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As B.C. reopens, communities need to know numbers

On the strength of falling coronavirus case numbers in recent weeks, the province has announced a phased reopening of social and economic activity. The success of the Restart Plan will depend, however, on the number of new cases continuing to be low.
Bonnie Henry 1

On the strength of falling coronavirus case numbers in recent weeks, the province has announced a phased reopening of social and economic activity. The success of the Restart Plan will depend, however, on the number of new cases continuing to be low. For this reason, the province should rethink its approach to public notification.

Throughout the pandemic, case numbers have been broken down according to the health authority region in which they appeared. The absurdity of this policy is illustrated by the inclusion of the Sunshine Coast and Sea to Sky corridor as part of the immense Vancouver Coastal Health region. Not only are the local case numbers diluted into meaninglessness, but as prime destinations these communities have no way of measuring the fallout, if any, from regular influxes of visitors. This naturally creates widespread fear and paranoia.

Health officials have argued that identifying specific communities could jeopardize patients’ privacy and cause others to be hesitant about seeking medical attention. It could also make people complacent if they knew that confirmed numbers were low in their immediate vicinity.

These are weak arguments. The first one does not apply – and never has – to the vast majority of towns and urban neighbourhoods in B.C., which are big enough to make patient identification a non-issue. The second argument might have had validity – if you believe in manipulating the public by keeping them in the dark – when the case numbers were high and rising, but not anymore.

With numbers down (to a single digit on Tuesday), society reactivating and people set to increase their chances of infection by exposing themselves to a larger range of potential transmitters, there are now much stronger reasons to make community numbers available than to keep them hidden.

First and foremost, it would better equip us to protect ourselves. Knowing there is a new case, or new cases, in our community would enable us to pull back to Phase 1 precautions – to retreat to our hidey-holes until the local outlook improves.

Second, this proactive response by the public would help keep community spread to a minimum. As a result, the Restart Plan would have a greater likelihood of success.

This one is a no-brainer.

Here is a tool. Let us have it.

John Gleeson is Editor and Associate Publisher of the Coast Reporter, where this editorial was first published.