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FOULDS: Let the confusion hold us down

Transparency and clarity on public health orders in B.C. is desperately needed
Foulds column head

In 1984, the Talking Heads released a groundbreaking film and album called Stop Making Sense.

Interestingly, it is also the name of the provincial government’s document governing pandemic-related health orders, one of which was rescinded on Jan. 18.

Gyms will reopen on Jan. 20, having been closed due to increased risk of transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 — unless of course, one was 18 years or under, in which case there were no restrictions to working out under existing pandemic-related protocols.

It remains unclear why a group of people 18 years of age and under could work out together, whereas a group of people 19 and older could not. Does one shed more virus as of their 19th birthday?

With the streets filled with snow and ice and muck, the indoor track at the Tournament Capital Centre remains open for those wishing to exercise.

But under the health order, only walking was permitted. Users could not run, not even past the dozens of sweaty people running here and there, breathing hard and bumping into each other as they played basketball and volleyball on nearby courts.

Restaurants and pubs can remain open, as long as they have a menu that offers food — even though customers are not required to eat.

So, one can sit in a pub all day enjoying nothing but beverages, but a service club, like the Moose Lodge in Kamloops, must remain closed because it does not offer food. Therefore, one cannot sit in the Moose Lodge all day enjoying nothing but beverages.

The orders that leave many scratching their heads reached a puzzlement pinnacle a year ago this month. That was when the Rio Theatre in Vancouver was not permitted to operate, per health orders that at the time closed movie theatres.

But the ownership of the Rio noticed sports bars were allowed to operate. So, realizing the Rio has a liquor licence, management pivoted and declared the Rio to be a sports bar, not a movie theatre, and the building was allowed to reopen.

The decision made no sense and the Rio ownership noted it made no sense, in that the province’s health experts deemed a sports bar (with a game on the screen and patrons drinking alcohol and cheering and expelling particles) safer than a movie theatre (with a film on the screen, patrons drinking pop and eating popcorn, being stone-cold silent and watching the movie).

The inconsistency can also be seen in the vaccine passport program, which requires patrons of restaurants, pubs, gyms, concerts, and sporting events be fully vaccinated.

While all diners in a restaurant must be fully vaccinated, there is no requirement that all staff be similarly inoculated. If it is fine to be served by an unvaccinated waiter, what is the problem with having an unvaccinated customer sitting at the next table?

It’s a question that could not be answered clearly by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry when I posed it to her.

Perhaps the true reason for the vaccine passport was revealed last September by the top doctor in Vancouver Coastal Health.

Dr. Patty Daly is the vice-president of public health and chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. Daly is also a clinical professor in the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.

During a Vancouver Coastal Health virtual staff forum on COVID-19 in September 2021, Daly clarified the reason for the vaccine passport program.

“The vaccine passport requires people to be vaccinated to do certain discretionary activities — such as go to restaurants, movies, gyms — not because these places are high risk,” Daly said.

“We’re not actually seeing COVID transmission in these settings. It’s really to create an incentive to improve our vaccination coverage.”

So, if the reason for the vaccination passport is to deny entertainment options to the unvaccinated in a bid to have them get vaccinated, the powers that be should simply say as much.

Tell the truth. Be transparent. Explain decisions that seem confusing to the great unwashed so we can understand the rationale behind them.

Failure to do so only increases the risk of sending the vaccine hesitant over the edge and into the camp of anti-vaxxers, who tend to hyper-focus on such inconsistencies in government edicts and tie them into some fantasy that features the United Nations, Bill Gates, some gobbledygook about Nuremberg 2.0 and a reptilian race controlling the world’s power elite.

The unvaccinated are prolonging the pandemic. This we know. They are the hosts for variant mutations and they dominate case counts and hospitalizations on the per capita math model, the one that matters.

Convincing anti-vaxxers to get jabbed is a lost cause, but persuading the vaccine hesitant (a different group of people with legitimate questions about vaccine safety) to do so is severely imperilled when health orders don’t make sense to them.

To be clear, I hope everyone eventually gets vaccinated and, if vaccine passports done to coerce is the way to that goal, so be it.

I am simply asking for transparency and rationale.

Meanwhile, the provincial government has improved its messaging in other areas.

Acknowledging that the vaccine likely won’t prevent one from getting Omicron, but will almost certainly prevent severe illness or hospitalization is a solid, honest message.

Addressing the hospitalization numbers by detailing who was admitted because of COVID-19 and who is included in the numbers simply because they happened to test positive while in hospital for something completely unrelated is also a good move.

Hopefully, just once in a lifetime, the messaging becomes more transparent and the rationale behind decisions gets clarified.

I fear, though, it will be same

as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Twitter: ChrisJFoulds