Editor's column: Panic may not be a bad thing during pandemic

Okay, I’m kind of getting on to this…me, working at the dining room table, my husband upstairs at the desk in my son’s room. After the initial near-nervous breakdown of trying to set up my laptop with all its appropriate apps and programs, this little home office situation has become somewhat routine. Even the thumping on the stairs every day at 4:30 p.m. has become, if not tolerable, at least expected. (He likes to get his cardio and with the gyms closed, the stairs it is.) I prefer a quick run along the Railway Greenway…which brings me to those insane images of hordes of people, walking shoulder to shoulder around Vancouver’s Seawall.

Those images astonished me, not just because I can’t believe how some folks are still not getting the message, but because they totally do not reflect what I’ve been seeing on my runs. Granted, there have been lots of people out, particularly on those sunny days last week, but folks are literally tripping over themselves to maintain social distance — running off the path to avoid on-comers, waiting two metres behind the next person at the crosswalk, biking on the grass to steer out of the way of others. And here’s the thing, the greater the physical distance, the less the social one, as people smile and nod in recognition that we are all trying to do our part.

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But what I was going to talk about in this column, before those crazy Vancouverites threw me off my stride, was information: what’s too little, what’s too much. If there’s one thing people seem to really want to know regarding the coronavirus is how close is it to home? Is it in my city? My neighbourhood? My school? But those are exactly the details our provincial medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has been cagey about giving.

Granted, we now know there are 10 (at last count) confirmed cases in Richmond, but that’s only thanks to our local health officer. Henry will only say what region the cases reside in, and these are big regions. The Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) authority, which includes Richmond, also includes Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and even Bella Coola.

Henry says she needs to protect personal privacy, not only because it’s the decent thing to do, but because if the government starts outing people, (my word not hers) we’re going to drive potential cases underground where they’ll really fester.

I suspect there is also concern that if it’s announced a COVID-19 patient is being treated at a particular hospital, people will flock to other hospitals, which will be over-run.

So, while I think the province is being somewhat over protective, I can at least see the logic. What makes no sense, however, is the government’s reluctance to answer direct and repeated questions about equipment. We have asked Richmond’s medical health officer, VCH, the Richmond Hospital Foundation and the nurses’ union one simple question: how many ventilators does Richmond Hospital have. Not one of them seems to know – or is willing to tell us.

I suspect they don’t want to say for fear the answer may trigger a panic, and it may. But staying quiet is also causing anxiety. Right now, the government’s most important commodity is trust. They’d be wrong to squander it in their attempt to “manage the message.” Besides, a little panic among those Seawall strollers might not be a bad thing.

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