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OPINION: Scary Washington COVID case count means keep that border shut tight

Just south of the border with B.C., the number of people with the virus and the number of deaths associated with it are escalating
The U.S. border entry point in Point Roberts, Washington. Delta Optimist file photo

Every day, at around 4:30 p.m., an email hits my inbox and it is one that holds increasingly worrisome news.

The email is from the Seattle Times newspaper with the latest COVID-19 statistics for the Washington State - they show the number of people with the virus and the number of deaths associated with it escalating.

Even though the B.C. land border is closed, many are able to cross via their vehicle because they are deemed essential service workers.

As well, flights between Seattle and Vancouver occur more than a dozen times a week. Even with tight restrictions in place, there is still a fair amount of travelling occurring between B.C. and Washington.

While B.C. has been motoring along with relatively few COVID-19 cases and deaths reported each day, it has been the exact opposite experience for Washington. The number of cases has jumped by more than 20% since Memorial Day weekend, compared to just 7% in B.C.

Since June 8, there has been almost 1,800 COVID-19 cases reported in Washington, plus 56 deaths, compared to a mere 50 cases in B.C. and one death.

Washington is doing more testing for the virus than B.C. is (about 450,000 to almost 170,000), so American health authorities are bound to find more cases. But the Washington positive tests are coming back at 5.9% of those tested, more than three times the infection rate in B.C. (currently about 1.7%).

And the higher testing levels do not explain a much grimmer statistical difference: as of last Sunday, more than 1,200 people had died from COVID-19 in Washington, compared to 167 in B.C.

Our different population size does not explain the tale-of-two-neighbours either. Washington has one-and-a-half times the population of B.C., yet their fatalities are more than seven-times higher than in B.C., their total cases are almost ten times as high, and their hospitalization numbers are more than seven-times higher.

Washington is hardly the worst state right now in terms of COVID-19 cases rising dramatically – more than 20 states have higher numbers than before pandemic restrictions were eased -  but it is the state closest to us.

Some other factors may help explain how two jurisdictions so geographically close to each other could have such radically different are likely tied to health. Obesity is one of the most dangerous underlying health conditions when it comes to COVID-19, and the obesity rate among Washington adults is about 29% compared to 19% in B.C.

B.C.’s public health system appears better structured to deal with a pandemic, and B.C. has not seen anywhere near the number of mass gatherings like the protest rallies recently seen in Washington.

I say all this to make the argument that the Canada-U.S. border cannot open for a very long time, perhaps months. Those days of popping across the line for cheap gas are going to be distant memories.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.