COVID-19: Doctors push for lockdown, warn B.C. could become like Italy
In a dire warning, physicians across the Lower Mainland are calling on the B.C. government to take more drastic measures, such as a lockdown, to stop the spread of the coronavirus and avoid a crisis like Italy.
In a letter Saturday to provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Gerald Da Roza, head of medicine at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, says B.C. is on the same trajectory as Italy.
Italy had more than 700 fatalities from COVID-19 in one day, and the death toll has surpassed 4,000 people. He says B.C.’s doubling rate is three to four days for infected patients, which is similar to Italy.
Doctors near hospitals, like St. Paul’s in downtown Vancouver, are spotting restaurants still seating and serving customers inside, while allowing long lineups to linger outside.
Da Roza says B.C. must close non-essential businesses, and enforce the critical need for social distancing so that the health care system is not overwhelmed.
The plan would include allowing people to go outside but only with members of their household, and only if they stay two metres away from others, said Da Roza.
“Our team of physicians at Royal Columbian Hospital is working tirelessly to overcome shortages in staffing and resources, however we will lose this battle unless we act immediately to contain this virus in the community,” says Da Roza in the letter.
“We urge you to implement stronger containment measures and education in the community.”
He says all beaches, non-essential businesses, parks, and restaurants should be closed as is being done in California and New York, and visits to hospitals must be limited.
The physicians plead with Henry not to put them in a situation where they must choose who lives and dies, as is happening in Italy.
“We urge you to take these measures now so we have a fighting chance.”
In a phone call with Postmedia, Da Raza reiterated the importance of his message and said he hopes that the government will step up “gentle enforcement,” which would mean police patrolling for people in groups, for example groups of teenagers hanging out or people queuing to get into shops.
The police would then remind them of the state of emergency, inform them of the grim situation, and ask them to separate to at least two metres apart.
Some physicians are also urging the government to use the emergency text services to remind people to only go outside when necessary.
The text system is in place but hasn’t been used, even though the province is in a state of emergency.
Doctors hope the message will get out to the younger generation who may not read or watch traditional news.
At the daily news conference Saturday, Henry said she agrees with the doctors and said police will be enforcing the orders with fines if needed.
“I believe the measures we are asking for equate to (a lock down)” said Henry. “We do need essential services to continue.”
Neasa Coll, a family doctor who sees patients in Vancouver’s West End and in the Downtown Eastside, said the message shared Saturday by Henry and health minister Adrian Dix was essential.
“I was impressed by the sternness of their warning,” she said. “They were really driving home a message today, that it is incredibly important that 100 per cent of the public listen to what they’re asking to be done.”
That means no games of pickup basketball or soccer, no meeting up with friends for a walk. That you stay close with your family at home and that’s it.
Because of the need for social distancing, she’s been generally walking to and from her downtown practice. She called what she’s been witnessing “disheartening.”
“To be honest, I feel like I’m being punched in the gut,” she said of how she feels when she spies groups of people playing sports, sitting or standing together in parks, clearly mingling with people beyond their own family circle.
“I think there’s been a lot of outpouring of support for frontline workers, and, of course, we appreciate that. But to be entirely honest the biggest thing that you can provide to anybody working in healthcare right now is by listening to public health ordinances and the messages that I drive home with my patients,” she went on.
“I tell my patients: stay at home. Your home is your society, so if you live with a partner, if you live with children, of course those are the people we have contact with all the time, those are the people that you can go for a walk outside with, but you cannot go for a walk outside and meet up with anybody else. Everyone in your home is your society. This is a tough ask. But we’re all human too. These are extraordinary measures we’re asking people to do but they’re really important.”
The warm weather has been a big challenge in delivering this message, she admitted. Solo walks, or walks with your tight circle from home are OK, but do you really need to go to the store today, she asked rhetorically.
“If you’re cooking dinner with what you have in your pantry and you’re missing one ingredient, do you really need to go to the store? No you do not. Try that recipe without the nutmeg. Minimize how often you’re going outside to once a week,” she said. “You can call a friend while you’re out on your walk and you can talk to them, call a family member, you could call someone you haven’t talked to in a while … You should not be meeting up with people who are outside of your household. And it’s imperative that we do these things now, because the numbers of cases are going to increase. We know that because of science. And we also know that what’s reported daily has a five to seven days lag right now because of the time it takes her positive cases to come back.”
Physicians have also raised concerns that many B.C. residents, particularly youth, are not paying attention to the news and are not taking self isolation seriously.
They recommended the B.C. government use the emergency warning text service to remind people to stay in their homes.
Henry said using an emergency text was a good idea and the government will look into using this option, as well as stepping up efforts to reach out to young people on social media.
Vancouver cardiologist Courtney Young echoed the call of her colleagues. She wrote to Henry on Wednesday, saying the time had to come for tougher talk with the general population about the reality ahead of us.
“(People) may be under some false perception that we are flattening the curve,” Young said. “The numbers we are getting are not reflective of that.”
“The only way to stop this, or to slow down the rate, is to practise social distancing. That doesn’t mean go to your friend’s house to play a board game, this means you don’t go to your friend’s house at all, you play it virtually. No spring break parties on the beach, playing volleyball, basketball, whatever. They will spread it (that way), they may not realize it but they are spreading it and it might not be a direct health consequence to them because they’re young and healthy but when they spread it to someone who is immunocompromised, who has other health conditions, or who is elderly, it can be fatal.”
Young has a pair of clinics, on Broadway and on Commercial Drive, but given the risks of infection from COVID-19 her patients are especially vulnerable to — many are dealing with coronary artery disease and heart failure, while also suffering from diabetes, COPD or high blood pressure — she’s switched entirely to video appointments for patients who aren’t in hospital already.
“Every single outpatient … I am in my office at my home doing video consults because I do not want to expose them to anything.”
Coll’s practice has also moved to most appointments taking place using remote video. In the end, it’s all about putting her patients first.
“I am aware that what we’re asking is challenging. And I think that I just have to believe that we all have within us the ability to be doing the right things right now,” Coll said.
“We in Canada have the benefit of having learned from countries that have been devastated by this. But it’s imperative that we actually learn from those things.”
- COVID-19: All you need to know about coronavirus
- COVID-19 cases – regularly updated list of cases in B.C.