RETHINK: Are we following the right tack with our COVID response?

A COVID-19 warning sign on the Surrey-Langley border. As cases rise, but deaths fall lower, is it time to rethink our pandemic response? (Photo: Malin Jordan)A COVID-19 warning sign on the Surrey-Langley border. As cases rise, but deaths fall lower, is it time to rethink our pandemic response? (Photo: Malin Jordan)
COVID-19 weekly dat for B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)COVID-19 weekly dat for B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)
COVID-19 cases per week in B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)COVID-19 cases per week in B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)
COVID-19 deaths per week in B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)COVID-19 deaths per week in B.C. in 2021. (Graphic: Canva)
Average daily deaths in B.C. for the first four months of calendar years 2014 to 2021. (Graphic: Canva)Average daily deaths in B.C. for the first four months of calendar years 2014 to 2021. (Graphic: Canva)

As COVID-19’s third wave drags on, it’s interesting to note that as cases rise, deaths are down.

Vaccination levels are increasing and provincial health orders are still in effect. There was a renewed lockdown on restaurants and “group” fitness sessions at the end of March. Church services are still in limbo and people still aren’t gathering. Curiously, gyms are still open.

But despite all the measures, including a non-essential travel ban, weekly case counts are still high.

Last month, Dr. Bonnie Henry said modeling data predicts cases could climb to 3,000 per day over the next month or so. “That is too high … we know what we need to do to bend that down,” she said.

As case counts tick upward, including variants—and you can bet the farm on soon-to-be variants of variants—it’s interesting to note that as cases have soared, deaths have not.

Hospitalization and ICU admissions have gone up, but death rates are still lower than they were in the first five weeks of 2021, despite such high case counts. And back then restaurants were open to in-person dining.

B.C. CDC SIT-REPS

According to the B.C. CDC’s situation reports, over the first five reported weeks of 2021, there was an average of 3,168 cases diagnosed per week, with an average of 58.4 deaths per week, 175.4 hospitalizations, and 41.6 ICU admissions per week.

The sit-reps note over the last five reported weeks (weeks 13-17) there have been an average of 5,894 cases per week (almost double the cases from Jan./Feb.) with an average of 25.2 deaths per week (less than half the amount of deaths).

For the same period hospitalizations rank at 331.2 per week, with an average of 89.6 ICU admissions per week. (See overall numbers for 2021 in the charts above.)

We’ve gone down from an average of 58.4 deaths per week in January to an average of 25.2 per week over April-May, yet cases have doubled.

SEE ALSO: Group of B.C. teachers calls for easing of pandemic measures for students

But even with COVID deaths added in, stats from the B.C. Government reveal for the first four months of 2021, B.C. averaged 113.1 deaths per day, nearly the exact same average, 113.8 as in 2020. And that’s lower than 115.4 in 2017 when there was no pandemic. Average death rates for the first four months going back to 2016 are all in the same ballparks.

(There has also been a spike in overdose deaths during our COVID intervention measures. More than five people died per day in March 2021. Subtract those deaths and our death rate for 2021—during a pandemic—is likely lower than in other years. One would expect pandemic deaths combined with an increase in overdose deaths would reveal excess deaths above B.C.’s daily average over the same period. But we have roughly the same daily death rate as last year, over the first four months of the calendar year, and lower rate than in 2017. And B.C. averaged 4.5 illegal drug-toxicity deaths per day over the first three months of 2017, 401 deaths. This year there have been 498 over the same period (5.5 per day).

RETHINK?

As death rates trend down overall, is it time to rethink our COVID response? Have we let the fear of rising case counts hammer away our collective common sense?

Dr. Henry uses the rising case counts to justify the current restrictions—bans on kids playing sports, bans on in-person dining, closures of churches, and other general bans on being human.

But do higher case counts reveal a worsening pandemic? With deaths trending down overall, this may may not be so. We are seeing double the cases and less than half the deaths. Cases should be going down with more restrictions and higher vaccinations, but they haven’t. Most noteworthy, stats reveal we’re just not seeing much variance in excess deaths above the average, pandemic or not.

CHANGE?

It seems time to ease up on restrictions, reopen restaurants to in-person dining, re-open churches to in-person worship, and re-institute games for kids’ sports.

As I mentioned earlier, gyms are still open. Up to 50 people can book in for one of 30-plus sessions per weekday at my gym—that’s more than 1,500 different people per day that can stroll through that building—yet churches are still closed.

And if churches aren’t considered “essential,” we should ponder two things: 1.) gyms aren’t essential either then because people can run around parks and do pushups and situps in their living rooms. If the pandemic is that bad, we can all wait until it’s over to pump heavy iron; 2.) if we can gather in gyms at these rates with relative safety (while people sweat and shed droplets while on stair-masters, ellipticals, and while lifting weights), then we can gather safely in groups of 50 four or five times on a weekend for a church service, or in restaurants/pubs/etc.

Another head scratcher is the ban on kids playing sports. I coach elementary-aged kids in organized sports and can tell you social-distancing is both a word and a concept they do not understand. And it doesn’t happen in Via Sports’ Phase 1 model; kids don’t’/can’t adhere to it. Yet there have been no significant outbreaks (if any) in B.C. between kids on sporting teams.

Studies have shown there is a very low risk of COVID transmission among children. It’s not a stretch to think that kids’ sports can be every bit as safe as a school environment where kids play games (unorganized) at recess and lunch and where kids are literally on top of each other all day.

SEE ALSO: Softball B.C. urges provincial health officer to lift ban on gameplay for kids in organized sports

A key finding in a May 7 report from Fraser Health on transmission of COVID-19 in schools in the region interestingly noted that between Jan. 1 and March 7, 2021 there were 2,049 school-associated reported cases, which represent 0.65 per cent of the roughly 315,000 staff and students in the Fraser Valley. And while some have shouted out about “high” cases, context and perspective are needed: those numbers are very low. The document also notes 267 cases were thought to be “acquired from school” and 333 were unknown. Even if all of those cases (600) were “in-school acquisition,” that means only 0.19 per cent of cases were contracted at school. Those are safe numbers: very safe for kids; very safe for teachers.

And don’t forget that deaths matter more than cases. The word “cases” appears in that Fraser Health document at least 60 times, whereas the word “death” doesn’t appear once.

Regarding sports, a study of more than 85,000 U.S. soccer players also revealed a very low incidence of COVID cases. “Of the 119 [clubs] that had progressed to group activities, 218 cases of COVID-19 were reported among 85,861 players.” That’s about 0.25 per cent. The study concluded that COVID-19 cases were “relatively low when compared to the background incidence among children in the United States and the local general population.”

While COVID has been devastating to some, and my deepest sympathies and compassion goes out to all those affected in every way by the pandemic, both deeper thought and reflection is needed by our government and our health leaders.

As this third wave of high cases—not deaths—drags on, it certainly seems that a singular focus has clouded our collective common sense and a degree of relaxation in restrictions is paramount.

Is B.C.’s pandemic response out of proportion for our current situation? It seems so. It seems time for some common sense to replace the skyrocketing “case-count” hysteria.

And that includes: reopening restaurants/pubs to in-person dining, opening churches to in-person worship, and letting kids play games—whether it be in cohorts or against other associations.

The available data just doesn’t justify our current level of restrictions.

This is part one in a four-part series looking at our COVID response.

Read part two here: High cases counts may not have justified ‘circuit breaker’

Read parts three and four in the coming weeks.

*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to note B.C. had 401 overdose deaths in the first three months of 2017.



editor@cloverdalereporter.com

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