“Coronavirus Cases Continue to Climb in Canada.”
“Officials Are Not Acting Fast Enough to Catch and Control Spread of New Cases.”
“Hospitals See Surge in Coronavirus Cases, with Ontario, Quebec of Greatest Concern.”
“Five Companies at the Forefront of Race to Find Coronavirus Vaccine.”
“As Coronavirus Cases Rise, Should Schools Remain Open?”
“Young People Don’t Get a Pass With COVID-19.”
All of these headlines would blend seamlessly into today’s newspaper. Yet, every one of these stories was published six months ago, in mid-March.
This pandemic is beginning to feel a lot like Groundhog Day.
Worse yet, the seemingly endless loop of bad news is creating a “bone-deep sense of weariness and resignation,” to quote an article by Dr. Bernard Trappey in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He notes that the relentless state of alert has left health professionals burned out. Surely, parents and other family caregivers aren’t too far behind in the running-on-fumes department.
We wake up each day not only with the same news headlines, but with the same challenges, the same frustrations and, in many cases, a growing feeling of hopelessness.
Of course, things are different in September than they were in March. Or at least the baseline is different.
In March, all of Canada’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 were among foreign travellers. The first known case of community transmission was reported on March 5 in Vancouver and it set off another sentinel event, an outbreak in a long-term care facility. Canada’s first COVID-19 death was a few days later, March 8.
The 200-some cases and single death in mid-March have, over six months, swelled into more than 137,000 cases and more than 9,000 deaths.
Things were going relatively well for a while. In late June, daily cases dipped below 200. But we never did quite get control of the outbreak before impatiently loosening restrictions. Now we are seeing 700-plus cases a day and a troublesome upward trend.
We need to be aware that, in a pandemic, things can escalate quickly. Consider France, which went from fewer than 500 cases a day in mid-June to a staggering 9,000 cases in a single day last week.
That’s the price of complacency.
Back in March, as the coronavirus was spreading rapidly, Canada was struggling mightily to test and trace. Today, we conduct almost 50,000 tests daily.
Yet, testing remains a challenge today because we may not be doing the right kind of testing for our current situation. The laboratory-based PCR test we use is expensive and cumbersome on a large scale. As people circulate more – returning to schools and workplaces – we need rapid screening tests.
As the economy reopens, contact tracing becomes increasingly difficult. In March, when someone who tested positive said, “I flew from Madrid and then isolated at home,” it was pretty easy to track their contacts. Today, when they say: “I dropped my kid off at school, took the subway to work, went for drinks with friends and popped into a couple of stores,” the contact tracing is infinitely more complicated, if not impossible.
Back in March, provinces wisely closed down schools, essentially creating the longest March break in history. Yet, between March and September, it seems little was done to ensure safe reopening.
There are good reasons to get kids back to school, but it beggars belief that governments are allowing classes to resume with 30-plus in classrooms. Worse yet, they seem to have misled parents mightily. In provinces such as Ontario, where as many as half of students are opting for remote learning, there are school boards that are combining classes and grades to create “normal” size classes. Already, hundreds of schools have reported COVID-19 cases. Some big school outbreaks are more likely than not.
In the movie Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) initially responds to his predicament – repeating the same day over and over again – by indulging in all manner of irresponsible actions, becoming increasingly cavalier and self-destructive.
But, eventually, hopeless Phil realizes his sense of déjà vu is a blessing, not a curse, and he can use his knowledge to change the course of events and prevent disasters.
Politicians and public-health officials may not know precisely what will happen next, but they do have six months of knowledge to incite them to not repeat the same mistakes.
The last thing we need is, come Groundhog Day 2021, to be reading the same old mind-numbing headlines such as: “Coronavirus Cases Continue to Climb in Canada.”