The North Island’s medical health officer made an impassioned plea for unity of purpose in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Charmaine Enns said medical professionals don’t need to be distracted by divisive complaints about how health authorities are handling the situation. She made the comments in response to statements made by a Campbell River physician expressing frustration with the provincial Ministry of Health and Island Health.
The anonymous physician said in an article on bclocalnews.com that the amount of information the public is being given is not only seriously lacking, it’s also often inaccurate and is going to create serious problems. And it’s not just the public who isn’t getting the information they need, the doctor said, even those “on the forefront of knowledge, they’re not releasing information, and we’ve been instructed not to release information, even to each other.”
Dr. Enns said those and other comments in the article were “discouraging.”
“Very happy to call out the inappropriateness of what was printed by that anonymous physician which, to me, is so discouraging,” Enns said, “that one of my colleagues would think that they need to do something like that which was also so inaccurate and misinformed.”
The truth is, Dr. Enns said, “we are completely overwhelmed and inundated with information. There is no secret that we’re in a pandemic. It’s also been no secret within the health care system that this is going to impact our communities and our facilities.”
The idea that Island Health would keep important information from the public is “just so false and such an egregious assertion” and undermines the “hard and diligent work that’s being done,” Dr. Enns said.
“It isn’t an ‘us and them (situation),’” Dr. Enns said. “It’s all of us. There is no ‘us and them.’”
There are many different roles to be filled when it comes to dealing with the response to the pandemic and one of those roles in the community is the healthcare provider role. And those in the healthcare provider role have “a very high standard of care that we need to provide,” Enns said, and confidentiality is one of those high standards of care. The healthcare providers in the community have a high level of expertise in managing confidentiality while still ensuring the public is aware of issues that may impact them.
“We will not ever compromise and should not – even though I know it has happened – patient confidentiality,” Enns said.
The strategy that has been in place for weeks, involves placing a person identified as having a positive result in isolation. Then all that person’s contacts are also put in quarantine and everyone in that group has daily follow-ups until they are declared recovered.
But you don’t not need to wait for a positive result to take action. We must assume COVID-19 is in the community and we should act like COVID-19 is in our community, Dr. Enns said.
“The responsibility lies on all of us as citizens and community members to appropriately participate in what needs to happen,” she said.
“So basically the population is two groups,” Dr. Enns said. “Those who have symptoms and those who don’t. Everybody should be at home, or as close to home as possible.”
We are at a place in the pandemic where we can’t be divisive, we must, all of us, do our fair share, Dr. Enns said.
There is a lot of “uninformed fear and stigma around COVID-19” in the community. There are people in isolation that are scared and alone while a whirwind of social media about the need to know circles around. When people think that someone has a diganosis, they get phone calls from people “accusing them, yelling at them tormenting them.” Then people start to connect dots in our smaller centers and our communities where everybody thinks they have a right to know something.
“Assume COVID is in your community,” Dr. Enns said. “Do not torment people by having to have a result.”
The lack of reporting specific numbers in a community is not exclusive to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a principle in public health to not report small numbers of reportable conditions. That was the case with the opioid crises, Dr. Enns said. Until there were 10 or more overdose deaths in a community, the numbers were applied to the North Island as region. Only when they got higher in a specific community were they then reported for that community.
The people working on the crisis have enough distractions to deal with and don’t need more, especially when it comes from other healthcare professionals, Dr. Enns said.
“We all need to be pulling in the same direction and most of the healthcare community is,” Dr. Enns said.
But some people feel the need to get on their high horse and make uninformed statements.
“And that’s not helping any of us and it’s certainly not helping the community that’s looking to us to provide the reassurance that we have their back, we’re working on their behalf and that we are all going to go through this together.”