Vaughn Palmer: Premier promised COVID numbers would be alarming. Promise kept

Opinion: When Premier Horgan called the election, the COVID-19 count stood at 8,204. As of Thursday, the count had soared to 29,086, meaning 72 per cent of all B.C.’s cases were incurred since he called an election in the midst of a pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan takes a selfie as he attends a campaign stop in New Westminster, B.C. Friday, October 23, 2020. The British Columbia provincial election is on Oct. 24th. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward ORG XMIT: JOHV103

VICTORIA — As Premier John Horgan prepares to name a new government, here’s a look back at the progress of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the two months since he called the snap election:

B.C. already had the highest COVID-19 case count in the country on a per capita basis when Horgan seized his political opportunity on Sept. 21.But he downplayed the significance: “We have a low positivity rate with respect to the number of cases.”

Besides: “I’ve taken counsel from Dr. Henry on the essence of the pandemic.”

Plus he blamed the public: “The challenge we have is that people are not abiding by the health orders that are already in place. We’ve tried very hard to get their attention and we’ll continue to do that.”

Sept. 22:Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that B.C. was probably into the second wave of the pandemic already — “if you want to call it that.”

She had to become a solo act in briefing the news media and communicating to the public while Health Minister Adrian Dix joined his NDP colleagues in the campaign.

The private homes restriction was toughened and applied directly to the two health regions overlapping Metro Vancouver. Other restrictions were added as well. Unfortunately, the edicts were so confusing that it took several days to clarify them.

Nov. 9: Horgan, in his first session with reporters since the morning after the election, claimed a “strong mandate” to get on with managing “what is clearly the second wave of the pandemic.”But he pleaded with the public “to be patient with the government” as it gets its act together.

Nor could he resist another boast: “Our outcomes have been superior and that has been a result of the leadership we have had from public health as well as our ability to talk to British Columbians about what is at stake and what’s at risk.”

Nov. 12: The second wave continued to build, according to Dr. Henry. “Our cases per day have doubled in the past few weeks every 13 days.”

Nov. 17: Horgan again blamed members of the public for spoiling B.C.’s numbers: “It does disappoint me that British Columbians are disregarding good advice,” he told host Gregor Craigie on CBC’s On the Island.

“The challenge is personal behaviour,” he said, then added by way of warning: “We don’t want to use a stick.”

Nov. 19: Masks were finally made mandatory for staff and customers in all indoor public and retail spaces. Consigned to the memory hole were all the reasons given earlier for why it wasn’t necessary to make masks mandatory.

Nov. 23:B.C. reported 54 outbreaks in long-term care. There were 970 individual cases, 583 of them involving residents. With two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths attributable to residents of long-term care, calls grow for rapid-testing of staff in those facilities.

This, after the government spent tens of millions topping up wages and increasing staff to reduce the risks in long-term care.

Nov. 24: “Shut up, grow up and mask up,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to holdouts on the mandatory masking policy.

Most of us were already wearing masks. Will he and his colleagues ever wear some responsibility for the way cases surged while they indulged their re-election agenda?

On the day Premier Horgan called the election, the count stood at 8,204. As of Thursday, the count had soared to 29,086, meaning 72 per cent of all B.C.’s cases were incurred since the premier called an election in the midst of a pandemic.

For anyone bothered by that prospect back on Sept. 21, Horgan had a ready answer: “We have COVID-19. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. There will be case numbers that will be alarming.”

Well, that is one promise kept for sure.

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But by way of reassurance she added that Dix “will be very much involved in ensuring the ongoing management of the crisis.”

Oct. 9: A leaked copy of the NDP guide for candidates and volunteers confirmed a key message of the campaign: “John Horgan is looking out for you and your family through the pandemic.”

Oct. 15: During the radio debate, Horgan wrapped up his closing message to voters: “We have a plan to get us out of this pandemic and keep people safe, secure and healthy.”

Oct. 25: On the morning after his election victory, Horgan announced he was “going to get back to work tomorrow. The pandemic is our highest priority.” He then paused to bask in the glory of B.C.’s record: “B.C.’s outcomes when it comes to COVID-19 are off the charts better than every other jurisdiction in the country,  except perhaps the Maritime provinces.”

It was the last time he spoke to the news media for two weeks.

And Horgan’s hubris notwithstanding, over the election weekend, B.C. recorded its largest ever three-day case count — 817.

Oct. 26: Dr. Henry announced a crackdown on gatherings in private homes, prompted by the rising case count in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal.Both regions were key electoral battlegrounds, won by the NDP. Did she hold off taking action until the campaign was over?

“No,” she insisted. “My focus has been entirely on managing with the team what is going on with this pandemic.”

Nov. 7: Dr. Henry held a rare Saturday media briefing, with Health Minister Dix again sharing the platform and communications duties with her.

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