Long before Dr. Bonnie Henry became the public face of British Columbia’s COVID-19 pandemic response, she had earned the title of the “virus hunter” for her work dealing with outbreaks of SARS, Ebola and the H1N1 swine flu. In her 30-year career in public health, she has come to recognize patterns – not just of how viruses spread, but of how government agencies tend to forget the lessons learned after each outbreak. In a briefing late in March, B.C.’s provincial health officer described a “curve of neglect,” where we move from a state of complacency, to crisis, followed by an urgent commitment to better planning, before things slide back to complacency. “Something bad happens and we realize that the work that we do in public health and the things that we have in our health care system to help protect people and look after people – we pay attention to it,” Dr. Henry said. “And then, as things go by and it’s not so bad any more, we get complacent and the resources that go into things like prevention, things like public health work, go down. And then, unfortunately we often see [bad] things rise again.”

 

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