Opinion: Burnaby residents deserve more coronavirus case details

Chris Campbell

A seventh case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in B.C. was announced this morning (Monday) and it reveals the fine line health officials are trying to walk between informing the public and not inducing panic.

I understand this isn’t easy, but health officials are going too far in their restraint.

B.C.'s top medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, would only say that the latest case is a person who lives in the “Fraser Health” region. Well, that covers a lot of ground, including Burnaby. Fraser Health stretches from Delta in the west, to Hope in the east and White Rock to the south.

Reporters have asked multiple times in the past few weeks to simply list the home community, but Henry has, so far, refused to do that.

I think that’s a mistake. Saying the case is in Richmond or Burnaby or Surrey will not identify that person, if that’s the concern. It also won’t produce the kind of panic we’ve seen with some people online.

If anything, naming the specific community would cut down on the kind of reckless speculation that happens when health officials aren’t specific.

People spreading rumours online will only speculate more when there’s isn’t a specific community listed. Not saying the community also makes all residents in Fraser Health worry more because they don’t know if it’s in their town.

I just haven’t heard a solid argument for not just saying where it is. I get that health officials are being cautious – and I respect that – but I don’t think this is helping the situation.

B.C.'s top medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. health minister Adrian Dix. Screenshot

Now, having said this, health officials were correct in how they are handling the issue of the flight that the sixth case took on.

Asked why the authorities are not naming the flight the sixth case took on Feb. 14 from Montreal to Vancouver, Henry said the release of information is a fine balance between ensuring they get in contact with everyone who has had close contact with the case and privacy.

“When we first announced (the sixth case), there was some confusion about which flight (she was on),” said Henry. “But we were able to obtain the flight’s manifest and identify people who may have been in close contact with her on that flight.

“We then assess the risks about how she moved around and, if we had concerns, we would have put (more information) out publicly.

“We are confident that we were able to identify someone who may be at risk.”

Releasing that kind of specific information would have been a mistake and Henry offered a good explanation.

When it comes to a patient’s home community, however, I haven’t heard an equally compelling argument.

- With files from the Richmond News.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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