Feature

Lots of people get SAD when the days get short and dreary. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a seasonal depression that makes you feel sluggish with low energy.

COVID has kyboshed the go-to cure for SAD: a trip south to the sun. The Omicron wave has many people scrambling. Or sitting on the couch eating another bag of chips.

But there’s another cure, and you don’t have to travel to find it: a good sweat in a sauna. And a new Comox Valley business is betting folks will love it.

A pandemic may seem like a tough time to launch a new sauna business. Big saunas are in gyms and hotel pools. Not everyone wants to get sweaty with strangers. And small ones are expensive if you want to install one in your house.

But how about a wood-fired sauna on a trailer that can be delivered to your front yard?

That’s what Nomadic Sauna is all about. A Courtenay couple is launching this new business that will do all the hard work. Nomadic brings the sauna to you.

For $125 per night and a two-night minimum rental, Nomadic Sauna will drop the sauna off at your place and pick it up when you’re done.

The barrel, Finnish-style sauna is designed and built by the Parksville-based custom woodshop One of a Kind. They use fragrant western red cedar. It fits four people with some wiggle room and is heated by a small woodstove. It’s also a wet sauna so that you can pour water over rocks on top of the stove for lots of steam.

Even if you’re a newbie, make sure to pronounce sauna like a Finn–”sow-nuh,” not “saw-na.”

That matters because Finland is the global champion of sauna culture. Today, there are 5 million people and 3 million saunas in Finland. Most houses have one built-in. Finns think of it like the poor man’s pharmacy. 

The Finns are among the happiest people on earth. Maybe we could learn something from their love of saunas.

The sweat lodge is important to BC culture as well.

For Indigenous peoples, sweat lodges have deep spiritual, cultural, and wellness benefits. They’re where many First Nation people go to connect with their Creator and the four elements (water, air, fire, and earth).

It helps them restore order and balance in life.  

You don’t have to connect to the Creator to enjoy a good sweat. (But if you start seeing things in the sauna, it’s probably time to get out).

The sun isn’t coming back for a few months yet. And flying to Mexico isn’t a great idea right now. So why not book Nomadic Sauna for a quick stay-cation?

No doubt it’s a difficult time to be the Provincial Health Officer. So we need to give credit to Dr. Bonnie Henry for stepping up and sticking with what has to be–at least now–among the most stressful jobs on the planet.

Imagine for a minute what it must feel like to be bombarded with crazy screaming people spitting insults (and reportedly death threats) every time you make a decision someone doesn’t like. We know, we’ve had to face off with hostile and persistent anti-vaxxers for a few posts we’ve published.

Then imagine having to work every day cajoling the entrenched bureaucracy in the various health regions to adapt policies to changing circumstances. We don’t know about you, but one of our least satisfying experiences is dealing with multiple health authorities.

It’s a job lacking in fun, that’s for sure.

Then throw in the fact that COVID-19 keeps mutating every time we just get comfortable with one set of guidelines. Cue up more angry attacks.

That’s why we reconsidered our suggestion last week that Dr. Henry resigns her post.

With Omicron infections spiking, hospitals nearing breaking points, and doctors, nurses and support staff overwhelmed and exhausted, now is not the time to replace the captain of our ship. That was a step too far.

While we don’t think Dr. Henry should resign, we feel a serious course correction would help her rebuild the public trust lost.

As we’ve pointed out before, Dr. Henry initially did a great job building public trust with her calm demeanour and consistent communications. As we enter year two of the pandemic, here are some suggestions to rebuild that trust by:

1. Publicly admitting that research shows COVID is primarily transmitted through the air and matching upgraded public health requirements on masks, spacing and ventilation put in place in other jurisdictions, including:

a. Announce that she is mandating (and will supply) N95 (or equivalent) masks for health care workers, teachers and any other job requiring employees to be in contact with the public.

b. Order that all public buildings (and large private buildings) access their ventilation systems and install HEPA filters if they don’t meet minimum standards.

2. Commit to ensuring that everyone experiencing (or near anyone with) symptoms gets immediate access to a COVID test.

3. Ramp up staff to allow for comprehensive contract tracing so people know they might have been exposed and can take appropriate action to avoid further spread.

Dr. Henry, we know you are tired. We know you’ve said you “want to get out of the order’s business,” but now is not the time to back away or down tools. We need your steady hand now more than ever before.

As the Provincial Health Officer, you–and you alone–have the authority and the power of government to ensure adequate protections are in place. We want you to use them!

Given Omicron’s extraordinary transmission rate, and people’s growing fatigue, we need you to step up your game to protect us all, especially the most vulnerable.

Who can resist some wispy fog floating above the water?

Jeune Landing, Port Alice. Credit: David Burnett.

Everyone is tired of COVID. We’re in the middle of a fresh wave of infections. It’s super stressful. 

Now some folks are saying they want to catch Omicron just to “get it over with.”

Like, maybe if they catch COVID, they can stop worrying about catching COVID. What a relief, right?

Wrong.

We’re here to tell you that’s a bad idea.

Well, it’s not just us. Doctors everywhere are telling people it’s a bad idea.

Dr. Paul Offit is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He told CNN that he’s hearing this idea everywhere. “It’s all the rage,” he said.

Dr. Robert Murphy is executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University. He told CNN that the idea has “caught on like wildfire.”

He also said, “[y]ou’d be crazy to try to get infected with this. It’s like playing with dynamite.”

Just in case the idea had crossed your mind, here are the top five reasons not to catch COVID on purpose.

1. It’s not a bad cold

Imagine a terrible fever, headache, sore throat, incredibly stuffy nose… Oh, and you’re exhausted. And it’s hard to breathe. That’s a “mild” case of Omicron.

“People are talking about Omicron like it’s a bad cold. It is not a bad cold,” Murphy said. “It’s a life-threatening disease.”

Just because Omicron isn’t killing as many people as Delta doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

2. You could get Long COVID

Long COVID is the gift that keeps on giving. Only no one wants it. Think shortness of breath, severe fatigue, fever, dizziness, brain fog, diarrhea, heart palpitations, muscle and stomach pain, mood swings and trouble sleeping.

Sound like fun? Now imagine that no one can tell you how long this will last. Months? Years? Who knows!

COVID can get into your brain. Some folks have brain fog months after their symptoms go away. If they get brain scans, it shows cloudy regions where the virus has wrecked their brain tissue. And no one knows if they will get better.

3. You could pass the disease on to children

Kids under 11 aren’t fully vaccinated yet. Before Christmas, kids were catching COVID more than any other age group in Canada.

Sure, COVID hasn’t hit kids as hard as it hit older people. But still, do you want to risk giving your kid a disease we don’t understand?

New links are being drawn between COVID and diabetes in children, too. COVID doesn’t cause diabetes, but the virus could bring it on if your kid is predisposed to it.

4. You could put more pressure on the healthcare system

Hospitals all over Canada are low on staff. The nurses, techs, doctors, and cleaners that we need to keep hospitals running are getting sick themselves. Surgeries are being cancelled.

One BC doctor had a blunt warning: “Now is not the time to get injured.” If you get hurt, there’s no one left to help you.

You might not end up in the hospital if you go out and catch COVID on purpose. But you could spread it to someone who will. So don’t take that chance if you can help it.

5. Mother Nature might waste your ass

You know the chickenpox virus just hangs out in your nerve tissue, right? Years after the spots go away, the virus is just chilling near your spinal cord. And sometimes, it wakes up again. You can get shingles. Or you can get brain damage.

What the $%*!, right?

Dr. Offit says chickenpox parties were also a bad idea. We just didn’t know that until we learned more about the virus. The same is true with COVID.

“Don’t mess with Mother Nature,” he said. “She’s been trying to kill us ever since we crawled out of the ocean onto the land.”

Did you get tagged with Omicron? You aren’t the only one. Hundreds of thousands of folks across Canada have gotten sick these past few weeks.

Now that BC is rolling out its booster shots, you’re probably wondering when you should get yours. Or should you even get one?

Doctors don’t entirely agree on how long you should wait. But one thing is clear—don’t try to get one while you’re still sick.

When you’re sick, your immune system is focused on fighting that infection. So getting a shot is like setting another fire when one is already burning. Your body really needs to concentrate on the first one.

Your body also won’t learn what it needs to learn from the vaccine. Vaccines teach our immune systems to recognize viruses and destroy them. But if your body is trying to tackle the vaccine and the real thing, it’s got too much to do. It can’t learn or fight effectively.

So how long should you wait?

There’s no magic number, but you’ll want to wait days or weeks before getting that third jab.

Alyson Kelvin is a virologist and vaccine researcher at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon. She says the best time to get a booster is when your immune system has calmed down.

She told CBC News, ”you want to wait till your symptoms clear up, and probably it’s beneficial to wait an extra month or a couple of weeks after your initial infection, as you’ll have more benefits of that boost.”

But if you’ve had Omicron, do you even need a booster?

Your body builds antibodies when it’s fighting an infection. But after a while, those antibodies can fade.

“People should still get a booster,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger told CBC News. She’s an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Just don’t get it right away.

Dr. Jamie Scott is a molecular immunologist and professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. He told CBC News it’s best to wait a few months even.

“It’ll have a stronger effect again because the memory cells will be much more fully developed and the antibody levels will be down.”

What do you do if you’re sick but you’re not sure it’s COVID?

It can be hard to get a test these days. But you should still try to get one.

And there’s no official advice from doctors. But it’s still good to follow the first point: don’t get the jab if you’re sick. Hang tight until your symptoms go away.

Don’t try to fight two fires at the same time.

Salmon don’t carry passports. Individual countries are responsible for looking after the streams, creeks and rivers in which salmon spawn and reproduce.

But when Salmon enter the ocean phase of their lifecycle, they swim in international waters and across borders.

So salmon hatched in BC inland waters spend anywhere from one to three years in the Pacific. This raises difficult questions: Whose fish are they?

Allocating commercial catch limits for salmon on the West Coast requires difficult negotiations between Canada and United States.

Following record low salmon returns in recent years, former federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan suspended 60 percent of BC’s commercial salmon fishery last June. Jordan also announced a license buyback program, part of the $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative to recover depleted stocks.

But the sacrifices made by BC fishers could be all for nothing. Alaskan fishers are now the largest catchers of many endangered BC stocks, while our salmon fleet is tied up at the dock and communities make big sacrifices to protect wild salmon.

“This isn’t just a matter of Alaskans stealing our fish. They’re INCREASING their catch of our salmon and driving our fish towards extinction while Canadian fishers and taxpayers try desperately to turn things around,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

While Alaska does a better job than BC in taking care of the habitat of their own salmon, they’re being pretty lousy neighbours when it comes to their treatment of BC-hatched salmon.

A new study has shown that commercial fishers in Alaska are catching a growing share of salmon bound for BC rivers, while many of our runs hit historic lows.

The study was paid for by Hill’s organization and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. It shows that while BC’s commercial salmon fishery was mostly idle last summer, the Alaskan fishing fleet logged more than 3,000 boat days and caught 800,000 tonnes of sockeye. Most of these fish were bound for BC rivers.    

The Alaskan fleet caught 51,000 “Canadian” Chinook, 540,000 coho, 1.2 million chum, 34 million pink and an unknown number of steelhead by-catch. Many of them come from threatened and endangered populations in BC.

Ocean fishing in Southeast Alaska could be contributing to recent declines in BC salmon returns. Over 90 of the catch of some Vancouver Island chinook stocks occurs in Alaska. A similar imbalance is happening with Skeena, Nass and Fraser stocks.  

“We knew the Alaskans were intercepting a lot of BC salmon,” said Greg Knox of SkeenaWild, “but the numbers in this report are staggering. I’m also appalled at their failure to report their bycatch of non-target species, which Canadian fishers are required to do.”

The report’s release comes at a time when Canada and the US are meeting at the Pacific Salmon Commission to review bilateral management under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The current treaty expires in 2028. Historically, changes to the agreement have been too small to impact Alaskan fisheries in a meaningful way.

Last fall Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bacharach went to Washington D.C. to raise concerns about Alaskan overfishing of BC salmon and steelhead.

“The Pacific Salmon Treaty has failed to protect our salmon and we can’t wait until 2028 to fix it,” said Aaron Hill. “The governments of Canada and BC need to stand up right now and do something about this Alaskan plunder.” 

At first, we thought it was photoshopped, but VanIsle is just amazing!

Photo: Brian Texmo

A controversial ship-breaking business near Union Bay is in the news again. The K’omoks First Nation and the Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound are calling it an “environmental disaster waiting to happen.”

Union Bay Industries owns the land in question. They lease the property to Deep Water Recovery (DWR), an American company with a Union Bay address. 

Aerial photos showed two decommissioned ships moored at a dock and a third one being busted up on land. Last fall, the operation drew criticism when tugs towed the derelict BC Ferries Queen of Burnaby into Baynes Sound.

Shipbreaking is hazardous to both human health and the marine environment because of asbestos and other potentially toxic materials found on old ships. That’s why most ship-breaking happens in developing countries with no or weak environmental laws.

In their presentation last Monday to the Comox Valley Regional District, Concerned Citizens said the company is operating in violation of the foreshore lease granted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for an old log-sorting operation.

They are asking the CVRD to immediately issue a “cease and desist order” to the shipbreaker.

Group spokesperson Ray Rewcastle pointed out that Canada has no specific shipbreaking regulations, unlike the US, which has strict federal standards.Rewcastle also questioned why the CVRD is allowing this operation to continue.

“There is no safe way to conduct shipbreaking in Baynes Sound,” Rewcastle said in a recent Black Press report,

Baynes Sound is home to a lucrative shellfish industry, and is also lined with homes on both Vancouver Island and Denman Island.

The dirty business of shipbreaking is under increasing scrutiny worldwide, but the rules appear lax and enforcement weak here on Vancouver Island. Due to safety concerns, the European Union established rules and accreditation for shipbreaking businesses, only one of which is certified in North America.

According to Rewcastle, when the citizens’ group contacted the Brownsville operation, they were surprised shipbreaking was allowed on BC’s West Coast.

Daniel Arbor is the CVRD director for Area A, which includes Denman Island, Hornby Island, and Union Bay. He says citizen concerns are valid and need answers. But so far, they aren’t getting any.

However, Area C director Edwin Grieve says it’s a provincial responsibility that has been shunted off to local governments.

“So we’re dealing with a foreign company that has no ties to the local community,” Grieve said.  “We’ve been dealing in good faith for a number of months, and there’s no progress. And it looks like senior government are just playing footsies on this one, and kicking it down to the lowest level of government, which of course is us.”

First impressions matter.

It’s called the halo effect. Research shows that if you have a positive feeling about someone when you first meet them, it will affect how you view that person going forward, even if you aren’t aware of it.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has lived under a halo for almost two years now. But that halo has cracked.

When COVID first hit, everyone loved Dr. Henry. The new disease scared us all to death. But her steady tone soothed our nerves. At first, it looked like Dr. Henry cared. Like she was taking action to protect us all.

“Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe,” she said. Dr. Henry even published a book with that title to tell the world about how she helped BC beat COVID in its first month.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Dr. Henry and the BC government dropped the ball

It’s been almost two years, and BC is still unprepared for the pandemic.

Our hospitals are overwhelmed, rapid tests are hard to find, and now PCR testing is only for the sickest and folks over 70. BC isn’t doing contract tracing anymore. And Dr. Henry’s mixed messages about masks, gatherings, and ventilation have been confusing at best. They’re incompetent at worst.

Watch the video in the tweet and see how messy her messaging has been.

To be fair, Dr. Henry is not the only person responsible for all the BC government’s mistakes on COVID. She’s not the only cook in this kitchen. She is part of a team of people within government and different ministries and agencies. But Dr. Henry is the head chef, so she is the face of the BC government’s COVID response.

Dr. Henry failed to build an effective testing and contact tracing system. So now that things are getting really bad, the weak system is falling apart.

We are no longer testing widely and tracking how many people have COVID. So the only COVID number we can trust in BC is the number of people in the hospital with COVID.

Dr. Henry has made it very clear that it’s her alone that gets to decide who sees BC’s most critical COVID data. But without testing, necessary data is missing. It’s not that we’re not allowed to see it. It doesn’t exist.

Now, doctors and modelling experts say BC is “flying blind” into the latest and most dangerous wave of the COVID pandemic. Without testing and tracking, we don’t have good data. If we don’t have good data, we can’t predict what’s coming.

What’s worse, hospitals can’t make any plans because they don’t know what to prepare for.

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a former emergency physician who helped stop the SARS epidemic in Vancouver, summed things up, “[t]he healthcare system is going to be overrun, and the question now is timing, and how overrun it will be. We are completely flying blind.”

In plain English, this means there will be way more people in hospitals than we can handle. How many people? We have no idea.

Do No Harm

Have you heard of the precautionary principle? It’s a fancy way of saying, “play it safe.” So basically, if you don’t know how stable the cliff is, don’t go near the edge. And until you know for sure that it’s safe, do your best to keep others from going close to it, too.

Dr. Henry is a doctor. She took an oath to “do no harm.” She also knows about the precautionary principle. That is why her statements about masks are so troubling.

We have known that COVID hangs in the air for over a year. We’ve known that we need better ventilation in all indoor spaces. And we’ve known that everyone needs to wear better masks.

Credit: ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force

So then why did Dr. Henry keep denying that COVID is airborne months after scientists all said it does? Why hasn’t Dr. Henry told people to upgrade to N95 masks the way the federal health officer Dr. Tam started doing months ago?

Dr. Henry’s failure to double down on masks is confusing. Masks are the cheapest, easiest public health tool available. And better masks work better. It’s not that hard.

Politics Over People

Part of the reason Dr. Henry’s halo has cracked is that she seemed to put politics ahead of our health. After her original lockdown order, Dr. Henry seems to have focused on keeping businesses open.

She said Site C, Coastal Gas Link, and LNG Canada’s worker camps could stay open when she knew people in the camps were getting sick.

Her “too little, too late” response to Omicron highlights her “do as little as possible” approach.

We’ve known for weeks that Omicron is extremely contagious. We’ve watched COVID cases in country after country spike as Omicron spread. But Dr. Henry didn’t do anything specific to stop Omicron in BC until it was too late.

Now, COVID cases are doubling at least every 3 or 4 days. Some experts predict that between 2,000 to 10,000 people could be in the hospital with COVID by the end of January. We could have avoided this if Dr. Henry had acted earlier.

But instead, all she did was close the gyms and tell everyone to prepare to get sick.

Time to resign?

Before Omicron hit, things were looking good. Delta was on its way out. Numbers were coming down.

And just when things are getting bad again, Dr. Henry says she wants “to get out of the ‘orders business.'”

Say what? Isn’t that her job?

That’s like a teacher saying they want to get out of the kids’ business.

This isn’t Dr. Henry’s only bizarre statement recently. She also suggested that businesses prepare for a third of their employees to be out with COVID. But how do you do that? Businesses like BC Ferries are just cancelling routes because so many staff are out sick. There’s no lockdown, but they still can’t sail.

She also said that “people need to make their own risk assessments.”

What? We’re not virologists or community health experts. Isn’t that what she and her staff are for?

Dr. Henry’s approach, which leaves “risk assessments” to parents, business owners, and school officials, is killing people.

The law gives the Provincial Health Officer the power to make orders and no one else. So shouldn’t she be preparing health orders that might avoid a massive Omicron spike? Especially when we don’t know how many people will get long COVID?

At every step of the way, Dr. Henry and Horgan’s government has chosen to do as little as possible. They’re trying to keep businesses open and inconvenience people as little as possible. But instead, businesses are shutting down all over the place because their staff have COVID.

Now, Dr. Henry may have just given up. Maybe these strange decisions are a sign that it’s time for Dr. Henry to move on.

We get it. Dr. Henry had a hard job in a brutal time. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who hasn’t given up.

BC could have avoided the Omicron wave. Places like New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong have avoided spikes by having quick, targeted lockdowns and solid contact tracing.

It’s too late now to fully contain Omicron in BC. But we need a Provincial Health Officer who will help shut down the next wave.

Her calming tone was great at the start, but the halo is off now.

Dr. Henry needs to go.

Even in a storm VanIsle is a beautiful place to live.

Photo: Brian Texmo. Storeys Beach, Port Hardy.