Dr. Bonnie Henry says ‘post-pandemic world’ could arrive in B.C. by the summer

Photo courtesy: Government of British Columbia

Vancouver is known for its rain but the clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be parting on the west coast, allowing just a glimmer of hope for a full CFL season to shine through.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed the public on Thursday and despite reporting 564 new cases in the province, shared a little optimism about what we might be able to look forward to in the coming months

“Maybe I’m too optimistic, but we’re going to be in our post-pandemic world by the summer, if things continue to go the way that we want them to,” Dr. Henry said.

For fans of the B.C. Lions and the rest of the Canadian Football League, even that cautious optimism has the capacity to spark excitement about the return of football.

The ability to have fans in the stands is a requirement for the league to play in 2021 and although commissioner Randy Ambrosie has publicly maintained his commitment to a full 18-game CFL season, the evolving pandemic situation in Canada has been distinctly less positive.

A heavily criticized federal vaccine rollout, marred by a shortage of doses, placed the government timeline at 14.5 million shots delivered nationwide by the end of June, far too few immunized and a month too late for fans in attendance for CFL opening day on June 10th.

That has led to rampant speculation that the CFL season would be both shortened and postponed until their primary source of revenue returned, with the timeline remaining a moving target as the COVID situation evolved. Some even suggested a 2021 season might not be plausible.

Now the approval of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and the potential of the Johnson & Johnson version being greenlit at any moment, has sped up the vaccination timeline. While it’s unlikely B.C. Lions fans can flood into stadiums in early June, anyone wanting to be immunized in the province will be able to do so by the end of July.

That’s in large part due to an announcement Monday by the province which delayed all vaccine second doses to four months, leaning on new data which said the first dose was largely effective and delaying the second could create better long-term coverage.

“That dose you didn’t receive is now being administered to a community member, to another member of our family, our community here in B.C. to protect them,” Henry said.

“And ultimately, it will bring us all closer to getting to our post-pandemic world.”

That’s extremely good news for any CFL request for fan attendance in the summer. The league is already closely watching the Edmonton Oilers proposal to have attendance at NHL games as early as April and even a guarantee of limited capacity within the first few weeks  of the season could keep an 18-game schedule alive.

Still, the situation continues to evolve and no such guarantees are imminent. Even as Dr. Henry shares optimism, cases are on the uptick and the rise of variants pose a legitimate threat.

“We are in a new place right now in the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“We can’t let the successes of these great vaccines that we have now be diminished by a surge in cases.”

Regardless, positive words from one of the country’s top doctors will go a long way to lifting spirits in CFL board rooms. The league may yet have to delay but in at least one jurisdiction, fans in the stands seems likelier now than it did before.

Henry herself may be looking forward to getting to a B.C. Lions game, famously noting ahead of the Super Bowl that “it’s never been a big thing for me. I’m more of a CFL fan.” If even a single person gets to sit in B.C. Place stadium next year, Dr. Henry should rightfully toss the opening coin.

For now, that future remains in the hands of the average fan, making sure they continue adhering to guidelines so that glorious kickoff can come.

“Brighter days are ahead if we stay the course with our safety measures, staying small and staying local, so we can get there even faster,” Henry predicted.

Everyone hopes she’s right.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.