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Down for the undercount

Maclean Kay: The BC Centre for Disease Control leaking data to the media is unusual in the extreme. The reason why could be anything from poor judgment to a reason(s) to be very concerned.

Last year, BC was Canada’s golden child – a shining example of How to Manage a Pandemic.

Numbers were generally low. Our neighbours to the east and south looked on us with envy, a familiar and uniquely seductive feeling for British Columbia. The faces of the provincial response, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, were held in enormous trust and esteem; in Dr. Henry’s case, it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to call her a hero. Those were heady days of murals, designer shoes, and New York Times acclaim.

That was a while ago now. Cracks have been showing for some time.

There are a lot of reasons why. Some are general and hard to quantify, like a general fatigue and malaise. Some are beyond the purview of the provincial government, like a vaccine supply that looks embarrassingly sluggish next to the two countries most often compared to Canada – the USA and UK. In the former, they’re vaccinating zoo animals.

But there have also been snags and problems entirely within BC's control:

  • Fixating on last summer’s format, tone, and messaging, which now looks less “reluctant” than “no idea what else to do.”
  • As recently as January, an increasingly unforgivable refusal to order travelers from out of province to self-isolate.
  • Ignoring pleas from Vancouver Island’s chief medical officer to curtail travel to and from the island.
  • A lurch in messaging from the Premier from “we’re on the right track” to explicitly blaming millennials – neither helpful, nor supported by data – in the space of just two weeks.
  • A stubborn insistence that BC was sharing as much or more information about the pandemic as other jurisdictions, which is demonstrably not true.

Yesterday, Katie DeRosa reported in the Vancouver Sun that leaked internal BC Centre for Disease Control slides indicate that more-infectious variant cases of COVID-19 are substantially more prevalent in the province than the official line.

Consider the alarming ramifications here.

If accurate, it means these variants are here in greater numbers than we’ve been told. It means before a long weekend, the provincial government chose not to seriously clamp down on travel, standing aside as BC Ferries added sailings, like any normal long weekend.

Most concerning of all, it means someone in the BCCDC thinks the best way to get this crucial information out to the public is not running it up the chain, but leaking it to the media.

Think about that for a second.

It could mean there’s a broken link in the chain of communications from lab to top officials – not great, but fixable. It could mean someone thinks overcautious bureaucracy will stifle this information for too long. It could mean someone thinks this information wouldn’t otherwise reach the public at all, for whatever reason -- and some are much more uncomfortable than others.

This is, quite simply, astonishing. And maybe this was completely unnecessary. Maybe someone at the BCCDC had a bad day, a petty score to settle, or gave in to a bad impulse. It happens. I genuinely, sincerely hope that is indeed the case here.

But if it’s accurate, and the reason for leaking it was justified – things are worse than we thought.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca