Southern B.C. Interior residents can consider themselves living in the recovery stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, says the medical health officer for Interior Health.
Dr. Silvina Mema explained while the vaccination rate for IH residents is still currently behind the provincial average, there remains a significant number of people who have received at least two vaccine doses.
“The health risk for COVID has significantly decreased within our population,” said Mema.
“We are at a recovery stage…we are at a phase where we individually have to remain vigilant but from what we know of the variants now and other waves that will likely be coming, from what we are seeing currently the impact of those waves will be less.”
That impact, Mema said in an interview with Black Press, is largely defined by hospitalization rates, which have declined in recent weeks, leading provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to eliminate all pandemic public health restrictions.
“So it is being left to individuals at this point to take the precautions they feel they want to take to protect themselves against COVID,” she said.
The one caveat she added is things can change, namely the introduction of a new variant which the vaccine may prove ineffective in causing those hospitalization levels to start to spiral upward.
“But that is not an immediate or medium-term concern at this point from what we are seeing with the data…learning to live and adapt to the virus is how I would summarize what stage we are at in our health region.”
Another annoying reality of COVID, international travel requirements such as passing a COVID test 24 hours before entry into the U.S., are not likely to change any time soon.
“It comes down to what individuals want to do but you need to understand that border crossing requirements can be subject to change,” she said.
She drew the accepted health protocols people already accept and follow to travel to foreign destinations such as Africa, which requires shots for yellow fever and meningitis along with malaria medication.
“I tell people to have an open mind in terms of what may come. We all want this pandemic to be over…but we know COVID will come back in waves. How bad or severe the impact will be from those waves is yet to be determined,” she said.
But despite the positive outlook, Mema also acknowledges there remain pockets of the pandemic persisting, such as in Ontario and Shanghai, China, a city on virtual lockdown for the past three weeks.
“We have to be vigilant and monitor what is going on in other places, but if we get pocket outbreaks here we also know how to deal with that.”
She said mask-wearing, social distancing and the vaccines have been the most effective public health weapons against the virus, and she encourages people to get the third vaccine shot when they become eligible to maintain a high level of protection against serious illness.
“Wearing a mask was never thought of as a fever bullet against the virus. But that along with the vaccine and physical distancing and indoor public gathering limitations all together helped decrease the health risk significantly,” she said.
Mema added efforts to understand how the COVID virus erupted on such a global scale are questions that still need to be answered.
“The World Health Organization is holding an inquiry into that so hopefully it can resolve how exactly this virus came about,” said Mema.
“We have to learn more about the virus so that chapter has not finished yet…We have to know what happened so we can understand better how to prevent this from happening again in the future.”