Feature

Everyone is tired of COVID. We’re in the middle of a fresh wave of infections. It’s super stressful. 

Now some folks are saying they want to catch Omicron just to “get it over with.”

Like, maybe if they catch COVID, they can stop worrying about catching COVID. What a relief, right?

Wrong.

We’re here to tell you that’s a bad idea.

Well, it’s not just us. Doctors everywhere are telling people it’s a bad idea.

Dr. Paul Offit is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He told CNN that he’s hearing this idea everywhere. “It’s all the rage,” he said.

Dr. Robert Murphy is executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University. He told CNN that the idea has “caught on like wildfire.”

He also said, “[y]ou’d be crazy to try to get infected with this. It’s like playing with dynamite.”

Just in case the idea had crossed your mind, here are the top five reasons not to catch COVID on purpose.

1. It’s not a bad cold

Imagine a terrible fever, headache, sore throat, incredibly stuffy nose… Oh, and you’re exhausted. And it’s hard to breathe. That’s a “mild” case of Omicron.

“People are talking about Omicron like it’s a bad cold. It is not a bad cold,” Murphy said. “It’s a life-threatening disease.”

Just because Omicron isn’t killing as many people as Delta doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

2. You could get Long COVID

Long COVID is the gift that keeps on giving. Only no one wants it. Think shortness of breath, severe fatigue, fever, dizziness, brain fog, diarrhea, heart palpitations, muscle and stomach pain, mood swings and trouble sleeping.

Sound like fun? Now imagine that no one can tell you how long this will last. Months? Years? Who knows!

COVID can get into your brain. Some folks have brain fog months after their symptoms go away. If they get brain scans, it shows cloudy regions where the virus has wrecked their brain tissue. And no one knows if they will get better.

3. You could pass the disease on to children

Kids under 11 aren’t fully vaccinated yet. Before Christmas, kids were catching COVID more than any other age group in Canada.

Sure, COVID hasn’t hit kids as hard as it hit older people. But still, do you want to risk giving your kid a disease we don’t understand?

New links are being drawn between COVID and diabetes in children, too. COVID doesn’t cause diabetes, but the virus could bring it on if your kid is predisposed to it.

4. You could put more pressure on the healthcare system

Hospitals all over Canada are low on staff. The nurses, techs, doctors, and cleaners that we need to keep hospitals running are getting sick themselves. Surgeries are being cancelled.

One BC doctor had a blunt warning: “Now is not the time to get injured.” If you get hurt, there’s no one left to help you.

You might not end up in the hospital if you go out and catch COVID on purpose. But you could spread it to someone who will. So don’t take that chance if you can help it.

5. Mother Nature might waste your ass

You know the chickenpox virus just hangs out in your nerve tissue, right? Years after the spots go away, the virus is just chilling near your spinal cord. And sometimes, it wakes up again. You can get shingles. Or you can get brain damage.

What the $%*!, right?

Dr. Offit says chickenpox parties were also a bad idea. We just didn’t know that until we learned more about the virus. The same is true with COVID.

“Don’t mess with Mother Nature,” he said. “She’s been trying to kill us ever since we crawled out of the ocean onto the land.”

Did you get tagged with Omicron? You aren’t the only one. Hundreds of thousands of folks across Canada have gotten sick these past few weeks.

Now that BC is rolling out its booster shots, you’re probably wondering when you should get yours. Or should you even get one?

Doctors don’t entirely agree on how long you should wait. But one thing is clear—don’t try to get one while you’re still sick.

When you’re sick, your immune system is focused on fighting that infection. So getting a shot is like setting another fire when one is already burning. Your body really needs to concentrate on the first one.

Your body also won’t learn what it needs to learn from the vaccine. Vaccines teach our immune systems to recognize viruses and destroy them. But if your body is trying to tackle the vaccine and the real thing, it’s got too much to do. It can’t learn or fight effectively.

So how long should you wait?

There’s no magic number, but you’ll want to wait days or weeks before getting that third jab.

Alyson Kelvin is a virologist and vaccine researcher at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon. She says the best time to get a booster is when your immune system has calmed down.

She told CBC News, ”you want to wait till your symptoms clear up, and probably it’s beneficial to wait an extra month or a couple of weeks after your initial infection, as you’ll have more benefits of that boost.”

But if you’ve had Omicron, do you even need a booster?

Your body builds antibodies when it’s fighting an infection. But after a while, those antibodies can fade.

“People should still get a booster,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger told CBC News. She’s an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Just don’t get it right away.

Dr. Jamie Scott is a molecular immunologist and professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. He told CBC News it’s best to wait a few months even.

“It’ll have a stronger effect again because the memory cells will be much more fully developed and the antibody levels will be down.”

What do you do if you’re sick but you’re not sure it’s COVID?

It can be hard to get a test these days. But you should still try to get one.

And there’s no official advice from doctors. But it’s still good to follow the first point: don’t get the jab if you’re sick. Hang tight until your symptoms go away.

Don’t try to fight two fires at the same time.

Salmon don’t carry passports. Individual countries are responsible for looking after the streams, creeks and rivers in which salmon spawn and reproduce.

But when Salmon enter the ocean phase of their lifecycle, they swim in international waters and across borders.

So salmon hatched in BC inland waters spend anywhere from one to three years in the Pacific. This raises difficult questions: Whose fish are they?

Allocating commercial catch limits for salmon on the West Coast requires difficult negotiations between Canada and United States.

Following record low salmon returns in recent years, former federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan suspended 60 percent of BC’s commercial salmon fishery last June. Jordan also announced a license buyback program, part of the $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative to recover depleted stocks.

But the sacrifices made by BC fishers could be all for nothing. Alaskan fishers are now the largest catchers of many endangered BC stocks, while our salmon fleet is tied up at the dock and communities make big sacrifices to protect wild salmon.

“This isn’t just a matter of Alaskans stealing our fish. They’re INCREASING their catch of our salmon and driving our fish towards extinction while Canadian fishers and taxpayers try desperately to turn things around,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

While Alaska does a better job than BC in taking care of the habitat of their own salmon, they’re being pretty lousy neighbours when it comes to their treatment of BC-hatched salmon.

A new study has shown that commercial fishers in Alaska are catching a growing share of salmon bound for BC rivers, while many of our runs hit historic lows.

The study was paid for by Hill’s organization and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. It shows that while BC’s commercial salmon fishery was mostly idle last summer, the Alaskan fishing fleet logged more than 3,000 boat days and caught 800,000 tonnes of sockeye. Most of these fish were bound for BC rivers.    

The Alaskan fleet caught 51,000 “Canadian” Chinook, 540,000 coho, 1.2 million chum, 34 million pink and an unknown number of steelhead by-catch. Many of them come from threatened and endangered populations in BC.

Ocean fishing in Southeast Alaska could be contributing to recent declines in BC salmon returns. Over 90 of the catch of some Vancouver Island chinook stocks occurs in Alaska. A similar imbalance is happening with Skeena, Nass and Fraser stocks.  

“We knew the Alaskans were intercepting a lot of BC salmon,” said Greg Knox of SkeenaWild, “but the numbers in this report are staggering. I’m also appalled at their failure to report their bycatch of non-target species, which Canadian fishers are required to do.”

The report’s release comes at a time when Canada and the US are meeting at the Pacific Salmon Commission to review bilateral management under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The current treaty expires in 2028. Historically, changes to the agreement have been too small to impact Alaskan fisheries in a meaningful way.

Last fall Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bacharach went to Washington D.C. to raise concerns about Alaskan overfishing of BC salmon and steelhead.

“The Pacific Salmon Treaty has failed to protect our salmon and we can’t wait until 2028 to fix it,” said Aaron Hill. “The governments of Canada and BC need to stand up right now and do something about this Alaskan plunder.” 

At first, we thought it was photoshopped, but VanIsle is just amazing!

Photo: Brian Texmo

First impressions matter.

It’s called the halo effect. Research shows that if you have a positive feeling about someone when you first meet them, it will affect how you view that person going forward, even if you aren’t aware of it.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has lived under a halo for almost two years now. But that halo has cracked.

When COVID first hit, everyone loved Dr. Henry. The new disease scared us all to death. But her steady tone soothed our nerves. At first, it looked like Dr. Henry cared. Like she was taking action to protect us all.

“Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe,” she said. Dr. Henry even published a book with that title to tell the world about how she helped BC beat COVID in its first month.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Dr. Henry and the BC government dropped the ball

It’s been almost two years, and BC is still unprepared for the pandemic.

Our hospitals are overwhelmed, rapid tests are hard to find, and now PCR testing is only for the sickest and folks over 70. BC isn’t doing contract tracing anymore. And Dr. Henry’s mixed messages about masks, gatherings, and ventilation have been confusing at best. They’re incompetent at worst.

Watch the video in the tweet and see how messy her messaging has been.

To be fair, Dr. Henry is not the only person responsible for all the BC government’s mistakes on COVID. She’s not the only cook in this kitchen. She is part of a team of people within government and different ministries and agencies. But Dr. Henry is the head chef, so she is the face of the BC government’s COVID response.

Dr. Henry failed to build an effective testing and contact tracing system. So now that things are getting really bad, the weak system is falling apart.

We are no longer testing widely and tracking how many people have COVID. So the only COVID number we can trust in BC is the number of people in the hospital with COVID.

Dr. Henry has made it very clear that it’s her alone that gets to decide who sees BC’s most critical COVID data. But without testing, necessary data is missing. It’s not that we’re not allowed to see it. It doesn’t exist.

Now, doctors and modelling experts say BC is “flying blind” into the latest and most dangerous wave of the COVID pandemic. Without testing and tracking, we don’t have good data. If we don’t have good data, we can’t predict what’s coming.

What’s worse, hospitals can’t make any plans because they don’t know what to prepare for.

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a former emergency physician who helped stop the SARS epidemic in Vancouver, summed things up, “[t]he healthcare system is going to be overrun, and the question now is timing, and how overrun it will be. We are completely flying blind.”

In plain English, this means there will be way more people in hospitals than we can handle. How many people? We have no idea.

Do No Harm

Have you heard of the precautionary principle? It’s a fancy way of saying, “play it safe.” So basically, if you don’t know how stable the cliff is, don’t go near the edge. And until you know for sure that it’s safe, do your best to keep others from going close to it, too.

Dr. Henry is a doctor. She took an oath to “do no harm.” She also knows about the precautionary principle. That is why her statements about masks are so troubling.

We have known that COVID hangs in the air for over a year. We’ve known that we need better ventilation in all indoor spaces. And we’ve known that everyone needs to wear better masks.

Credit: ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force

So then why did Dr. Henry keep denying that COVID is airborne months after scientists all said it does? Why hasn’t Dr. Henry told people to upgrade to N95 masks the way the federal health officer Dr. Tam started doing months ago?

Dr. Henry’s failure to double down on masks is confusing. Masks are the cheapest, easiest public health tool available. And better masks work better. It’s not that hard.

Politics Over People

Part of the reason Dr. Henry’s halo has cracked is that she seemed to put politics ahead of our health. After her original lockdown order, Dr. Henry seems to have focused on keeping businesses open.

She said Site C, Coastal Gas Link, and LNG Canada’s worker camps could stay open when she knew people in the camps were getting sick.

Her “too little, too late” response to Omicron highlights her “do as little as possible” approach.

We’ve known for weeks that Omicron is extremely contagious. We’ve watched COVID cases in country after country spike as Omicron spread. But Dr. Henry didn’t do anything specific to stop Omicron in BC until it was too late.

Now, COVID cases are doubling at least every 3 or 4 days. Some experts predict that between 2,000 to 10,000 people could be in the hospital with COVID by the end of January. We could have avoided this if Dr. Henry had acted earlier.

But instead, all she did was close the gyms and tell everyone to prepare to get sick.

Time to resign?

Before Omicron hit, things were looking good. Delta was on its way out. Numbers were coming down.

And just when things are getting bad again, Dr. Henry says she wants “to get out of the ‘orders business.'”

Say what? Isn’t that her job?

That’s like a teacher saying they want to get out of the kids’ business.

This isn’t Dr. Henry’s only bizarre statement recently. She also suggested that businesses prepare for a third of their employees to be out with COVID. But how do you do that? Businesses like BC Ferries are just cancelling routes because so many staff are out sick. There’s no lockdown, but they still can’t sail.

She also said that “people need to make their own risk assessments.”

What? We’re not virologists or community health experts. Isn’t that what she and her staff are for?

Dr. Henry’s approach, which leaves “risk assessments” to parents, business owners, and school officials, is killing people.

The law gives the Provincial Health Officer the power to make orders and no one else. So shouldn’t she be preparing health orders that might avoid a massive Omicron spike? Especially when we don’t know how many people will get long COVID?

At every step of the way, Dr. Henry and Horgan’s government has chosen to do as little as possible. They’re trying to keep businesses open and inconvenience people as little as possible. But instead, businesses are shutting down all over the place because their staff have COVID.

Now, Dr. Henry may have just given up. Maybe these strange decisions are a sign that it’s time for Dr. Henry to move on.

We get it. Dr. Henry had a hard job in a brutal time. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who hasn’t given up.

BC could have avoided the Omicron wave. Places like New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong have avoided spikes by having quick, targeted lockdowns and solid contact tracing.

It’s too late now to fully contain Omicron in BC. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who will help shut down the next wave.

Her calming tone was great at the start, but the halo is off now.

Dr. Henry needs to go.

Even in a storm VanIsle is a beautiful place to live.

Photo: Brian Texmo. Storeys Beach, Port Hardy.

Islanders, here we go again.

Last November’s atmospheric river smashed rainfall records across the Island and mainland.  Extensive flooding damaged highways, homes, businesses and farms. Insurers say it was Canada’s costliest natural disaster.

Now, after a couple of cold but sunny days, the rains are about to arrive. And not just average rainfall. These could be heavy. Since the icepack hasn’t yet cleared, this could be a problem in some areas on the Island.

Freezing levels are rising to 2,000 metres, and rainfall across the North Island region could reach 100 mm through Thursday. The new rain forecast, coupled with the recent heavy snowpack, has many island communities bracing for floods.

Meteorologists are tracking several moisture-heavy weather systems. The first is set to arrive Monday evening.

That’s why on Sunday afternoon, the BC River Forecast Centre issued a High Streamflow Advisory for the South Coast and all of Vancouver Island. No major flooding is expected, but in some low-lying areas, minor flooding is possible.

However, Forecast Centre hydrologist Johnathan Boyd called the combination of heavy rain and deep snow already on the ground a “concerning situation.”

Boyd told Global News that current modelling indicates the storm could be the worst and wettest on central Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

The combination of heavy rain and snowmelt could lead to rapid increases in stream and river flows, as well as erosion of banks and adjacent properties.

The one silver lining is that temperatures will be in the 9 to 10 C range during this storm cycle. That means precipitation will likely fall as snow and not rain at higher elevations, which could be a saviour for downstream Island communities.

Snowpack depth throughout BC is higher than average so far this year. Numerous storms in December and early January have helped build up the mountain snowpack, particularly on the South Coast, Vancouver Island and the Southern Interior.

La Nina conditions, which typically bring cool and wet weather to BC, are expected to continue through the winter. This bodes well for lakes, rivers and streams next summer.

But in the meantime, get ready because it’s going to be a wet one.

We’re one week into the New Year. How are those resolutions? Are they haunting you already?

It’s been a hard couple of years. Did you eat the cake even though you said you’d lose 10 pounds? Who cares. You’re allowed to enjoy life.

Here are 22 things you can do to make life a little better even though everything is bonkers right now.

1. We live in a cloudy place, especially in winter. So whenever the sun shines, drop everything and go outside. Feel the warmth on your face. Then, turn around and feel the heat on your bum. Honestly, it’s great.

2. Give up your place in line to someone who looks like they’re in a real hurry.

3. Smile at people on the street.

4. Get your hands dirty! Plant a garden, even if it’s just pots in your window.

5. Do something silly at least once a day. Even if you’re by yourself, sing out of tune or have your own dance party. Make funny faces in the mirror.

6. Be kind to someone if they’re rude to you. They’ll have no idea what to do.

7. When you can, buy what you need from local shops. Ask the shop owner how they’re doing. The supply chains are jammed up so you might not find what you need. Go talk to the local shop owner anyway.

8. COVID has made people lonely. Call an old friend out of the blue. Too nervous to call? Send them a text to let them know you’re thinking about them.

9. Do that one important thing that you’ve been putting off. Then, you’ll feel like a champ when you’re done.

10. Listen to music you loved as a teenager. Turn it up. Sing along.

11. Go out into the forest as often as you can. If you’re already outdoorsy, find an easy trail and bring someone who doesn’t usually go.

12. Laugh at your own jokes.

13. If you have some extra time, volunteer with a group you believe in. Maybe count salmon with a river group. A little bit of time in the right season can really help.

14. Watch funny things. Funny movies. Funny re-runs. Funny TikToks. Share them with your friends so you can laugh about them together.

15. Do something nice for your neighbour. Do you know how many people were over the moon with joy because someone shovelled their driveway last week?

16. Wear that nice thing in your closet. Wear it to the living room if you have to.

17. Eat delicious food.

18. Put your keys in the same place every time you come in the door. Or buy one of those Tile things. Think of all the time you’ll save.

19. Put your feet in the ocean. Hell, put your whole body in the ocean. But be safe! The ocean isn’t messing around.

20. If you can swing it, book an extra day off after your holiday. We always need a vacation after our vacation.

21. Learn about a type of bird that lives nearby. If they migrate, figure out where they go. Maybe someone far away is also admiring the same birds.

22. Always bring something to a party, even if it’s small.

A similar piece in the Guardian inspired this article.

Have you been watching Yellowstone?

Apparently, Martin Ryer really likes the show. And it seems he–and lots of other folks–can see themselves in the characters.

He imagined what each character would be if they were a place on VanIsle.

Do you think Martin is right?

People took to the comments to add their own characters.

Which character do you think matches your town’s personality?

Twitter isn’t normally a good source for key insights. But you know, sometimes it surprises us.

Dr. Eric Levi is an Australian surgeon. On Christmas Day, he tweeted the following:

“One thing we have learned from the pandemic is that very few of us actually learned from the pandemic.”

That sums up the past two years of chaotic and often confusing COVID responses.

In a story for The Tyee, writer Crawford Killian put together six lessons we should have learned by now.

Decisiveness is important, but so is follow-through

When COVID first hit, lots of countries closed their borders. But the virus was already inside.

Vietnam went the extra mile—they closed schools and businesses right at the beginning and tested every person coming into the country. They reopened slowly, and for the first 18 months of the pandemic, life there was pretty normal. By May 2021, the country of 90 million people had less than 50 deaths.

But only about 65% of Vietnam’s population has been vaccinated. The Delta variant was more contagious. Folks who work in the country’s busy factories started getting sick. By Christmas, cases in Vietnam had soared, and more than 30,000 people had died from COVID-19.

Here in BC, at the start of the pandemic, Dr. Bonnie Henry acted quicker than other Canadian health officials. Schools and businesses closed. Young people were okay. But the province still didn’t protect old folks in senior care homes. Hundreds of people died preventable deaths.

Good scientists need to be good communicators

This one needs a bit of tweaking. How about: science and politics don’t mix.

And Scientists may be experts in their field, but they’re not trained experts at communications.

Health agencies report to politicians. Politicians are… complicated. When politicians try to communicate health science, it doesn’t go well.

The public has also lost trust in health officials because those officials won’t give us straight facts. They sound more like politicians than scientists.

They won’t give us bad news because they’re afraid we’ll freak out. They told us all the scientists agreed with each other even though we could see that they didn’t. They pick the data they like to support their own policies. And they put the economy ahead of people’s safety, even though we can all plainly see that people are the economy.

In BC, Dr. Bonnie Henry came out with vague statements about whether COVID stayed in the air. She said masks weren’t all that important. That was super confusing because so many other doctors said they are extremely important. That mismatch probably added fuel to the fire against government mask mandates.

Also, Dr. Henry let the politicians decide when she determined Site C and Coastal Gas Link worker camps could stay open. She knew people in the camps were getting sick. Those camps spread COVID to workers, neighbouring communities, and families back home.

We should be in this together – but we’re not acting like it

COVID is a global crisis. We’ve never seen anything like this before. We need to work together, but you would never guess that from COVID responses.

For one, rich folks can afford to work from home. But if you work in a grocery store, you talk to people all day for not a lot of money. There is no work-from-home if you make burgers at A&W. And lots of frontline workers are immigrants and people of colour. It’s really unequal if the people who make the least amount of money are also the ones who have to put themselves in danger just to go to work.

In BC nursing homes, thousands of older people died because the government just ignored them when COVID hit. Why? Because old folks don’t make money for the economy?

Kids had to go to school in musty classrooms because someone early in the pandemic said only a few of them would die.

And, maybe worst of all, rich countries haven’t shared vaccines with poor countries. The tsunami of Omicron cases shows why that was a foolish choice. Places with lots of infections create new forms of the virus, and they then spread all over the place, including Canada.

Unless we get together as a planet, this nonsense could keep going for another 10 years.

Anti-vaxxers help the virus spread

A disturbing number of people have refused the vaccine as some bizarre symbolic statement of personal freedom. Anti-vaxxers have threatened health care workers and politicians. Some Conservative MPs refuse to say whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines don’t guarantee that you’ll never get infected. But they help your body fight the virus so you don’t get so sick you die. But loud people have twisted this message to get more attention for themselves. They cause trouble because they like trouble, not because they “love freedom.” And they spread the virus to each other and to vaccinated people.

Our health care system is in crisis

Hospitals were at 100 percent capacity before COVID. After years of funding cuts, health care workers were tired and overworked. Then the pandemic hit.

Thousands of nurses and other health care workers have quit or retired early. A year ago, 70 percent of health care workers said the pandemic was making them sad, angry, and depressed. It’s likely worse a year later.

The Canadian government predicts that, by 2028, Canada will need 35,000 more nurses than we’ll have.  

There’s no going back to before

Many governments act like the pandemic isn’t happening. They try to gain power while everyone is distracted. So Russia threatens Ukraine; China bullies its critics; the US pretends it’s still the leader of the “free world.” 

Countries are basically shells right now. Their leaders are clueless when it comes to the pandemic. There’s a lot of cheap talk about getting vaccines to poorer countries. But not a whole lot of action.

In the fall, we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then Omicron hit because leaders thought countries were islands. Rich places hoarded vaccines because they forgot viruses don’t need passports.

Now we all know that the light we saw was a new train heading right at us.

The pandemic has changed our culture, our economy, and our lives. It might feel comforting to think things could go back to “normal.” But we’re all different now.

Instead, we should start working out what kind of new world we want to create.