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You deserve clean air (take two)

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Don’t go looking for Take one of this post; it’s hanging out in my Drafts folder. Big long post, as yet unfinished, having trouble getting to any point.

Sometimes it seems better to just start again. I think this is what I was trying to say.

There is good news on the Covid front

Mainly, the vaccines are great. In Canada, most of the population has had at least two doses. And yes, people previously infected (a majority of the Canadian population by now) have gained some protection against reinfection, for some period of time.

Also, there are some better treatment options now (Paxlovid). This combination of factors has protected many people against hospitalization or death from infection.

But by some key measures, the Covid situation has never been worse

More Canadians are dying of Covid now than ever. 2022 has already surpassed 2021 in number of deaths, and is well on its way to surpassing 2020’s total.

Canada reported Covid deaths: 15700 deaths in 2020; 14500 in 2021; 13700 in 2022 so far; but on track for 20808
This is a bit old; 2022 has by now surpassed 2021

Covid is the third leading cause of death of Canada. It is five times more deadly than the flu.

Many of the dying pass through hospitals first, contributing the unprecedented level of crisis, with emergency rooms repeatedly closing across Ontario for the first the time in history, and serious problems in other provinces as well. While Covid is not the only reason—understaffing, low pay, structural flaws, etc. are others—it’s a really significant contributor.

Number of Covid 19 patients in hospital in Canada

Remember why we did all that social distancing in 2020 and 2021? The main reasons? It was to save lives and to preserve hospital capacity. All our efforts are being undone now.

This is happening because the government went too far in removing restrictions

I’m not saying we need a return to the full social distancing of those years. Policies such as business closures, remote schooling, social gathering limits, and travel restrictions had very clear downsides, and given the good news I started with, can defensively be added.

But getting rid of mask mandates almost everywhere; essentially stopping meaningful vaccination efforts after teens and adult Canadians had two doses, and before children had any; and changing the isolation requirements such that the infectious are definitely out amongst us—the damages of all that on society outweigh the minimal individual benefits.

Tools to manage sixth wave (coffins, body bags)

Why are they doing this?

Because it benefits them politically. I’m not going to pretend to know exactly why they think it’s a political winner, but they clearly do.

And Public Health is very much under the yoke of provincial government direction. They are more motivated to to please their political masters than protecting you and your family. (Ontario proof: Disbanding the Ontario Science Table because they insisted on providing independent advice, and not just saying what the politicians wanted them to say.

Being beneficial to a political party’s election prospects doesn’t make it good or wise policy. Doesn’t mean it benefits you personally or the province generally. Doesn’t mean it’s in our collective best interest, long term.

Why should I care, I’m young and vaccinated

The young and the vaccinated are indeed unlikely to be hospitalized with or die of Covid. But Covid spreading so widely is still a problem for that group (which includes me—at least, in the vaccinated part of that category).

Being sick sucks

Those people who dismiss it as the flu—the flu is terrible, what are you talking about. When I had the flu as a very healthy 21 year old, I literally couldn’t get out of bed, I was so sick. I had to call for help!

And I realize some people truly have a very mild acute Covid case, but most people, at least for a couple days, feel pretty damn awful. And some people it’s more than a couple days.

And even if it’s the sniffles… The sniffles also kind of suck! Sore throats aren’t great!

And you can catch Covid again. It’s not a “one and done” disease.

You might need a hospital for some other issue

Our whole healthcare system is built around hospitals. (Probably it shouldn’t be, but it is, and changing that won’t be fast or easy.) And just because you’re unlikely to need it for a Covid infection, doesn’t mean you or yours won’t need it for something else—an accident, a serious infection, a troubling test result, intractable pain, an overdose… And then it’s going to be big freakin’ problem for you personally that you can’t the care you need in the time you need it, in part because of all the Covid patients in there.

It’s affecting other services

While, again, it’s not the only cause, Covid is a definite contributor the flight delays and cancellations that have been the ban of travelers; to supply chain shortages; to labour shortages; and to other cancelled events (most recently for me, a play at Stratford).

Long-term, Covid might still bite you in the ass (metaphorically)

There’s that Long Covid risk, for one. Yes, vaccination does seem to reduce the risk, thankfully, but not to zero! Not even always that low a risk, depending which study you look at. And there’s no good treatment for it yet. Sometimes people recover, and sometimes they don’t.

And then there’s that whole cornucopia of unpleasant diseases you’re at higher risk of in the year following an infection, “even mild”:

  • Heart disease and stroke (the number 1 cause of death in Canada, so Covid is “contributing” in this way as well!)
  • Diabetes
  • Brain disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Shingles (though there is a good vaccine for this one!)
  • Immune dysfunction (leaving you at higher risk of catching, among other things,colds, flus, and Covid again)

But what can we do, Omicron is so catchy

You can keep everything open at full capacity while also making indoor spaces safer from infection. We know exactly how to do so. You follow a plan such as this Equity Schools Policy Plan, whose advice would work for pretty much any public space. The key points:

  • Support vaccination
  • Plan for mask mandates at the start of surges
  • Support testing
  • Improve ventilation and filtration
  • Support isolation when infectious

How do we make any of that happen?

Well, that’s a bloody good question, isn’t it? Because government sure doesn’t want to do it!

I’d certainly like to try to do something, as that seems more productive than merely fretting or raging.

Contact politicians / public health officials

Personally, for me, writing letters to or phoning government officials is not terribly satisfying, as it feels like screaming into the void. However, they apparently do at least somewhat keep track of what calls / emails / letters they get on what subject, so it’s good if some people express disapproval about the current path.

File a human rights complaint

This group of Ontario Physicians, Nurses, Scientists, and Education Professionals has written this amazing letter, urgently requesting an inquiry into the human rights violations represented by the current policies (discrimination on the basis of age, disability, family status, and sex): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ceci-kYmOLz19LZHdNCLijnP4Ux4WxRb/view (PDF)

These people have particular clout (and deep research at hand), but anyone can file an Ontario Human Rights complaint.

Support (or launch?) legal challenges

Threat of legal action has caused the Ontario government to act on vaccination (opening up fourth doses, making the vaccine available to children under 5). This parent’s group is raising money to legally challenge the Ontario government’s lack of Covid protections in schools: https://gofund.me/e0a4840d

Do you have a case, or can you support others who do?

Stay home when sick if you can

Our society needs to get past this idea that it’s heroic to work, and that it’s any kind of acceptable to go out in public with an infectious disease. If you are privileged enough to have sick days, to be able to work from home, please do isolate if you feel unwell.

And if it turns out to be Covid, please stay isolated until you test negative on a rapid test.

But an awful lot of people just can’t do that. And now public health has told those people they can head right back to work 24 hours after they start to feel better, no matter that they’ll likely be infectious for many days yet.

Canada needs paid sick days, like other civilized countries have. Consider voting for political parties that support workers, maybe?

Support masking

With apologies to people who work in these areas (except that this might protect their health), I do think masking should have stayed in place on transit, in schools, in grocery stores, and in pharmacies—in essential spaces, in other words. And I think they need to stay in place forever in hospitals, long-term care homes, and for other medical services.

I don’t know how to make that happen. I’m not about to organize a pro-mask rally.

I’ll do what I can to support mask mandates wherever I can. Currently, a few universities are among the few institutions willing to have them. So instead of giving a donation to Waterloo U, my alumni that doesn’t have a mask mandate, I think I’ll give it to Wilfrid Laurier, the local university that does. And I’m going to tell them both of them why.

And, I’ll keep wearing a mask myself in public indoor spaces. Yes, it’s mainly to protect myself. But I also know that a huge reason most people don’t mask is simply that most people don’t mask.

That is, nobody (or not very many people) wants to be the one weirdo in the mask. An unmasked person surprised to walk into a sea of masked faces might very well put one on themselves (if offered). Someone feeling a bit nervous about their risk of infection but not wanting to stand out alone might then feel the courage to put one on.

Elastomeric mask
Me in an elastomeric mask that I have yet to wear in public, because my masking courage also has limits. (Elastomeric masks are the most protective available, but yes, they look a bit weird! Fortunately, N99s are also quite effective, and these days look fairly normal.)

Maybe because they feel a solidarity.

Maybe because they think I’m walking around with an active Covid infection, per latest public health guidelines.

You deserve clean indoor air

No, we cannot quickly, widely, and cheaply improve public building’s ventilation and filtration systems such that indoor spaces are nearly as safe as being outdoors.

But most indoor spaces can be improved to some degree by measures that are pretty quick and cheap—opening windows, moving furniture to improve air flow, setting HVAC fans to run continuously, using better furnace filters, adding HEPA filters or Corsi-Rosenthal boxes… That sort of thing. Which can be built on with time.

And any improvement has the potential to reduce the number of people in that space that get infected. Furthermore, improving ventilation and filtration:

  • Requires no individual action—no masking, no hand washing, no distancing (although layering on these things remains helpful to the individual!)
  • Benefits health in other ways—improved cognition, allergy control, headache reduction, energy levels…
  • Is a good investment into the future, a building improvement that remains helpful beyond the purpose of suppressing Covid.

This feels like one of the most positive things that can be done.

I bought a CO2 monitor a while ago, as it’s a useful proxy as to whether an indoor space is well-ventilated or not. But having found out, I really wanted the ability to share the information. And I craved a way to find out without going somewhere first myself, only to be sitting there for hours knowing it’s terrible (which has happened).

So I was very happy when the Raven CleanAir Map launched.

It’s in the early stages. But these people have plans, and now, some funding. I have been to some meetings, I have contributed some readings, and so are more and more people, every day.

You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. You can’t see or smell bad ventilation. Somehow, you have to measure it. This is one way. This is step one. Which spaces have a problem.

Next, we do small fixes. Then, bigger and better ones.

Clean air. It’s not the most glamorous battle, but to me, it’s one worth fighting.

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