The New York Times has published a feature on Dr. Henry and her amazing life's work from tracking ebola to wrestling SARS to the ground in Toronto to the amazing job she has done for British Columbia dealing with this contagion.
That Tuesday in March was the day Bonnie Henry had been preparing for her whole life.
Overnight, 83 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and three more had died. The pandemic had officially broken out in British Columbia.
Standing inside the provincial legislature’s press gallery, the preternaturally calm top doctor of Canada’s westernmost province declared a public health emergency. Under her orders and recommendations, schools closed, bars shuttered and social distancing measures were put in place.
“It seemed so surreal,” she said. “I felt like someone was standing on my chest.”
That day, March 17, Dr. Henry ended her presentation with a line that would become her trademark, and a mantra for many Canadians struggling to cope under a lockdown. It has since been hung in windows, painted on streets, printed on T-shirts, stitched on shoes, folded into songs and stamped on bracelets.
“This is our time to be kind,” she said in her slow and low-pitched voice that many call comforting, “to be calm and to be safe.”
In the next few months, Dr. Henry would prove to be one of the most effective public health officials in the world, with lessons for nations struggling to emerge from lockdowns.The article covers her work as a physician in the Royal Canadian Navy and then in a host of civilian jobs including one in California.
One day at her job at a clinic in San Diego, a man burst in with a gun, demanding to talk to someone. Dr. Henry stepped forward. “I said, ‘I’m somebody. Let’s talk,’” she recalled. “He burst into tears. He was in pain and distraught.”
It turned out he was recovering from open-heart surgery and was unsure how he would pay the medical bills.It turns out she's pretty widely known.
“It’s almost like she was groomed for this time,” said Dr. Anthony Mounts, a senior adviser for immunizations with the U.S. Agency for International Development, who met Dr. Henry in Pakistan working on polio immunization two decades ago. “But the job comes at enormous personal cost.”It's important that we remember what might have been, in large part but for her.
“By all rights, British Columbia should have been clobbered,” said Colin Furness, an outspoken infection control epidemiologist in Toronto. The province is on the coast, above Washington State, he noted, with a large population that travels back and forth to China, where the outbreak began.
“They took decisive action, did it early without hesitation and communicated effectively,” Mr. Furness added. “People listened to her.”"People listened to her." Did they ever. The first time I ventured out - for groceries - in what was probably week three of the lockdown, I was astonished at how everybody was diligently following the rules - masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing - it was almost as though they had been doing it all their lives. The premier, Horgan, and his health minister, Dix, did us all a big favour as they stayed in the background instead of trying to score political points. She was allowed to speak to British Columbians directly and we listened.