Fall is coming and it will be a new season of pandemic for all of us.
Back in June, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry shared graphic models of what the COVID-19 virus would do in BC if our social interactions rose over 60 per cent. The steeply rising number of new cases now looks a lot like the 70 to 80 per cent models we were shown two months ago, and that isn’t good news.
There are a lot of reasons why BC may be starting to lose its grip on pandemic control. Some point to young people, or alcohol, or summer barbecues; others cite the lack of mask wearing, people not staying home when sick or not bothering to keep social circles small. Some blame tourists. Some argue that stress and fatigue are making us complacent. All of these may be true to varying degrees.
Simply put, the biggest challenge in the pandemic response might just be human nature. We are social beings, and limiting our human connections has been extremely difficult. Maybe not surprisingly, our local COVID-19 survey found that feeling disconnected from family and friends was reported as the biggest negative impact of the pandemic, more than worry, health or finances.
It seems only natural, then, that we would feel fearful or angry or simply tired of the threat and precautions that separate us. Given all the harms of social restrictions, it is also natural we would resist and test these limits.
As the risk appeared to fade, at least temporarily, our leaders knew they needed to help promote a new balance of isolation versus connections and commerce. Only time will tell if we have collectively found that balance, but we do know we will need to adapt and make changes if we haven’t.
Thankfully, we know what to do if cases continue to rise. We’ve seen how much we can reduce the spread of this virus when we diligently practice physical distancing, stay home when sick and wash our hands. Additionally, we now know masks (when used properly) can reduce virus transmission in situations where distancing isn’t possible. Finally, critically, we can now do testing (and contact tracing if positive) for anyone with potential symptoms of COVID-19.
Truly, we have the tools we need to help us manage this virus until we have a vaccine or effective therapy (likely many months away), but it requires the majority of us to make changes to our daily routines and behaviours. We need not be perfect in our efforts, but the more intentional and consistent we are as individuals and communities, the less likely we will see widespread closures again.
While it may be in our natures to be social, it is also our nature to look out for one another. Local residents who answered our survey overwhelmingly reported that they worry more about their loved ones getting sick than they do about themselves. Sometimes we are motivated to change not for ourselves, but for those around us.
So here we are. Fall is going to bring unique challenges to navigate during the pandemic, such as school reopening, more indoor time and influenza season. As a city and region, and as health-care workers, we hope to meet these challenges with clarity, care and compassion. And we hope to meet them together.
Be calm, be safe, and be kind.
~ Powell River Physicians COVID-19 Steering Group