VCH deputy chief medical health officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn delivered a little bit of good news last week during a briefing on the COVID-19 situation. He reported that “less than one per cent of all cases in VCH have been in the Sunshine Coast and Powell River areas.”
At the time, 339 cases had been identified within the VCH region – so the math was easy. Only three cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed on the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast.
This was consistent with what we had reported about 10 days earlier – that a small but undisclosed number of cases had been confirmed in Sechelt and that the source of infection was travel-related. It was good news because it meant there had been no additional confirmed cases and no cases linked to random community transmission.
When the “one per cent” story appeared online, however, some readers were critical of the number, and of this newspaper for reporting it. There were two main reasons.
First, not enough testing is being done for the number to mean anything. To which we would say yes and no. Yes, there is not enough testing – not by a long shot. We’ve all heard about people with symptoms who could not get tested and we know that symptoms don’t always appear. However, tests are being given to people who have the most severe symptoms, along with frontline workers, and yet our numbers have remained very low. That doesn’t mean there are no contagious people out there, but it does rule out the most highly probable cases. So the numbers do mean something.
The second reason is the concern that putting out such a low number will lull people into complacency and they will get lax about following the guidelines for physical distancing and self-isolating. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made this argument for not disclosing case numbers in specific communities after her first argument – protecting a patient’s privacy – convinced no one. “We need everybody to be aware that the risk is not just in one place,” she said. “It doesn’t serve anybody to think that it won’t affect me and it’s not in my community and it won’t affect my family.”
Fair enough, but don’t low numbers also tell a community that its adherence to the guidelines is working, and that it must stay the course to keep the numbers from rising? And in a geographically isolated area like the Sunshine Coast, don’t the citizens have a right to know, regardless of how incomplete the data? And what about the moral imperative to dispel all the rumours flying around, not to mention the leaked VCH memo that turned out to contain a serious error?
In any case, we tip our hat to Dr. Lysyshyn and VCH for giving us an accurate if limited picture of where we stood as of March 26 on the COVID-19 front.
We have a long haul ahead of us and the situation might be very different even by the time you read this, but if the latest news was good news, we’ll gladly take it.