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Why BC Needs an Independent COVID Science Group

Governments haven’t adequately kept citizens informed about the changing science that can protect them.

Amy Tan and Karina Zeidler 19 Oct

Amy Tan, MD, is a palliative care and family physician, and a clinical associate professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Karina Zeidler, MD, is a family physician and co-founder of Protect our Province BC.

It’s been 20 months since the World Health Organization first stated that SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness we all know as COVID-19, was a pandemic.

Twenty months, and here we are again in the throes of yet another wave, our fourth now. Delta, the newest and most dangerous variant to date, is wreaking havoc on our daily lives, health-care delivery and the economy. It is causing a huge emotional toll on all of us.

Science has evolved at an astonishing pace to help the world manage this global and novel threat. The pursuit of knowledge about this less than two-year old virus has resulted in global collaboration of the world’s most talented scientists in unprecedented fashion.

But as doctors, scientists, policy experts and advocates, we have not seen that changing science being consistently incorporated into B.C.’s pandemic response, with serious consequences. So we have created an organization to fill that gap.

We now have answers to questions such as “How is the virus transmitted between people? What preventative measures and treatments work? Who is at risk for life-threatening outcomes? What are some of the long-term consequences of having a COVID-19 infection?”

Published, peer-reviewed research in the international and national literature agree on key features of SARS-CoV-2. B.C.’s epidemic is very much in keeping with that international experience: transmission is predominantly airborne; children and adults can be infected and can infect others; COVID-19 can have long-term health consequences (known as Long COVID); vaccines work to reduce infection risk, reduce hospitalization and risk of death, but that protection is incomplete; people need to be financially supported by policies such as at least 10 days of paid sick leave from employers; and efforts to improve air quality and to reduce the virus circulating in shared interior spaces are the other foundational public health gestures. There are various ways to test populations for this infection, and all methods have strengths and weaknesses.

Some of those findings may surprise you. This is because there’s been a failure in effectively communicating and enacting policies that reflect this evolving knowledge in British Columbia. As a result, people, in particular some of our most vulnerable, continue to suffer preventable death and disability from COVID-19.

Efforts to set the record straight and push governments to better protect their populace have arisen in several countries. In the U.K., an independent, highly qualified group of experts have been issuing reports as “Independent SAGE,” providing informed, science-based policy guidance for over a year. A parallel “ozSAGE” provides a similar, independent expert role in Australia. In Canada, the “Protect our Province Alberta” initiative has been providing regular webinars with experts and advocates.

Protect Our Province BC aims to be that independent, non-partisan voice for B.C. Through regular public webinars led by diverse experts and advocates that will be livestreamed and recorded, we hope to provide an accessible and authoritative voice on COVID-19 in B.C., independent of the province’s media lines. We want to be a reliable source of equity focused, scientifically backed information that people in British Columbia need to make decisions in their daily lives, as parents with unvaccinated school-aged children, as workers in essential services that keep society running, or as family members wanting to protect elderly loved ones who may be aging at home or in long-term care facilities.

It is our hope to connect the public with other community based groups working to fight COVID and to pressure our government to adopt evidence-based practices that protect everyone, including communities who are structurally and systemically vulnerable to infection and transmission.

We intend for our work to augment the excellent work already being published by the independent BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, which has provided independent projections and data analysis. We will address topics such as airborne transmission, ventilation, rapid testing and COVID in schools. We also plan to highlight clinical and advocacy voices including physicians, nurses, parents and teachers.

Like the other independent groups, we strongly support vaccines while urging basic health measures to continue until preventable death and disability from COVID-19 cease. These include ongoing recommendations for paid sick leave; widespread, easily accessible testing and robust tracing; the use of well-fitting quality masks and active efforts to improve air quality in indoor spaces as an essential aspect of prevention.

Our first webinar will be livestreamed this Wednesday, Oct. 20. Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious disease physician and medical microbiologist, will discuss the Delta variant and the scientific consensus around aerosol transmission. PhD candidate Michelle Naef from the University of Alberta faculty of engineering will review airborne transmission of SARS- CoV-2 and the critical role of ventilation and filtration.

Dr. Karina Zeidler, a family physician, will discuss Protect Our Province BC’s role and our goal of putting an end to the devastating effects COVID-19 continues to have on the health and well-being of people in B.C.

Dr. Amy Tan, a family and palliative care physician, will facilitate the conversation to help ground the science in daily decisions that we all need to make in order to keep ourselves and loved ones safe.

In subsequent briefings, we will discuss rapid tests and tackle the many challenges that arise in reducing school transmission, and address the questions that the public have as this pandemic continues to evolve.

We intend to cut through the noise and provide the people of B.C. the latest scientific information so that they can protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Livestream the first Protect the Province BC webinar this Wednesday, Oct. 20, at noon PDT here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Coronavirus

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