In Question Period, I followed up on my March 3rd question for Minister Dix on long-term COVID-19 symptoms. In the weeks since this question was asked, it has become clear that BC does not currently have a good idea of what proportion of patients continue to experience symptoms, months after being diagnosed.
For weeks now, BC has had a rolling average of over 500 positive COVID-19 cases each day. Other jurisdictions have found that between 10-30% of COVID-19 patients develop long-term, chronic symptoms. It is not accurate to suggest that these people have recovered from COVID-19 if they continue to experience long-term symptoms, and yet this seems to be exactly the approach taken in BC.
I asked the Minister of Health when specifically British Columbians can expect the government to start reporting long-haul COVID rates, and what was being done to ensure people with long-COVID get the support they need. On a supplemental, I asked what adjustments the government is considering for schools in light of rising case numbers and calls from teachers to implement a comprehensive mask mandate, better distancing measures, and improved ventilation.
S. Furstenau: A few weeks ago I asked the Minister of Health if we had any information about long-haul COVID rates in British Columbia and, if so, where the data was being posted for the public. The minister said information about infections and recoveries is shared daily.
Subsequent follow up with Dr. Henry and the BCCDC by the press has clarified that we currently have no idea what proportion of patients continue to experience symptoms, months after being diagnosed. Other jurisdictions who are tracking and reporting this data have found that at least 10 percent, if not closer to 30 percent, of COVID patients end up developing chronic symptoms.
With the rolling average of over 500 — and last week rising — British Columbians testing positive every day, this is a huge blind spot. We could end up with tens of thousands of people needing long-term support.
My question is to the Minister of Health. It is not accurate to classify people as recovered if the virus has caused them to experience chronic, physical or neurological symptoms. When, specifically, can British Columbians expect government to start reporting on rates of long-haul COVID, and what policy work is being done to ensure people with long-COVID will get the supports they need?
Hon. A. Dix: Every case in British Columbia is important. Every case is followed, and support is provided. We’ve put in place a number of clinics across British Columbia for people dealing with continuing conditions of COVID-19.
When we refer to people as having their condition resolved, what we mean is that they’re no longer infectious. This has been repeated again and again and again and again by Dr. Henry and myself. That is the meaning of that term, when we use that term “recovered.”
I would say to people that COVID-19 is a vicious virus. It doesn’t argue with us. It can have profound effects, whether you’re 25 or 85. We know who has the most severe effects; that’s often people with other medical conditions and our elders.
We know that the ongoing effect of this virus can be profound. We also know that the virus has only been around for a little more than a year. We continue to work with and study it extensively. The number of studies that are produced every day on this subject, and the work done in British Columbia, is comprehensive.
I would say to the member that I’m going to continue, as I said in the answer to the previous question, to rely on our public health officials to ensure that information is available, particularly for people at this time of high vulnerability to COVID-19, so that everyone understands the potential impact of this virus and everyone takes every step to ensure that this virus is not transmitted.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: The Health Minister identifies that people are being classified as recovered if they’re no longer infectious. I think there are a lot of people in British Columbia who feel that their ongoing struggle with symptoms and them being lumped in as recovered is not actually capturing the experience that they’re having, and they’re wondering about what kind of supports they will get from a government that isn’t acknowledging them in the data and the reporting. As we know, COVID long-haul patients report a wide variety of symptoms, from pain to brain fog, to memory problems and insomnia, heart problems. And data from other countries that are tracking long COVID indicates that it affects more women than men.
The minister speaks about being as mindful as possible. We saw last week, with case numbers rising and variants of concern spreading, that there appears to be growing risk, with students going back to classrooms next week and teachers not receiving vaccinations until April. With a few weeks after that before immunity is conferred for teachers, it’s hard not to be concerned about the prospect of teachers making it to this point in the pandemic, only to be faced with the potential for the infection and long COVID.
My question is to the Minister of Health. What adjustments is government considering in light of the rising case numbers and the continued call from teachers to implement a comprehensive mask mandate, better distancing in classrooms and better ventilation?
Hon. A. Dix: I would say, to be very clear to the member –– and we have been, again and again and again on this subject –– that when we refer to people having discontinued isolation, it doesn’t mean that the effects of COVID-19 are over on a person, particularly people who are dealing with other medical conditions. This has been said from the beginning. To suggest in any way, as the member just did, that that means that we are not concerned about it is just wrong. To say that public health officials or medical health officers aren’t concerned about it, because we provide this information, is just incorrect. I just wanted to put that clearly and on the record.
This is one of the most challenging times we face in our COVID-19 pandemic. We have an immunization campaign that I think is delivering in an effective way, across the province, based on the amount of vaccine we have. As of today, for example, in the Pfizer vaccine, 440,000 doses have been delivered to health authorities, and 426,000 of them have been put in people’s arms. That’s extraordinarily effective. We laid our vaccination strategy out in detail for the hon. member last week, and we are going to continue to take steps, public health steps, to ensure that people are as safe as possible around British Columbia.
I would like to say to everybody in British Columbia that now is the time when we need to continue to follow public health orders and public health guidance in every workplace, including schools. We need to follow robust public health plans and COVID-19 safety plans in every workplace.
It’s more important now than ever, as we see hope on the horizon, to ensure people are protected in a time of high transmission for COVID-19, and the provincial health officer and the Ministry of Health are going to continue to deliver on that agenda. I’m thankful to all British Columbians who are following that guidance to this day and beyond.