When VCH and SD48 host a zoom chat

On September 30, School District 48 invited Dr Mark Lysyshyn, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Vancouver Coastal Health to a zoom information session to help address the onslaught of parents’ concerns, as kids wrapped up their 3rd week at school.

It was later posted online to the SD48 website, and I sat down Thursday afternoon to watch and found it really helpful, calming, thorough.

So much of the information I’m personally tracking these days, to get a sense of the pandemic and my level of vulnerability, is international news – the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Guardian – and because “if it bleeds, it leads”, the headlines go to the biggest catastrophe, the poorest managed situations, the dumpster fires and disasters.

As Australian journalist Leigh Sales writes in her 2018 book on blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life, Any Ordinary Day, ratings go up when the news media run horror stories.

“A public disaster appears to make television ratings spike. People seem perversely but irresistibly attracted to catastrophe when it happens to others, while in our daily lives we do everything possible to shield ourselves from these poison darts of fire. We eat leafy green vegetables, apply sunscreen, wear seatbelts, obey speed limits, quit smoking, walk for half an hour a day, install spongy ground under monkey bars and swings, ban peanut butter sandwiches in schools, limit coffee intake, cut down on saturated fats, don bicycle helmets, submit to wanding, patting, screening and X-raying every time we fly, put non-slip mays in the shower, resitrcit ourselves to only one glass of red wine each day and permit doctors to regularly scrape, probe and squeeze our private parts. It’s as if we hope that watching others’ misfortunate might somehow teach us what new precautions we can add to our list to avoid the same fate.”

As we sanitize our worlds and try to inoculate ourselves from danger, we are drawn magnetically to the things we’re most afraid of. So, short story: consuming that stuff hasn’t been helping me. Knowing what’s happening in Washington, or France, or Melbourne, hasn’t helped me navigate one of the biggest questions provoking anxiety in my heart these past few weeks — am I doing the right thing sending my kid back to school, here in Pemberton?

Here’s the most important thing I want to say off the top: (as long as you’re not spitting in people’s faces) you’re doing the right thing.

(Thanks Eliza Peters for posting this in your facebook fee. I needed to see it. I didn’t realize how much until I felt my whole bod ysoften. Keeping your kids at home? You’re doing the right hting. Sending your kids to school? You’redoing the right thing.)

Getting into the nitty gritty facts, though, helped my body soften even more. Thanks to SD48 and Superintendent of Schools Lisa McCullough for hosting this chat and for Dr Lysyshyn for being so candid and staying at the office so late that the automatic lights shut down and left him talking to us in the dark.

I shared this summary on the Signal Hill PAC page, in the hopes it might help other parents who hadn’t found a spare hour in their week… and it’s been shared a few times, so am reposting here.

My biggest takeaways:

1. Public health officers are unsung heroes. Wow.

2. “What we call Covid is now an established human pathogen that’s circulating among humans. We can’t eliminate it, without a vaccine and we don’t believe we’re going to get a completely effective vaccine. It’s part of our lives. So it’s time to figure out how to live with COVID.”

3. Be assured that the school safety plans are safe and the contact tracing plan is effective at limiting any transmission. BC has controlled the pandemic very well. (And as most of the cases have been in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, VCH have become extremely proficient in contact tracing and managing this. There are very few cases in the rural areas of VCH, but we benefit from the incredible proficiency our public health officers have developed while dealing with the more urban/population dense parts of our region.)

4. We are in a second wave in BC, and daily case counts are increasing, but we’re also testing far more, and those cases aren’t causing a huge negative impact on the health care system.

5. The measures taken at the beginning of the pandemic were very aggressive. We didn’t know anything about the pathogen then. We know a lot more now. We have excellent safety plans now in place in long term care facilities, for example, and that’s successfully reduced transmission and fatalities. And so BC is taking measures now that are much more targeted – ie if transmission occurs in vacation rentals in Kelowna, than restrictions are put on the number of people who can be in a vacation rental – rather than widespread restrictions that harm everybody. We aren’t likely to see another lockdown type experience unless we started to see, for example, a critical lack of supplies of ventilators.

6. VCH and the school will do their best to communicate with us if there’s a transmission in our school, but we’ll be told what we need to know. That’s not to be patronising or controlling. It’s to protect people’s privacy, and to ensure people aren’t worried unnecessarily (and reacting in unhelpful ways, like rushing out en masse to get tested unnecessarily and clogging up the system slowing it down from being able to respond to actual risk…)

7. The cohort system was developed to ensure the least amount of negative impact, if a student gets COVID. Instead of the entire school/community having to isolate, the impact can be limited to a smaller population.

8. School is a contained setting. Contrast with the uncontrolled environment of the world at large, where some random stranger can come up and breathe in your face. Enforcing a lot of restrictions within the school setting (that are appropriate in the uncontrolled environment) would be more harmful than beneficial.

9. Nothing on its own can eliminate risk. But we can work together to reduce harm… and public health is really focussed on this goal – reducing harm.

My personal takeaway – it’s hard, as a general life thing, to acknowledge there are things out of our ability to control… but our public health care system and our school system are functional. They’re operating well. They’re doing good work. We can trust them. I’m not saying go be a sheeple. I’m saying, I’m so glad to live here. We’re incredibly fortunate. Be vigilant as a citizen in a democracy! But we don’t have to be hypervigilant and distrusting over every single thing. The world, at least right here, (despite lingering vibes from watching the US presidential debate) hasn’t degenerated that badly. (And, maybe the best way to cultivate a greater sense of trust in each other is just be trustworthy, ourselves. I feel as though I’ve been inspired to think: yes, I feel some fear swirling around these strange days… but instead of reacting from that place, I want to take a breath and ask, am I acting from my integrity. Goals. LOL.) Anyway. Thanks to VCH and SD48 for holding this dialogue. I appreciated it.

Watch it yourself at:


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