Photo Credit: Postmedia / CHAD HIPOLITO

The Highs and Lows of Dr. Bonnie Henry

The Provincial Health Officer looks like she has given up

The halo can only last so long when you stop doing your job

First impressions matter.

It’s called the halo effect. Research shows that if you have a positive feeling about someone when you first meet them, it will affect how you view that person going forward, even if you aren’t aware of it.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has lived under a halo for almost two years now. But that halo has cracked.

When COVID first hit, everyone loved Dr. Henry. The new disease scared us all to death. But her steady tone soothed our nerves. At first, it looked like Dr. Henry cared. Like she was taking action to protect us all.

“Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe,” she said. Dr. Henry even published a book with that title to tell the world about how she helped BC beat COVID in its first month.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Dr. Henry and the BC government dropped the ball

It’s been almost two years, and BC is still unprepared for the pandemic.

Our hospitals are overwhelmed, rapid tests are hard to find, and now PCR testing is only for the sickest and folks over 70. BC isn’t doing contract tracing anymore. And Dr. Henry’s mixed messages about masks, gatherings, and ventilation have been confusing at best. They’re incompetent at worst.

Watch the video in the tweet and see how messy her messaging has been.

To be fair, Dr. Henry is not the only person responsible for all the BC government’s mistakes on COVID. She’s not the only cook in this kitchen. She is part of a team of people within government and different ministries and agencies. But Dr. Henry is the head chef, so she is the face of the BC government’s COVID response.

Dr. Henry failed to build an effective testing and contact tracing system. So now that things are getting really bad, the weak system is falling apart.

We are no longer testing widely and tracking how many people have COVID. So the only COVID number we can trust in BC is the number of people in the hospital with COVID.

Dr. Henry has made it very clear that it’s her alone that gets to decide who sees BC’s most critical COVID data. But without testing, necessary data is missing. It’s not that we’re not allowed to see it. It doesn’t exist.

Now, doctors and modelling experts say BC is “flying blind” into the latest and most dangerous wave of the COVID pandemic. Without testing and tracking, we don’t have good data. If we don’t have good data, we can’t predict what’s coming.

What’s worse, hospitals can’t make any plans because they don’t know what to prepare for.

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a former emergency physician who helped stop the SARS epidemic in Vancouver, summed things up, “[t]he healthcare system is going to be overrun, and the question now is timing, and how overrun it will be. We are completely flying blind.”

In plain English, this means there will be way more people in hospitals than we can handle. How many people? We have no idea.

Do No Harm

Have you heard of the precautionary principle? It’s a fancy way of saying, “play it safe.” So basically, if you don’t know how stable the cliff is, don’t go near the edge. And until you know for sure that it’s safe, do your best to keep others from going close to it, too.

Dr. Henry is a doctor. She took an oath to “do no harm.” She also knows about the precautionary principle. That is why her statements about masks are so troubling.

We have known that COVID hangs in the air for over a year. We’ve known that we need better ventilation in all indoor spaces. And we’ve known that everyone needs to wear better masks.

Credit: ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force

So then why did Dr. Henry keep denying that COVID is airborne months after scientists all said it does? Why hasn’t Dr. Henry told people to upgrade to N95 masks the way the federal health officer Dr. Tam started doing months ago?

Dr. Henry’s failure to double down on masks is confusing. Masks are the cheapest, easiest public health tool available. And better masks work better. It’s not that hard.

Politics Over People

Part of the reason Dr. Henry’s halo has cracked is that she seemed to put politics ahead of our health. After her original lockdown order, Dr. Henry seems to have focused on keeping businesses open.

She said Site C, Coastal Gas Link, and LNG Canada’s worker camps could stay open when she knew people in the camps were getting sick.

Her “too little, too late” response to Omicron highlights her “do as little as possible” approach.

We’ve known for weeks that Omicron is extremely contagious. We’ve watched COVID cases in country after country spike as Omicron spread. But Dr. Henry didn’t do anything specific to stop Omicron in BC until it was too late.

Now, COVID cases are doubling at least every 3 or 4 days. Some experts predict that between 2,000 to 10,000 people could be in the hospital with COVID by the end of January. We could have avoided this if Dr. Henry had acted earlier.

But instead, all she did was close the gyms and tell everyone to prepare to get sick.

Time to resign?

Before Omicron hit, things were looking good. Delta was on its way out. Numbers were coming down.

And just when things are getting bad again, Dr. Henry says she wants “to get out of the ‘orders business.'”

Say what? Isn’t that her job?

That’s like a teacher saying they want to get out of the kids’ business.

This isn’t Dr. Henry’s only bizarre statement recently. She also suggested that businesses prepare for a third of their employees to be out with COVID. But how do you do that? Businesses like BC Ferries are just cancelling routes because so many staff are out sick. There’s no lockdown, but they still can’t sail.

She also said that “people need to make their own risk assessments.”

What? We’re not virologists or community health experts. Isn’t that what she and her staff are for?

Dr. Henry’s approach, which leaves “risk assessments” to parents, business owners, and school officials, is killing people.

The law gives the Provincial Health Officer the power to make orders and no one else. So shouldn’t she be preparing health orders that might avoid a massive Omicron spike? Especially when we don’t know how many people will get long COVID?

At every step of the way, Dr. Henry and Horgan’s government has chosen to do as little as possible. They’re trying to keep businesses open and inconvenience people as little as possible. But instead, businesses are shutting down all over the place because their staff have COVID.

Now, Dr. Henry may have just given up. Maybe these strange decisions are a sign that it’s time for Dr. Henry to move on.

We get it. Dr. Henry had a hard job in a brutal time. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who hasn’t given up.

BC could have avoided the Omicron wave. Places like New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong have avoided spikes by having quick, targeted lockdowns and solid contact tracing.

It’s too late now to fully contain Omicron in BC. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who will help shut down the next wave.

Her calming tone was great at the start, but the halo is off now.

Dr. Henry needs to go.