My calendar is not especially full, but there are events in it here and there, and as each one comes around, so do the questions…
- How many people will be at this event?
- How close will be they be to me?
- How bad does the current transmission rate seem to be?
- Is the venue doing anything to mitigate risk?
- Can I do anything to mitigate risk?
- Should I stay or should I go?
And it’s Just. Bloody. Exhausting.
So I can definitely see why most people find the current government messaging very appealing:
Everything’s fine. Just do all the things. Don’t worry about getting infected. Live your life! Even if you do get infected, it will be fine! It’s all fine. Everything’s fine.
It does sound lovely. I wish my brain would let me join you in the “everything’s fine” camp. (But I just know too much!)
And I get the government strategy, politically. Gosh. Managing pandemics is not fun. Not what they were elected to do. Giving up on pandemic management lets them focus on their other priorities, like building highways on environmentally sensitive land, going to court to keep their plans a secret from citizens, and denying treatment to autistic children. I care most about Ontario, as that’s where I live, but almost all the governments are currently aboard the ” let’s do nothing about Covid to focus on other issues” train.
Unfettered Covid is still a problem. Ignoring it doesn’t seem that effective at making everything fine.
For one thing, a lot of people are still dying of it.
And if the main goal/rational was preservation of hospital capacity, well, these are all recent (Ontario) news stories:
- Patients continue to outnumber beds at Waterloo Wellington hospitals
- Eastern hospitals short-staffed due to Covid spread
- Ontario is facing a backlog of more than 1 million surgeries (and Ottawa hospital are currently adding to that backlog)
- Staffing shortages force another temporary closure at hospital emergency department in town of St. Marys
- Kids with COVID flock to ER at McMaster Children’s Hospital
So that’s a Big. Epic. Fail.
All of this mass infection will put an end to this wave at some point, as the virus finally runs out of hosts. But it does little to prevent the next wave, because the virus keeps mutating, and Omicron infections in particular do not confer long-term immunity. And it appears that risk of hospitalizations increases with the repeats (PDF).
Vaccinations help tremendously; the tragedy of this much infection would be unimaginable without them. And yes, maybe this variant is “milder” than some past ones, even for the unvaccinated. But Long Covid afflicts somewhere around 10% of patients, and it has no cure (though sometimes does improve with time). And Covid has long-term effects on many organs, even in mild cases.
Basically, it’s not good to have sickly population. Even if you don’t care about the ethics of allowing unfettered mass infection, it’s also not good for the economy.
Everyone is so happy about having schools open, not only to benefit the kids, but also to benefit working parents and their companies. But Covid is absolutely tearing through schools, to the extent that many of them can’t stay open.
But it directly affects businesses, too, per the Business Journal: Omicron sharpens labor pains for short-staffed businesses. And the Financial Times, looking longer term: Long Covid: the invisible public health crisis fuelling labour shortages. Sick people just aren’t your best bet for achieving maximum productivity and growing your economy.
Government can’t just pawn this off on us
The whole point of Public Health is to avoid the problems just described. Saying “you have to learn to live with it” or “make your risk assessment” is not Public Health! It’s an abdication of responsibility. It’s government not doing their job.
What if governments treated other public health threats the way they’re currently handling Covid?
Smoking: Given that lung cancer and emphysema rates are currently declining, you are once again permitted to smoke in all indoor spaces. Yes, we do expect that this will cause lung cancer and emphysema rates to rise again, but it’s OK; we have plenty of room in the hospital for these new patients!
We all have to learn to live with smokey air. For most people, the effects of second-hand smoke are mild, and not much worse than a cough caused by the flu. Those worried about long-term effects can consider attaching a HEPA filter to their face. If you are at immediate risk due to severe allergy—stay home!
Drinking and driving: With so many people drinking so much alcohol, our Ride programs are getting overwhelmed, so we have decided to stop checking blood alcohol levels. If you think you’ve been around alcohol, and now feel dizzy, assume you’re drunk, and don’t drive for, let’s say, 30 minutes?
Hard hats, steel-toed boots: Data has shown that these protect workers at construction sites, but they are annoying: so hot! so uncomfortable! So, it’s now your choice what to wear while working. It’s so lovely to see everyone’s bare heads and feet again!
Asbestos in buildings: Some buildings have asbestos leaks; if you breathe in the fibres, you could damage your lungs. If concerned, you might want to avoid going into those buildings.
No, we’re not going to tell you which buildings those are. No, we’re not certainly not going to make any effort to remove the asbestos from those buildings. What are you even talking about?
If you’re worried about breathing in asbestos, just wipe down the tables and wash your hands.
Car seats for infants: Optional.
So what should they do?
Doing something instead of nothing would be nice. That something does not have to be business or school closures, capacity limits, or restrictions on public gatherings. How about just reversing some of the stupider decisions and actually promoting vaccination again, for a start.
Change the isolation period back to 10 days
My God, the government was eager to put this 5-day isolation rule in place, even though this Delta-variant data was never true for Omicron. People are at peak infectiousness at 5 to 8 days. The standard must go back to isolating for 10 days when you’re Covid positive. Ideally with people using rapid tests to ensure they’re no longer infectious before they go back out in the world.
Get adults and teens fully vaccinated
Two vaccination doses are much better than one or none, but this is a three-dose vaccine. But the messaging around the third dose has been so muddled that third dose rates have stagnated at about 50% in Canada, even in light of evidence that two doses no longer protects as well against hospitalization.
The Federal government could help here by changing the terminology. Stop calling that third dose a “booster”, which definitely makes it sound “optional”. Redefine “fully vaccinated” to mean three doses. And extending everything for which you need vaccination proof (travel, federal jobs) to now mean three doses.
Get children vaccinated
Children are also very under-vaccinated, many vaccinated parents apparently having concluded that vaccine isn’t necessary, since they keep hearing that Covid isn’t very dangerous for kids. When in fact it’s children under 4 who are the most hospitalized age group for Covid, after those over 70. And children can also get Long Covid, which vaccinations reduce the likelihood of.
Adding the Covid vaccination to the school vaccination requirements would be good idea, but I would also note that a great education campaign can go a long way. In Newfoundland, they made a concerted effort and achieved a 75% rate of vaccination among children.
And yes, bring back the mask mandate
Two-way masking works better than one-way. If you’re the only one masked for a longer period in a poorly ventilated space with Covid-positive people, the virus might very well through. I’m not saying masks need to be mandatory “forever”, but they are needed at times of high transmission, like now.
And masks don’t stop you from doing anything. You’ve always been exempt from wearing them when you want to eat, drink, or exercise in public. What’s the big deal about wearing them to shop, go to a concert, or ride transit. And I would note that not doing so, at least in essential places, is a human rights violation:
My suggestion: Get this decision out of the hands out the hands of politicians and give it to a more independent authority (which politicians can then hide behind, the bunch of cowards). Here, that could be Ontario Public Health and the Ontario Science Table (which is now part of OPH), who have clearly stated that lifting the mask mandate made this wave bigger than it needed to be, and that it should be brought back.
How much longer, Papa Smurf?
OK, masks, needles, and being all alone when sick are not fun. Those tactics won’t be needed forever (hopefully!).
But some changes we could make because of Covid should stay around for good, because they are nice things that would permanently benefit everyone.
- Paid sick days for all. And a reasonable number of them too, like 10. Who wants to catch colds, flus, or any disease from their coworkers? Which companies want to have a bunch of people off sick when they could stop it at one person? (And frankly, even if a coworker has something non-communicable, I don’t want them at work suffering. The moaning sounds are very distracting!)
- Cleaner indoor air. Outdoors is great, and very Covid-safe, but we are an indoor species. Having cleaner indoor air—everywhere—not only reduces transmission of all airborne diseases, but also reduces headache, fatigue, nausea, skin irritation… It’s just generally better for our health. And our productivity! We be so much better worker bees with more air exchanges per hour, breathing in fewer air pollutants.
Governments could start this by measuring CO2 levels everywhere (Belgium is doing this!) and including air quality as part of health inspections (Niagara, Ontario is doing this!). That way everyone can know which places have good indoor air and which don’t. Next step: improving it. Like the US EPA is proposing to do. And also the City of Toronto!
- Restructure the healthcare system. The Globe did a big story on this recently that is difficult to summarize in a bullet point. But it’s not about more money; it’s really about spending the money better by integrating all aspects of health into one system instead of funding only doctors and hospitals. This is exactly what the 300,000 or so Canadians with Long Covid need—but it’s also what we all need, to treat every ailment!
- Longer Christmas break. Happens every year, previously with flu and now with Covid: Families gather at Christmas, infect each other, then all go back to work and school and pass it on further. Reduce that risk by making that a longer school break for kids, with the time made up by extending the school year. Wouldn’t that also help reduce learning loss from the long summer break? More people would surely take more vacation time at Christmas, too, further reducing spread in workplaces. (While at it, how about: More vacation days for all.)
And I leave you with…