British Columbia’s health minister says the province will stay the course on its own COVID-19 policy, as the United States’ top public health agency relaxes its guidelines around the virus.
On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its recommendation that people stay six feet away from others and that they quarantine themselves if they come in close contact with an infected person.
The new U.S. guidelines no longer recommend testing for people without symptoms, and suggest contact tracing be limited to health-care settings.
“Our path is our path. The United States has had its own path from the beginning,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told Global News on Friday.
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Dix said changes south of the border won’t have any bearing on B.C.’s own messaging, which is currently focused on getting people to sign up for vaccine booster doses.
COVID-19 remains in circulation, meaning that the public still needs to keep its guard up, he added.
“Last week more than 15k people at some point were sick that work in the healthcare system, and that reflects that …. there’s significant amounts of COVID-19 out there.”
“Right now we’re in a relatively stable situation, we’ve seen that in the results, but in the fall we’re facing the first flu season without some of those public health measures in a while, and we’re seeing the respiratory illness season.”
In many ways, the U.S. CDC’s new guidelines actually bring it closer to B.C.’s own policy.
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While the province continues to recommend social distancing, the province never recommended testing for asymptomatic people, and strictly limited PCR testing even for people with symptoms last winter.
Near the beginning of the first Omicron wave, B.C. also dropped contact tracing and stopped recommending people self-isolate after close contact with an infected person.
Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said the older public health guidelines were intended to stamp out transmission completely, a goal that is no longer achievable.
“We’re now in an era of endemic COVID, and the key things we need to protect ourselves are to stay home if we’re sick, get all the vaccines we should be getting — and it’s unclear if these recommendations on distancing are going to help us deal more effectively with endemic COVID, so it makes sense to move on,” he said.
Conway said masking in indoor public places remains important, particularly when there is high transmission.
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Despite a shift towards more personal responsibility for managing COVID-19, many businesses in B.C. have shown willingness to keep protocols in place.
“We surveyed our members, and around half of B.C. small businesses said they would voluntarily keep some of their COVID-19 protocols in place going forward through the summer, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing among businesses all across the province,” said Canadian Federation of Independent Business B.C. and Alberta director Annie Dormuth.
Dormuth said with B.C.’s labour shortage, many businesses are already short-staffed, and are cognizant of the effects spikes in cases can have on their workforce.
But she said if there was any change in COVID-19 guidance in the other direction, towards further restrictions, businesses need to be consulted.
“Any type of reintroduction or recommendations or stronger language from the provincial government needs to give business some time to change their biz operations,” she said.
“And if there’s going to be any kind of operating restrictions on biz that needs to be followed up with supports.”
In the meantime, the province’s COVID-19 situation appears to be trending in a positive direction, with the number of cases in hospital hitting a one-month low on Thursday, and hospital admissions showing a marked decline.
Public health officials are urging anyone who hasn’t had their first booster dose to sign up for it as soon as possible, while second boosters are being recommended in the fall.
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