guidance has changed, underscored the infectious diseases expert.

"I would challenge the health officials to explain why their advice is changing from one day to the next," he emphasized. "I would ask them: why did you change your mind? What exactly happened in the last two days that made you say something today?

"Most experts should be able to explain it in the way everyone can understand and perceive it as the evolution of knowledge [as] being applied as quickly as possible.

"It'll help avoid this perception of flip flops."

Henry admits 'error' made in posting new COVID-19 guidance

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters in a press briefing Friday (Jan. 21) morning that public health had made a mistake when posting new guidance on the BC Centre for Disease Control's (BCCDC) website concerning its guidance on self-isolation and COVID-19 management.

"And to be frank, my staff are tired," she emphasized. "We've been working on this for a long time and we are also being affected by the fact that lots of people are off sync right now.

"So it was an administrative challenge and an error on our part that we corrected as soon as we did." 

The health officer added that it was "her responsibility to communicate that better" and will do so in the future. 

Henry also stated that contact tracing is no longer an effective tool in the province's fight against surging cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant due to its short incubation period.

"We know that the incubation period is shorter than the ancestral strain where it was up to 14 days," Conway explained. "Once you're sick, you're probably infectious only for several days after that. So what it means is with a very short incubation period, a large number of cases, we can't track we can't use testing as a tool to help us track cases and count cases anymore."

Most fully vaccinated people can return to their regular activities after five days, noted the infectious disease expert. That said, they must have no fever, "very slight or no cough, and feeling able to function in the usual way." Individuals who feel tired and achy should continue to monitor their symptoms at home.

Is there a chance a fully vaccinated person could spread COVID-19 after this five-day period, even if they feel significantly better?

"There's not going to be any certainty in this. It really is a balance of probabilities," he stated, adding that using preventative measures including public health regulations will make transmission less likely. 

In response to why a staggering 70 per cent of people who were tested for COVID-19 did not have it, Conway said it is difficult to discern why or if they were ill. That said, he notes that influenza rates are lower this year and credits the effectiveness of pandemic-related public health measures. However, he noted that the rates are not as low as the winter of 2020 when B.C. had very few cases.