Dr. Jasper Ghuman, an emergency room physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital, hopes the past year has helped to prepare people for a future pandemic. 
(Photo: Lauren Collins)

Dr. Jasper Ghuman, an emergency room physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital, hopes the past year has helped to prepare people for a future pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Last year filled with ‘ups and downs’ for healthcare system, Surrey ER doctor says

Dr. Jasper Ghuman says initial fear of going into work has subsided

This is the final piece in a four-part series looking at how people in the community are rebuilding a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Part one: ‘Long COVID’: How a Surrey man is dealing with the effects of the virus one year later, March 11, 2021

Part two: ‘We really had to change everything’: Surrey schools continue to adapt to COVID-19 changes, March 18, 2021

Part three: ‘Always ready to adapt’: Surrey small businesses stay resilient in a year of COVID-19, March 25, 2021

Dr. Jasper Ghuman says there was a “lot of fear” when going into work during the first wave of the pandemic last spring.

Ghuman, an emergency room physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital, said there was initially a “relaxed attitude because it was so far away.”

But he said then B.C. started recording cases, and seeing what was “happening in Italy and the other side of the world, it was scary.”

RELATED: From lockdown in Italy to self-isolation in South Surrey, March 27, 2020

“It felt like so long ago, but initially when we first started, you thought, “OK, yeah, this will be over in a few months and we’ll be back to normal,’” he noted.

“You can see the slow progression of the changes that were happening in the (emergency room). We went from wearing no masks to then wearing masks when we saw patients to wearing masks all the time to wearing goggles all the time.

“I haven’t seen my colleagues’ faces for almost a year, and we have so many new staff members in the hospital now. I actually have not seen their full face yet.”

The last year, since the pandemic was declared in B.C., has been a “difficult year,” Ghuman said.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs. We’ve learned a lot in the past year. It is difficult to go back into where we started from, but I think we’ve come a long way, even regardless of where we are now.”


Dr. Jasper Ghuman is an ER physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

But now, Ghuman said he feels safe coming into the hospital.

“It’s amazing how much we’ve learned about the virus over the past year that I feel safe. I actually feel really safe coming into the hospital. Everybody has a mask on, the risk of transmission is so low if both people have a mask on. I feel comfortable.”

“We’ve made so many strides to make the ER safe … It’s a completely safe environment to come into, regardless if you have COVID or not.”

Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO of Fraser Health, said a year ago, “we were just learning a lot about the virus” and its impacts, while also comparing it to previous pandemics and SARS.

While some were “more optimistic” in their outlook for how long this pandemic could last, Lee said, “I think it was not unexpected that we would see multiple waves.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19 ‘disproportionately’ affecting Fraser Health: Henry, Oct. 29, 2020

Surrey COVID cases – by month, week

Ghuman spoke to the Now-Leader the same day provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called for a three-week “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of COVID-19 as B.C. heads into its third wave.

RELATED: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike, March 29, 2021

The latest regulations are very similar to some of those implemented last spring: the suspension of indoor dining and liquor sales, indoor adult group fitness and indoor religious services.

Ghuman said it was “difficult to see” and a “little bit unfortunate.”

“I think the public was getting excited with vaccines down the road,” he said. “People are seeing a sort of light at the end of the tunnel, but I think there was some complacency and I think some gatherings and people getting together.

“It’s a difficult decision to make, I mean, to balance the health of the community with the health of the economy, but at this point, what needs to be done needs to be done, just to bring the cases down.”

Ghuman said he hopes it will “at least allow us to catch up” in vaccinating the population, “and hopefully it will be a different situation a month from now.”

But he said he’s not completely surprised to see the rise in cases.

“I was slowly, slowly starting to see what was happening in other jurisdictions,” Ghuman said. “You could see the cases slowly starting to creep up. You were hoping to be pretty ahead in the vaccinations that it wouldn’t come to this, but I guess that’s the way it is.”

Asked if he thinks some of the changes implemented in the last year could stay, Ghuman said he doesn’t see the mask mandates being eased “for quite a while.”

“Hopefully, we’ll be much more prepared — hopefully, there’s not — but if there is ever another virus we have to worry about. I think a lot of these PPE protocols are probably going to stay in place for quite a while.”

Ghuman, who has been working in emergency rooms since 2004, said he started his medical training at an ER in Ontario.

“I was just seeing the tail end of SARS, and I never really got to experience much of it, but there was a lot of planning,” he noted.

“Then over the years, it’s just kind of withered away and (was) forgotten. I think if we had some of those contingency measures in place, we might’ve been more prepared. I think, hopefully, we’ll remember this and public health funding will continue so there’s better surveillance and we can move quickly.”

Throughout the pandemic, Lee said Fraser Health created a comprehensive preparedness plan and “very stringent” infection prevention plans.

READ ALSO: Surrey Memorial’s biocontainment facility playing big role in B.C.’s COVID-19 response, March 6, 2020

Asked if she sees any of these plans continuing for the forseeable future, she said in some changes “we believe will be for ongoing or seasonal influenza.”

Lee added there could also be a component for getting prepared for an “extreme type of event,” ensuring health officials are able to utilize the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said that while it takes time to heal, this year has also been a time to “stretch and grow.”

“So much has been accomplished in the past year that would’ve taken 10 years to achieve,” she noted. “We almost have a different expectation or hope … of what we can achieve together.”

Lee said when it comes to what the world has accomplished in the past year, she said it was “not even imagined prior to the pandemic.”

“We’ve accomplished so much in the past year that would’ve taken 10 years to achieve.”

Ghuman agreed, pointing to the speed in developing multiple vaccines.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Ghuman, who received his first dose in January and second in February. “Going through medical school, you’re worried about how long it takes to produce vaccines, but with the technology these days, and all the data sharing … the whole world and community coming together for just one purpose, I can see why it happened.”


Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Lauren on Twitter


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

Just Posted

Delta character - and former White Rock resident - Pansy May Stuttard inspects a loaded revolver in the cover photo for Jim Dwight and Gary Cullen’s fascinating biography, Lord don’t want me Devil won’t take me. Contributed photo
West Coast’s ‘Pistol-packin’ Pansy’ lives on in colourful biography

Infamous Delta character ended her days in White Rock and South Surrey

A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Reports of student attendance ‘dwindling’ at Surrey schools: teachers’ association

STA president said he’s heard from staff that students might not attend in-person for 4th quarter

(Photo: MOSAIC/Facebook)
Organization receives $10K from B.C. government to tackle racism in Surrey, White Rock

Funding to go toward forum for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

A police officer aims a radar gun at oncoming traffic during a school-zone speed trap traffic blitz outside Peace Arch Elementary in 2017. (File photo)
White Rock council heeds residents’ plea for better speed signage

Roper Avenue concerns note proximity of two elementary schools

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read