Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s book, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe, was released Tuesday by Penguin Random House Canada. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s book, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe, was released Tuesday by Penguin Random House Canada. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s book offers insight into early days of the COVID-19 pandemic

The book documents the toll of the pandemic on Henry: ‘My sister came home to find me lying on the living-room floor’

British Columbia’s top doctor says a burning anxiety in the pit of her stomach had become her constant companion as China began reporting a few cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan in December 2019.

Dr. Bonnie Henry writes in her new book, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe,” co-written with her sister Lynn Henry, that the sense of dread didn’t ease as the number of cases climbed in China.

Among other things, the book provides a behind-the-scenes look at the decisions she made to close restaurants, businesses and schools. It also explains how Henry came up with phrase “be kind, be calm, be safe,” which has become her mantra, featured on T-shirts and painted on rocks.

When Henry declared a public emergency, she says she also wanted to give people hope. That’s when the words kindness, calm and safe came to mind, she writes in the book, published by Penguin Random House Canada.

“I believe we need hope, too,” Henry is quoted in a section written by her sister, “For me, ‘be kind’ fosters emotional well-being and gives people a sense of belonging; ‘be calm’ is about mental well-being and gives meaning; and ‘be safe’ is about physical well-being and gives us a sense of purpose.”

The book says Henry decided to reopen schools because they are a safe place for children where they have access to food, health and social supports. Children with special needs were likely to be more affected, British Columbia’s provincial health officer says.

“Teachers and staff were uniquely placed to notice whether children were in danger at home and to intervene,” she says in the book.

Henry also explains why the province’s modelling projections don’t include a death count. She says the number of deaths is dependent on the government’s response and its ability to prevent transmission, particularly in long-term care homes.

The book recalls how she told a journalist that in B.C., public health officials do not predict the number of deaths. Henry says she realizes her position put her at odds with other public health officials in Canada and elsewhere who present models that project death rates.

The advance the Henry sisters received for the book has been donated to charities that help communities hit hard by the pandemic.

The book also opens a window to the toll the pandemic has taken on Henry.

“My sister came home to find me lying on the living-room floor, still in my work clothes, too tired to move,” Henry says in the book.

“She ordered takeout from my favourite restaurant and poured me a glass of wine, and for an hour or two I almost relaxed. But that night, the spectre of the next few weeks, and how critical they would be, whirled ceaselessly through my mind.”

It offers some lighter observations as well.

“We have learned the true value of toilet paper. We’ve learned that you should never ever do your own hair in a pandemic,” she writes.

“But we have also learned that we can be resilient and adaptable, even when it’s hard. That social connections, even when virtual, are essential. That compassion is stronger than cynicism. That even when faced with unrelenting uncertainty, there is still joy and beauty in the world.”

BC Health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nav Canada will not be closing the tower at West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada tower to remain open at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization was considering closing the tower

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson’s REDress Project exhibit vandalized

The REDress Project brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

Dr. Katherine Oldfield is a naturopathic physician, mother, and active member of the Nelson-West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Photo: Submitted
COLUMN: Restore our Earth, restore our health

Katherine Oldfield marks Earth Day by writing about the priorities we need to have

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Most Read