Ontario infectious disease doctor says B.C. has ‘plateaued,’ urges slow, steady reopening

One of the first Canadian infectious disease specialists to detect the COVID-19 crisis earlier this year says that BC's public health performance is the subject of Ontario.

Dr. Michael Gardam, chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, is a veteran of respiratory outbreaks, notably the SARS outbreak in Ontario in 2003.

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He says the steady decline in the number of deaths and hospitalizations in this province is good news – putting B.C. in a good place to ease restrictions.

Gardam is confident that British Columbia has reached the peak of the initial wave of COVID-19 infections. Most new cases are now linked to known outbreaks and hospitalizations have declined since early April.

3 weeks ahead of Ontario

"You not only reached the plateau, but you are descending on the other side. You are probably three weeks ahead of Ontario and Quebec," said Gardam.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry signaled earlier this week that B.C. is in a good position to start lifting restrictions. (Mike McArthur / CBC)

"That's all I hear in Toronto, it's BC. When it comes to public health issues, unfortunately it's always a good way for BC. [and] always in a bad way for Ontario, "he said.

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B.C. Health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry signaled on Monday that lowering the transmission rate and increasing testing were putting the province in a good position to start lifting restrictions.

"We are getting close to the time when we can start opening," said Henry during his April 27 briefing.

But Gardam warns that, as restrictions ease, it is important that people are not too aggressive with the reopening of companies, parks and the resumption of large meetings.

"We do not prevent this from spreading. These possible cases are still there," he said.

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Gardam says that each province has a different situation, so unique approaches make sense.

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But he said Canadians can expect health care strategies to change as companies reopen, activities resume and people are no longer isolated.

He said protecting vulnerable groups through testing and tracking contacts has been effective in places like New Zealand and Australia.

Gardam said Ontario has now tested more people per capita than BC, and broader tests become more important as restrictions ease.

The McCleery Golf Club in Vancouver reopened on Friday. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

"We didn't do that in the history of the world, so nobody knows what the right answer is," said Gardam.

No regular flu

But he is irritated by those who see COVID-19 as nothing more than an exaggerated flu.

"This is not a common flu," said Gardam.

Gardam says people who believe they are "totally wrong" and "annoying".

Gardam said the COVID-19 death rate is "orders of magnitude" more than the flu, including considering all asymptomatic cases of both viral culprits.

Infectious disease specialist Michael Gardam says that not only has the B.C. COVID-19 rate reached the plateau, but the province is really falling on the other side. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

He was one of the first to detect the danger after receiving an alert about an outbreak in China.

There is no official global system for scanning social media to monitor possible disease outbreaks. But there are systems run by volunteers who post alerts. ProMED, run by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, is assisted by experts.

Gardam saw an alert in late December that described "pneumonia of unknown etiology" in Wuhan, China.

& # 39; This is a hell of an infectious bat & # 39;

At first, Gardam was not alarmed, but that changed as reports continued to arrive. Despite WHO's assurances that there was little initial evidence of human-to-human transmission, Gardam said his instincts were manifest.

"As the cases kept coming, I thought it must have been a hell of an infectious bat," he said.

"It's like & # 39; OK, will this have legs? Or will it stop? & # 39;"

He says it is never easy and often dangerous to be the first person who sees something like COVID-19 starting.

"We are never ready for that," he said.

He sets the example of the doctor in Wuhan – 34 years old Dr. Li Wenliang – who died after trying to warn people of the danger.

"He was trying to whistle something that people haven't yet recognized."

Dr. Li Wenliang warned fellow doctors to wear protective clothing because of a new virus. Li died of the new coronavirus in Wuhan on February 7, 2020. (Li Wenliang / CNN)

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