In the long lost world of 2019, this holiday weekend would have been a time for millions of Canadian families to get together for dinners, celebrations and religious services.
Passover began on Wednesday. Good Friday is a statutory holiday in much of the country, and it’s followed by Easter Sunday. The Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi is on Monday; last year’s parade in Toronto drew a crowd of more than 100,000 people. And on April 23, Ramadan begins.
All of these are normally occasions for people to go out and spend time congregating with family and friends.
Way back in 2019, that would have included not just visits to crowded places of worship, but also an entire country sitting down for multigenerational family dinners. Grandparents catching up with grandkids. An uncle flying in from across the country. Cousins driving in from out of town.
By now, everyone knows that there’s an entire photo album of family memories that can’t happen in this year of pandemic.
You cannot dine or celebrate or pray with anyone other than the people you live with. Respecting those rules is about protecting your own family, but it’s also about helping to look after millions of other Canadians. Their health is partly in your hands, as your health is in theirs.
The reason you have to stay home is summed up in a number: One.
According data and models released on Thursday by the Public Health Agency of Canada, when the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 began spreading in Canada in February and early March, each infected person passed the virus on to an average of 2.19 people.
That sounds like a small number, and when there are few infections, such a level of growth seems like no big deal – at first.
But the tally ramps up quickly. Get out a calculator and do the math. The journey from 10 cases to 10,000 is short. The journey from 10,000 cases to one million is shorter.
However, the Public Health Agency believes that measures taken since mid-March, chief among them all the physical distancing Canadians are doing, have lowered the rate at which the virus is spreading. Physical distancing has put our economy into a medically induced coma and our social lives into a deep freeze, but not in vain: It’s the best technique currently available for pushing that virus pass-along number down toward the magic number of one.
The goal is one new infection, or fewer, per infected person. If that happens, the rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths will stabilize and fall. And there are signs of progress on that front, though the number of deaths and hospitalizations – the result of infections contracted two or more weeks ago – continues to rise.
Limiting the spread of the virus, and capping its count of sick and deceased, is not entirely on your shoulders.
The broader public health response matters. Testing matters, to find the infected. Tracing matters, to find those who came into contact with the infected. Quarantining matters, so that as many infected people as possible have a pass-along rate of zero. Screening at the border matters, to minimize the chance of new infections being introduced to the country.
And making sure our health care workers have all the respirator masks and other personal protective equipment they need matters, because otherwise hospitals, and especially long-term care homes, can easily become places of accelerated transmission of the disease, rather than refuges from it.
For the moment, your choices about where to eat and pray, and with whom, are very big parts of the equation. An incident in Newfoundland illustrates why.
Around March 16, someone who had the virus, and likely did not know it, went to a service at Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s. By early April, provincial authorities said that 143 infections – three-quarters of the province’s COVID-19 cases – could be traced back to what they’re now calling the “Caul’s cluster.”
It’s a reminder that each one of us really can make a difference. Our individual choices matter.
If all goes well, Canada will eventually be able to restart much of the economy, and begin returning some things to normal. But we’re not there yet. We’re still at war. This weekend, do your duty, and serve your country, by staying home.