Last update: 2022 Sep 17
COVID-19 Updates for British Columbia
IMPORTANT: there is a new study highlighting the severity and extent of BC’s Omicron waves. Please take a moment to read it. While the increased contagiousness of these variants caused an increase in infections across the board, there were a lot more infections discovered through retrospective immunity studies, and children were found to have been one of the most highly infected groups.
Masking is still the best way to beat this: investing in a supply of NIOSH or Health Canada certified N95, N99, N100, P95, P99, or P100 masks and knowing how to use them effectively can prevent infection and serious long-term injuries. Pair your mask with eye protection for best results, especially if working in a healthcare setting.
Bivalent COVID vaccines are coming: formulations incorporating Omicron protection have recently been approved by Health Canada and are on their way to be distributed in the next cycle of booster appointments. Stay tuned for further updates.
Currently, provincial restrictions have lifted. Full details are available at the BC COVID-19 Response site. BC Transit and BC Ferries have lifted all mask mandates but still recommend wearing masks whenever possible, as the currently circulating virus variants are more contagious than previous ones.
Possible Infection? Use the online self-assessment tool first (link). If you need testing, phone 811 to speak with a public health nurse. At-home rapid tests (link) can also be obtained at most pharmacies.
Mask Sourcing (link): Vitacore makes Health Canada certified N95s and N99s here in BC and ships to your front door (their masks are also carried at London Drugs). While I’m not affiliated, I’ve nonetheless tested a lot of different brands over the past two years, and these are by far the most comfortable and durable. Their lab test results were top-tier as well. The quality is worth the price. The head straps on the Can95 and Can99 models are ridiculously tough and will not break or fall off.
COVID-19 Dashboard (link): this interactive map illustrates BC’s COVID-19 caseload data and breaks the information down by regional health authority. Data is still being gathered regularly, however it is important to understand that the rise of home testing has made it more difficult to track a portion of the caseload, as many of these cases might not be reported through official channels.
Child Immunizations (link): currently, Moderna is the sole approved vaccine for children aged 6 months to 4 years. Those 5 years of age or older have access to both the Moderna and Pfizer offerings.
Adult Immunizations (link): the next scheduled round of boosters runs this September.
Monkeypox Updates for British Columbia
What’s old is new again: monkeypox (MPX) is a well-studied member of the poxviridae family with a long history including at least two generations of vaccine deployment, in addition to other treatments established on the scientific record, including cross-immunity from prior smallpox vaccination. Unlike what we saw in the COVID-19 situation, MPX is an old enemy and we’ve had tools to deal with it for quite some time. Up until now, deployment of these tools has traditionally been rare and narrowly focused due to the relative geographic isolation of most MPX outbreaks.
Symptoms of infection begin within three weeks of exposure to the virus and include a distinctive pimple- or blister-like skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, exhaustion, sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough.
MPX can remain viable in ambient conditions for up to 15 days. It is spread through close contact, skin-to-skin contact, and surface contamination (bedding, clothes, towels, toilet seats, door handles, and other objects an infected person has touched). Inhalation via respiratory droplets is another route of exposure, and this forms the basis of most of the current warnings about sustained close contact. Most of the same disinfectants we used against COVID-19 are also effective against MPX including household bleach, bulk 70% isopropyl alcohol, and hand sanitizers which contain at least 60% isopropyl alcohol. In short, there’s not much of a learning curve involved.
It’s also important to note that MPX is not a sexually transmitted disease. Rather, it is an equal-opportunity pathogen capable of infecting anyone at any age. While intimate contact is a more efficient route of exposure due to how the virus works, it’s not the only route, as has been demonstrated in numerous outbreaks and super-spreader events where no intimate contact took place.
Mask Sourcing (link): due to the size of the MPX virus and its ability to attach to respiratory droplets, the easiest way to approach PPE considerations is to think of everything in similar terms as COVID-19. Masks that form a good face seal and are certified to meet the N95, N99, N100, P95, P99, or P100 standards (or your country’s equivalent) will provide respiratory protection. Cloths masks, flat non-sealing masks, and bandanas will not. I’ve linked the same mask manufacturer (Vitacore) in this section with my fellow BC residents in mind, as local manufacturing tends to be somewhat more resilient than buying over the border or overseas.
Don’t forget to add splashproof eye protection if you’re working in a healthcare setting or poorly ventilated area. Just like COVID-19, MPX is able to enter the body through the eyes.
Immunizations (link): the BC government is monitoring MPX but currently has no plans for a mass immunization campaign. Approximately one out of every ten Canadian MPX cases is occurring in BC.
Federal Response (link): the Canadian government is monitoring MPX infections and has adopted a wait-and-see approach. As of this writing, the national case count is approximately 1000 individuals.
Canadian Pandemic Preparation Resources
These global pandemics will continue to cause disruptions and supply shocks for the medium term on certain products. Expect further inflation, wait times, and rationing. PPE and other mission-critical items have made a huge comeback since 2021 but might still remain difficult to obtain through one’s usual distribution channels. The time to source alternate options and update your emergency plan is now.
1. Financial Plan: make sure basic needs are covered, ideally by putting a 3- to 6‑month buffer in place for finances in case of job loss or layoff. If you can allocate more, do so. If your job is not yet at risk, consult your employer and see what updates they’ve made to their pandemic plans.
A key priority should be minimizing liabilities and pruning down discretionary spending in order to create a savings. If you haven’t already done so, get a TFSA (link) or other specialized account at your financial institution to dump that money into. Pay off your credit cards, get rid of any unnecessary monthly subscriptions, and reassess major assets and loans.
Contact your creditors and find out their emergency policies. Even if you’re doing well and making all your payments on time, it’s good to know what your backup plan looks like in case things take a sour turn.
2. Home Readiness: contact utility providers to re-evaluate your pricing and needs. Off-peak electricity discounts and energy self-assessments can often be helpful. Comparison shop for Internet packages (you’ll be surprised how much big ISPs are overcharging). Finish energy-saving repairs, but avoid major renovations unless absolutely necessary. Make sure your home is well maintained and adequately insulated. Last but not least, if you have a septic field or water well, make sure it’s working properly and get the contact details of at least two service companies. Technicians and trades remain more difficult to access than they were before the pandemics. Know your pricing and be aware of the local business ecosystem.
Don’t forget to beef up security (link). While the big spike in pandemic crimes peaked during 2020, things have still not returned to 2019 levels in many cities, and there continue to be huge issues with limited first responder and dispatch resources. Do your part to responsibly address security needs and prevent crime, it helps our first responders.
3. Supplies: at this point, everyone should have at least two weeks of extra food, water, medicine, and household supplies on hand at all times. It’s better to aim for a three-month stock or more if your situation allows, but anything is better than nothing. You want to be able to wait out periodic supply disruptions, adverse weather events, and product shortages. If you’re not sure what to pack, here’s a guide for food (link) and here’s one for water (link).
Shelf life varies widely by product, method(s) of preservation, and storage conditions (link). Canned goods generally fare well over long periods of time, as do vacuum-packed dry goods. Do your research before going shopping, test out your menu planning as you go, and be prepared to adjust your purchases accordingly.
When in doubt, follow the date that’s printed on the packaging of the products you buy, and remember to conduct regular stock rotation via FIFO (first in, first out). The oldest items in your stock should be consumed first. Never use anything that’s reached expiry date or is showing signs of spoilage. If you’re trapped in a survival situation with no access to fresh goods, resources such as StillTasty (link) and EatByDate (link) may be useful in helping you estimate risk during a worst-case scenario.
Pantry preparedness is one of those skills that takes practice to get right, and the ‘settling-in period’ to get used to this kind of routine is usually a few months. You can make the process easier and reduce accidental waste by keeping checklists of your stocked items and the dates they expire.
4. First Aid: the other critical objective is a well-stocked first aid kit and the skills required to use it. You can find the BC provincial standardized supply checklist here (link). Don’t forget to seek out appropriate first aid training through your local Red Cross (link) or St. John Ambulance (link).
5. Online Shopping: the safest way to handle online purchases is setting up a single low-limit credit card as the payment method for the e‑commerce sites, then manually paying off balances via a different financial institution as they accrue. This offers three benefits: one, using a credit card instead of a debit card generally provides better fraud protection; two, keeping your credit card and bank account separate means extra security in case the credit card gets breached; and three, most credit card issuers will offer cashback bonuses, purchase protection, extended warranties, and other features that add up over the long run if used carefully.
As with anything credit related, the usual caveats apply: never carry a balance past the grace period, and never use automated transactions.
6. Further Reading: for those looking to augment their emergency plans, or even those just starting out, drawing on the experience of others through sites such as The Prepared (link) can be extremely helpful. If you take back nothing else from all this, remember two pieces of advice: zombies ruin everything, and always say no to tinfoil hats.
Find a healthy balance in all things, including this.
Pandemic DIY Projects
Sew and No-Sew Mask Patterns (link): instructions for making your own masks. Be sure to follow the enclosed guidelines on material selection, as specific fabrics work better for particulate capture than others.
EveryMask (link), Fix the Mask (link): both of these resources deal with improving the safety profiles of rectangular masks by more effectively sealing the mask to the face using flexible materials and a sturdier nose bridge.
BC Sero-Prevalence Study, 2022 Sep 09 (link): a cutting-edge study via UBC covering 2020 Mar to 2022 Aug and outlining the extent of infection antibodies in the population, particularly children. It was discovered that the Omicron waves infected many more people than were reported to public health, and children in particular were heavily infected by these waves.
BA.5 Video: some detailed information about the disease from a teaching nurse, courtesy of our friends on the other side of the pond, which also explains why efforts to bring the virus under control have proven so difficult.
Canada’s Office of the Chief Science Advisor (link): a page listing ongoing national initiatives on handling COVID-19.
BC Centre for Disease Control (link): provincial epidemiology, situation reports, data downloads, and other useful resources.