The province’s top doctor had kind, but firm, words for British Columbians worried about out-of-province travellers in the coming weeks.
“For the most part, we need to take a step back and realize we may not know everybody’s backstory,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a press briefing on Monday (July 6).
Henry acknowledged that both the pandemic and the reopening process has been anxiety inducing for many, but said that British Columbians need to remain courteous to outside visitors. B.C. entered Phase 3, which allows for non-essential travel, nearly two weeks ago, although travel between provinces has never banned.
“We’ve all had to suffer and sacrifice to get through these last few months and it worries us when we see people who many not understand our risks and our anxieties and our fears,” she said.
“Sometimes that comes out as anger, and sometimes that comes out as intolerance”.
But Henry said B.C. residents need to “take a step back,” and realize they may not know why people with out-of-province, or even U.S., licence plates are here.
“We need to be open,” she said.
“It is perfectly valid for us to say ‘this is how we do things,’ in a gentle way, and model that behaviour.”
Henry said however that the same expectations that British Columbians have lived under since March continue to apply to visitors, including physical distancing, masks where that is not possible and getting together only in small groups.
She also had a strict warning for Americans headed up north: “If you’re on your way to Alaska, you’re on your way to Alaska.”
Henry’s words came as the U.S. is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and multiple states are rolling back reopening plans.
Although opening the border to the U.S. is a federal responsibility, the top doctor said she was “very concerned” about cases south of border. The U.S. is at over 2.9 million total COVID-19 cases and more than 130,400 deaths, both about a quarter of global numbers. Canada is at nearly 106,000 cases as of Tuesday, and about 8,700 deaths. Of those, B.C. is home to just under 3,000 cases and 183 deaths.
“I cannot see vacation travel this summer from the U.S. given the rates that we’re seeing – and how widespread it is right now,” Henry said, adding that south of the border cases should serve as a warning about how hard it is to control the transmission of COVID-19 once it becomes widespread in communities.
“Even young healthy people can get very sick with this, and if you have lots of people sick then the probability of young people getting very sick and dying goes up dramatically,” she said. “We’ve seen that with some very young people who’ve died recently.”