Advocacy group calls for stronger COVID-19 measures this fall

DoNoHarmBC and SFU research assistant Kayli Jamieson outline institutional failures

News crews congregate outside Adrian Dix's MLA office, gathering around protesters wearing respirator masks and holding signs demanding masks back in healthcare, access to Paxlovid and PCR testing, and holding some of the names of those impacted. In the centre, a young person stands at a microphone telling her story. She holds a yellow sign saying she has had Long Covid for 20+ months.

By: Michelle Young, Opinions Editor

On August 28, DoNoHarmBC hosted a protest in front of the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix’s office to call for the return of universal mask protections in healthcare settings. The in-person protest featured 25–30 people, but thousands of postcards were mailed to MLAs as part of a campaign to amplify the experiences of those affected by the removal of masks in healthcare. The event organizers read some of the submitted stories to represent those who could not attend. 

“Advocacy is vital because part of the issue right now is erasure. Without consistent, evidence-based safety measures, thousands of people are being excluded from public spaces, including healthcare. Those who are sickest are the least likely to be visible or to have a voice. This leads to survivorship bias, and the inaccessibility cycle: we can’t participate, so we don’t get a say,” a DoNoHarmBC organizer, who chose to be anonymous, told The Peak.  

The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 has caused unbearable isolation for many people,” they said. “COVID safety is community care. We aren’t okay with leaving vulnerable people by the wayside. Instead, we choose to work together, tackling this collective problem that has an impact on us all.” 

“DoNoHarmBC did a wonderful job organizing different ways to participate in this protest, even virtually,” said Kayli Jamieson, an SFU research assistant who attended the event. “It felt like a morale boost to be around people who are passionate about the same things as myself: following the science, and encouraging community care, and anti-ableism,” she added. Jamieson was previously an MA student at SFU but has been on and off medical leave due to Long COVID

Among other demands, DoNoHarmBC also calls for the improvement of indoor air quality, education around COVID-19 transmission and its long-term side effects, and improved COVID-19 data collection. Because COVID-19 is airborne and can be transmitted without or before symptoms, DoNoHarmBC has focused its demands on precautionary principles. This approach emphasizes preventative measures to avoid unnecessary harm to others, and in the case of COVID-19 or other viruses, avoid preventable infections. 

Multiple COVID-19 infections can increase the chances of adverse health effects, such as organ failure and neurological damage. This can occur even in those vaccinated and previously healthy, months after an infection. 

While masks serve as an effective preventative measure, the increased ventilation and filtration systems in indoor spaces can add an additional layer of protection. This would reduce “airborne contaminants” so any viruses in the air aren’t lingering for long periods of time — where others could inhale airborne particles and become infected. As someone with Long COVID, Jamieson explained she’s been avoiding taking blood tests at LifeLabs due to their poor ventilation, which she measured with a CO2 monitor. A tweet from 2022 showed the monitor measuring CO2 levels at 1462 parts per million (ppm) at a LifeLabs in BC. Levels above 1,000 ppm are typically associated with poor air quality and “complaints of drowsiness.”

“It has been extremely restrictive in how I access healthcare — or in other words — I cannot access healthcare because these settings are often poorly ventilated, and full of extremely sick maskless people — all a recipe for danger as the virus is airborne,” Jamieson explained.

Dr. Karina Zeidler, a family physician in BC who has worked with DoNoHarmBC and is the co-founder of Protect Our Province BC, explained in an interview with The Peak the necessity of implementing protective protocols. “Since the last protest in April, healthcare has further collapsed. And it’s about to get knocked on its knees with another COVID-19 wave starting, a new highly-mutated variant identified in BC, and respiratory syncytial virus and influenza on their way. What’s changed is now, all protective measures like healthcare masking have been dropped, even as doctors and nurses are told they can work while positive for COVID-19.” This month alone, hospitalizations have tripled in COVID-19 cases since August.

Those from the SFU community have also spoken on the action SFU should be taking for the safety of staff, students, and faculty. “The university needs to stop pretending the pandemic is over,” Jamieson said. 

“I remember hearing other immunocompromised students — or living with high-risk family — saying they were forced to risk infection so that they could finish their degree,” she added.

“It has felt like we have been abandoned by SFU, given the institution’s complete lack of [regard] or care for maintaining COVID-19 community protections and following the science.” 

The Peak reached out to SFU for a statement on their COVID-19 safety plan for the fall. They cited that the university takes “direction on public health requirements from BC’s provincial health officer” and “to get vaccinated when eligible.” Jamieson noted, “COVID-19 protections require multiple layers, especially masking, distributing rapid tests, and not hosting super-spreader events.” She added SFU should “encourage more hybrid/remote opportunities,” reinstate protocols for airborne disease, and better inform the community of COVID-19 transmission and risks. 

“Particularly in schools and post-secondary settings, it’s absolutely vital to reinstate protective measures against not only SARS-CoV-2, but other airborne viruses and health hazards. We need masking, PCR testing availability, and financial assistance to support staff sick at home,” Dr. Zeidler explained. 

“SFU can’t pretend to not be complicit in mass infection and disability. Education should be a safe essential to access along with healthcare settings,” Jamieson said. 

She added that “hosting super-spreader events ‘with food provided indoors’” doesn’t align with SFU’s values alongside equity, diversity, and inclusion and it’s been an “upsetting thing to consistently witness despite the progressive tendencies of some student organizations, unions, or departments.

“SFU claims to be an engaging university but is seemingly busy engaging in ableist policies.” 

The #Postcards4PublicHealth campaign is ongoing. You can mail postcards to your MLA and the Minister of Health’s office for free or submit your story to @DoNoHarmBC, who will mail on your behalf. Find more of DoNoHarmBC’s first-person stories online.

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