The curve is flattening – but there’s still a long way to go - The Orca

The curve is flattening – but there’s still a long way to go

Maclean Kay

Maclean Kay: ‘The only thing around the corner is your fridge, not the end of physical distancing.’

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and other provincial health officials shared the latest data and modelling projections. There was much encouraging news, but if you’re missing the world as it was, it’s still not coming back anytime soon.

At the last detailed modelling update in March, the COVID-19 epidemic in BC was compared with and projected against those, in ascending order of virulence, in South Korea, Hubei, and Northern Italy.

Since then, BC’s new diagnosed cases, hospitalization, and Intensive Care admission rates have been far below what could have been – and has been elsewhere. So much so, in fact, that projecting Northern Italy and Hubei-level outbreaks no longer has much value – BC’s outbreak seems to be developing along the lines of South Korea fairly closely.

Outbreaks started at different times in different places around the world, but if you shuffle the calendar to give each location the same start date (namely, when the infection rate reached 2 per 1,000,000), both BC and (less so) Canada, are containing COVID-19 better than most.

Of course, models are just that – models. And if BC suddenly experienced a rapid increase in cases, for whatever reason, the province still has sufficient ventilators, hospital and ICU beds, and in the worst case of a Northern Italy-type outbreak, “surge” space set aside in arenas and convention centres is still projected to be adequate.

That’s the encouraging part – and make no mistake, it’s very good news indeed. But there’s a sobering part.

As officials underlined, the slowing of new cases is not due to herd immunity. And obviously, there’s still no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. The slowdown has only happened because we’re all (more or less) shut in our respective homes, and thus unable to infect each other.

And even if BC flattens the curve completely, much worse outbreaks in places like the United States and Quebec means we’ll always be at risk.

In other words, the only thing around the corner is your fridge, not the end of physical distancing.

To even consider lifting restrictions, health officials say BC needs to stay on the same course for now, which means continuing to ramp up testing, and hopefully seeing continued decreases in new cases and hospitalization.

But – and there’s always a major but when trying to predict the future of a still-mysterious disease – if things do stay on track, there’s a possibility of cautiously, gradually lifting some restrictions by mid-May.

That is, admittedly, a lot of italics for one sentence. But it’s important to emphasize the conditional “if this then maybe this” nature of these projected timelines.

Here’s what can be said with confidence: while economically ruinous, public health measures in BC are working to contain COVID-19, and in the very best case scenario, some restrictions may start lifting in a month – but could be shut back down in a heartbeat.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca