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OPINION: Here are answers to some of your most frequently asked COVID-19 questions

Why aren't more being tested? Should I wear a mask? Dr. Bonnie Henry has the answers
Povincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been praised for her calm and reasoned approach to the coronavirus crisis. This column provides answers to some of the common questions directed at her during her daily media updates. photo Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver Courier

I (usually) ask a question of Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, during her daily briefings on the COVID-19 situation. Many readers have emailed asking me to pose a particular question to her.

Here, then, are some of the more common inquiries, gleaned from my inbox.

Q: Should I wear a mask?

Yes, but likely not for the reason you think. It is important to remember that a mask does not provide you with protection against contracting the virus. However, there is mounting evidence-most recently a peer-reviewed article in the prestigious journal Nature-that wearing a mask will prevent you from transmitting the virus (via your droplets) to others.

Dr. Henry said not to use surgical masks meant for health-care workers, but there's nothing wrong with making your own (and keeping it sterile) but-more importantly-continue to keep your physical distance from people and constantly wash your hands.

"But I'm not against it in terms of if people want to use it as a way to try and keep their secretions in, particularly when they're outside or out in other environments," she said.

There's a useful saying going around: "My mask protects you, your mask protects me."

Q: Why aren't more people being tested for the virus?

For now, Dr. Henry's strategy has been to test those most likely to have the virus and those most likely to get it (in other words, many front-line health-care workers). However, that strategy is always shifting.

So far, B.C. has conducted more than 45,000 tests (on a per capita basis we match South Korea and Singapore, and rank as the third highest province in this country).

Dr. Henry said testing would now focus on "broader surveillance" in communities in order to respond quickly to outbreaks and clusters. However, she is adamant that moving to a massive amount of testing is a waste of both time and resources.

Q: Why aren't we seeing more "modelling" of different scenario outcomes?

Dr. Henry has been clear that while modelling is useful, it can be misleading.

"Modelling is not to predict," she said recently. "Modelling gives you a sense of what could happen in different scenarios. As we present it, the modelling we've done really is about 'how do we prepare so that we can meet those scenarios, no matter what happens.'"

Her team has produced four potential scenarios so far-based on data collected from COVID-19 outbreaks in China, South Korea and two from North Italy. In addition, more modelling is coming, she said, as more data is collected from around the world.

However, it is important to keep in mind when the next batch of models is released that they are not forecasts or snapshots of the future. They simply present a range of possibilities.

Q: What is this "second wave" we keep hearing about?

Influenza outbreaks tend to weaken in the summer and then return again in the fall. Generally, this "second wave" tends to be weaker than the previous winter-spring virus (a notable exception was the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, where the second wave was lethal).

Dr. Henry said because so little is known about COVID-19 it is not entirely clear yet what that second wave will look like.

"What we do know is that there's some evidence that this coronavirus is behaving like other coronaviruses, which means that when we have increased UV light and warmer temperatures, it tends to fade away," she said at a briefing last week.

"The concern that during our respiratory season, the next fall, that we'll start increasing naturally again, even if the measures that we've taken are in place," she said. "We need to watch that carefully. We don't know for sure how this virus is going to behave, but that's what other respiratory viruses do on a cyclical basis."

Q: When will this all end?

No one knows! But Dr. Henry has said the restrictions that have been put in place and the emphasis on the need for physical distancing will be with us likely at least until the summer.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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