Infectious disease experts torn on B.C. going to regional restriction system
VICTORIA -- As a growing chorus of Vancouver Island businesses ask the provincial government to consider a regionalized system of COVID-19 restrictions this winter, experts remain torn on how the shift could impact cases in B.C.
"We haven't split up the province into regions or zones and it's served us well," said medical director of Vancouver's infectious disease centre, Brian Conway.
"The numbers are going up, but I think we are still in a position that if we act in a coherent way we'll be able to avoid further lock down," he said.
Meanwhile, across the country in Ontario, where region specific restrictions have been handed down, another epidemiologist is saying B.C. should, and will, make the switch.
"I will predict that B.C. will move to a regional model and they will do it soon," University of Toronto epidemiologist Colin Furness told CTV News Vancouver Island.
"Public health is most effective, I say this whenever I can, it's most effective when it's conceived and implemented locally," he said.
The dichotomous opinions come as Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, has watched as parts of the province like the Fraser Health region undergo a massive uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The provincial government has also heard a bolstered push from areas where case growth remains low, like in the Island Health region, saying that possible restrictions this winter should not impact areas that aren't seeing cases rise.
"We are really encouraging the provincial government to balance the great advice we get from the provincial health officer with the economic impact of doing things one-size fits all," said Jeff Bray with the Downtown Victoria Business Association Tuesday.
Henry and B.C.'s Ministry of Health have said they would consider a more localized recommendation and restriction system, but have also said B.C. has done well by remaining as a unified front during the pandemic.
B.C. has never, unlike other provinces, entered into a full economic lockdown.
In mid-October, Ontario Premier Doug Ford thrust parts of his province into a regional system of restrictions.
In the Toronto, Peel, Ottawa and later York regions, heightened restrictions closed indoor dining, gyms and movie theatres.
Health officials had watched as the areas spiralled out of control with COVID-19 cases climbing dramatically.
Ontario's system did what some B.C. businesses are asking for, cracking down in areas where cases are high, but leaving businesses in lesser impacted communities with a longer leash to operate.
This system, however, wasn't without its geographic concerns, which could also happen in B.C.
"We're sometimes too far south to be north and too far north to be south," said the deputy mayor of the town of Georgina, ON, Robert Grossi.
The small lakeside community of Georgina, north of Toronto, had not seen a large increase in COVID-19 infections, but faced some severe restrictions as it sat on the border of the York region.
"Because we don't have our own medical officer of health we are part of that York region, which is 1.2 million people, so we are caught in that," said Grossi.
The deputy mayor says the regional system has its clear benefits for balancing health and economy, but warns that similar snags for smaller, less impacted towns could still happen in B.C. if the same system were instituted there.