At the end of a stark news conference during which Dr. Bonnie Henry wiped tears as she broke the news confirming diagnosis of two cases of COVID-19 transmission at a North Vancouver long-term care home, she worried she was about to frighten her parents.
British Columbia’s provincial health officer paused to compose herself before warning that the elderly in Canada are at most risk from COVID-19 and she urged everybody to do what they can to protect the vulnerable, which may mean staying away from parents and grandparents.
“I’m hopeful you won’t play the emotional part of me too much because my parents will be very upset,” she said at the conclusion of Saturday’s COVID-19 news briefing in Vancouver. “My mother already tells me I look very tired.”
Henry’s tears, compassion and resolve to track down and break COVID-19 are being called a galvanizing moment in Canada’s fight against the global virus, say colleagues and friends who know and work with her.
“What can I say, it’s a very difficult time and I’m feeling for the families and the people dealing with this right now,” said Henry, whose excellent communication skills allow her to come across as everybody’s favourite and trusted aunt.
Auntie Bonnie, knowledgeable, compassionate and battle tested.
“She is an incredibly thoughtful and compassionate human being, as I think she demonstrated recently,” said Dr. Perry Kendall said Sunday.
Henry, who replaced Kendall as B.C.’s chief health officer, was appointed in February 2018.
Kendall said Henry is an experienced virus hunter who has battled SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and polio during her career.
“Dr. Henry was on the front lines in Toronto in 2003, has been in the front lines of Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, is a co-author of the Canadian Pandemic Plan and was key to the responses to both H1N1 and the 2014 Ebola response,” he said.
Kendall said Henry headed the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on an acting basis during H1N1 and is the author of “Soap and Water and Common Sense,” a guide to staying healthy in a microbe-filled world.
Kendall, who was B.C.’s chief health officer when the province declared a public health emergency over the ongoing illicit opioid overdose crisis, said he understands the immensity of the job Henry faces, but she’s well-suited for the challenge.