Last Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, issued the following statement on the end of the respiratory season and spring COVID-19 vaccine boosters:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, and the people of British Columbia have shown incredible resilience and dedication in their efforts to combat the virus.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, British Columbians have understood the need to put and keep in place measures to protect our communities and health-care system. This was particularly important as we weathered the respiratory season over this past fall and winter with the combined effects of COVID-19 and influenza, as well as other viruses like RSV, strained our health-care system.
“At this time, we have seen a decrease in all respiratory viruses, which allows us to move forward with confidence in removing some of the measures that were in place. This is a positive development that reflects the efforts of everyone in our community in following guidelines and taking precautions to keep each other safe.
“Effective today, important changes have been made to the restrictions that were previously put in place by PHO orders and ministerial guidance. In particular, visitor restrictions in long-term care, assisted living, and health-care facilities have been lifted. This includes the requirement for proof of vaccination to enter long-term care, assisted living, and health-care facilities, which is no longer in effect. Rapid antigen testing in long-term care is no longer required. Furthermore, universal mask-wearing by all staff and visitors in health-care facilities is no longer mandatory.
These changes signify a step forward in returning to pre-pandemic operations in long-term care, assisted living, and health-care facilities while continuing to maintain a safe environment for all. However, there will still be some situations where masks will be required in health-care settings or situations where they have always been required to protect high-risk patients against respiratory transmitted infections and protect workers against high-risk exposure to infectious diseases.
“It’s important to recognize that COVID-19 is still with us, and as such, we must remain vigilant and continue surveillance to monitor the situation. As we approach the next respiratory season, we will be prepared to consider measures that may be necessary to ensure the safe functioning of our health-care system, including potentially reinstating some of the current measures.
“Beginning this week, the spring booster vaccine program is available to provide a boost of immunity for people at the highest risk of severe illness or hospitalization, including those over 80 or immune compromised. The new booster will help to maintain and lengthen protection against severe outcomes of COVID-19, especially hospitalization and death. We also continue to encourage everyone six months and older to get immunized with a primary series and, if eligible, a booster dose, including anyone 18 and over who has not yet received a bivalent booster dose.
“Appointments are available across the province at pharmacies and public health clinics and can be made by going to the Get Vaccinated website or phoning 1 883 838-2323.
“It is important to note that individuals who have not yet been vaccinated are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases and having a more severe illness with COVID-19. We strongly encourage all individuals to receive their primary series of vaccinations as soon as possible and to consider receiving a bivalent booster if they have not already done so.
“Further, Provincial Health Officer orders requiring health-care system workers to be vaccinated remain in place to protect patients and health-care workers and ensure the resilience of the health-care system.
“The past fall and winter have been challenging and we want to acknowledge the incredible work done by the people of B.C. We also want to recognize the exceptional strain on our health-care system and the tireless work of our health-care workers in providing access to care during this time.
“We thank everyone in British Columbia for continuing to roll up their sleeves, get vaccinated and look out for each other. Together, we will continue to emerge from this pandemic stronger.”