Vaughn Palmer: Health agencies fumble COVID announcements

Opinion: The lack of coordination between health agencies in British Columbia has come up time and time again over the past week

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VICTORIA — Although the British Columbia government is heading into the third year of managing the pandemic, you wouldn’t know it from the amateur hour stumble over communications last week.

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The mistakes started with the press conference on Friday January 14, when Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked what would happen with the public health orders that were due to expire on Tuesday January 18.

“I will postpone the question from Tuesday to Tuesday,” she said.

Lest there be any doubt, she told reporters three times that they would have to wait until Tuesday to see what would happen with the orders.

However, on Monday the government quietly released a revised version of the order that applied to gyms and fitness centres, extending it indefinitely.

After the change was reported by Global TV’s Richard Zussman, there was an outpouring of protest from the industry, who had been led to believe it could reopen this week.

Health Minister Adrian Dix was also caught off guard by the publication, judging by the explanation for the urgent job he posted on his Twitter late Monday afternoon.

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The previous order was due to expire at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Henry was not expected to provide an update to media until 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“The update was made to ensure the order remains in place until Dr. Henry speaks on Tuesday,” Dix said.

While taking refuge in technicality, the Minister of Health failed to explain why the government had also posted an order saying that school boards, as employers, “must request proof of vaccination from each member of staff and must keep a record of the vaccination status of each member of staff”. .”

This posting, also done without notice, took school trustees and teachers by surprise.

The next day, Tuesday, Henry had to start his press conference with a rare apology for her and an admission of error, such as he was.

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“I would first like to apologize for the confusion over the timing of the order and the adjustments that were necessary yesterday,” she told reporters. “I know it was a small mistake on our part, having them expire at 12:01 p.m. versus 11:59 p.m. tonight.”

She then announced that gyms and fitness facilities would be allowed to reopen on January 20 under strict guidelines.

As for the school order, she said it was designed to help local medical officers and school districts make decisions about the need for vaccination mandates.

After this embarrassment, one would expect the government to give proper notice before issuing further public health orders.

But Wednesday, it happened twice.

The first was an order clarifying the requirement for unvaccinated people to self-isolate for 10 days after contracting COVID-19, reversing an earlier requirement that they only had to self-isolate for five days.

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On Wednesday evening, a nine-page document updating child care guidelines was also quietly posted online.

It was noon on Thursday before State Child Care Minister Katrina Chen made up her mind to acknowledge the new guidelines.

She told parents and daycare operators they would benefit from an information session with Henry on January 26, by which time the guidelines will be a week old.

How is it possible that these public health orders continue to be posted on the BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) site without a media advisory and explanation of the content?

The answer, courtesy of the Department of Health Communications Shop.

“The Health Communications team is responsible for communications for the Department of Health and acts as the liaison between health authority communications and the provincial government. … The team is not responsible for communications for the BCCDC.

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“While the team works closely with the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) for ministry-related communications, due to the independent nature of the PHO, a separate communications consultant is assigned to advise on communications. of the PHO.”

Yet with more than 200 communications staff spread across government, its departments and the six health regions, someone could be tasked with reporting changes to provincial health orders.

On Friday, Henry offered another explanation—apology.

“To be frank, my staff are tired,” she told reporters during the pandemic briefing that day.

“We have been working on this for a long time, and we are also affected by the fact that a lot of people are on sick leave at the moment. So it was an administrative challenge and an error on our part that we corrected as soon as we did, and it’s my responsibility to better communicate that, and I will in the future.

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Unfortunately, the errors came at a critical time for pandemic communications.

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, forcing major changes in the management of the pandemic.

Vaccinations and boosters remain the first line of defence.

But there will be no more contact tracing – the virus is moving too fast. Also, there will be less testing because there aren’t the resources.

More than ever, we will have to rely on ‘self-management’, says Henry: ‘Making sure that we manage our own symptoms and test those who are eligible for treatment and test people who live or work in higher risk conditions settings.”

“I absolutely recognize that it’s a change,” she conceded on Friday. “It means we will have to change our way of thinking that we have been working on for the past two years.”

A change on this scale emphasizes clear and concise communications.

Unlike last week’s trial and error.

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