Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A man walks with a face mask in Toronto, March 11, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Eddy Lang is a professor and department head for emergency medicine for the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. Merril Pauls is a professor in the department of emergency medicine at the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Even as emergency care providers battle the terrible toll of the third wave, we are witnessing a remarkable shift in the non-COVID-19 patients who seek emergency care. While these observations need further confirmation, they strongly suggest that the same masking and physical distancing we have adopted to fight COVID-19 have had a significant impact on influenza transmission, and complications related to other respiratory viral infections. This presents us with a great opportunity going forward, but also with some difficult decisions.

In the months of March and April, 2020, emergency departments and hospitals around the world witnessed a dramatic reduction in demand for acute care services. This phenomenon was driven by the shock of the first wave lockdowns and a general avoidance of hospitals. This underuse has persisted, to a lesser extent, a full 14 months after the initial states of emergency were declared. While many hospitals are still struggling with the impact of COVID-19 admissions and the need for precious single-bedded rooms, we continue to see a relative underuse and lesser numbers of admitted patients due to many other conditions.

Story continues below advertisement

Some experts believe this is due to ongoing fears that seeking healthcare will expose individuals to COVID-19, but other possible explanations are emerging. The reduced emergency department visits and fewer hospitalizations may actually be the result of a significant reduction in many other illnesses we would normally be seeing.

One of the most astonishing developments related to the pandemic has been the eradication of the influenza virus this season. This would have seemed unbelievable to most experts before the pandemic, but throughout the summer of 2020, Australia noted a marked decrease in influenza cases during what should have been their peak season. Canadian data has shown a similar trend this past fall and winter. This means that thousands of deaths and numerous hospitalizations historically caused by influenza every year have also markedly decreased. This is almost certainly due to the public health measures we have instituted to combat COVID-19.

Along with the decrease in influenza, it appears we are seeing decreased transmission and fewer complications due to cold viruses. While most patients do not suffer long-term effects from these viruses, they can pose a significant danger to those with serious lung disease. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who catch colds can experience flare-ups often requiring hospitalization or intensive care, and some will even die. Pneumonia (or non-COVID pneumonia to be precise) is also a common and serious condition that is particularly hard on seniors, resulting in thousands of hospitalization and deaths in Canada every year. Many of these pneumonias are linked to viral infections that precede the pneumonia.

So this leaves us with a dilemma. As the pandemic continues, people are yearning for a relaxation of public health restrictions. No one wants to hear that perhaps we should continue these measures even after COVID-19 recedes. The good news is that we may not need all of the current restrictions to still see a benefit for our most vulnerable citizens. Ongoing research is required to clarify and quantify the connections we are seeing. Perhaps simply good hand hygiene, and indoor public masking for those at risk, will lead to lower numbers of hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses in the future.

People are desperate to reclaim their former lives and move past current restrictions, and yet we are calling for scientists, policy makers and the general public to consider a key potential learning from this difficult time. We have worked so hard to make mask-wearing the norm. If future studies confirm the significant benefits of this practice, do we really want to undo all this effort? We are not advocating for mask mandates or restrictive rules as they currently exist – but rather the maintenance of a new norm, based on collective goodwill and the realization of how many lives we could save by continuing this practice.

We need more high-quality studies to demonstrate the benefits, and identify potential harms of these measures. We also need to identify which of our current practices will have the greatest ongoing benefits and determine the least intrusive ways to use them while still being effective.

Some see masks as symbols of the anxiety and isolation the pandemic has caused. We are hoping people can instead come to see them as a tremendous gift we have given some of our most vulnerable citizens, protecting them from serious illness and even death. And we hope people will embrace the ongoing use of masks, even after the pandemic recedes.

Story continues below advertisement

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies