With the official start of summer having just passed on June 20, Manitobans may be finally looking forward with optimism again, a feeling that has been rare since Thanksgiving at least, as the province has seen two waves of COVID-19 since then that were larger and deadlier than what it saw in the first six months of the pandemic when it started in 2020.
To be sure, things are still a long way from normal. Restaurants, bars and hairdressers still can’t be open and wearing masks has not fallen by the wayside as it has in some places, particularly parts of the United States, and we haven’t been able to gather inside at all, let alone in large groups like the thousands of fans who are attending NHL Stanley Cup playoff games in the states and even in Montreal. That said, the current public health orders are expiring this Saturday and the provincial government is expected to provide some information today about what the next set of restrictions will look like. Manitoba has achieved the first benchmark for its reopening plan of 70 per cent first dose and 25 per cent second dose vaccination, but it remains to be seen if other indicators such as case numbers, test positivity and hospitalizations will be in the right place for businesses to reopen at up to 25 per cent capacity as planned.
Gathering was largely allowed last summer, as Manitobans looked at COVID numbers and thought perhaps we had somehow dodged a bullet. We hadn’t. It just hadn’t actually hit us yet and when it did, it became very, very clear that the province and its residents had started their victory lap well before the race was even half over and, as a result, had to endure months of restrictions, a shortage of intensive care beds and more than 1,100 deaths, including 54 in the province’s north.
That said, case numbers were very low to start this week and we have something that was still months off last summer: vaccines.
At this point, predictions are for things to be mostly normal by the fall. While it may be tempting to look at our neighbours to the west, Saskatchewan, where all public health orders will be lifted July 11, or to their neighbours in Alberta, who are doing the same thing on Canada Day, and be jealous, their third waves started earlier than ours and there are still more Manitobans in intensive care due to COVID than there were intensive care beds in the province before this pandemic started.
Nobody wants to wait until Labour Day, as laid out in the provincial government’s reopening plan, for basically all restrictions to be gone, but no one wants to die because intensive care unit beds aren’t available for them after a traffic accident or a stabbing or some other non-COVID-related medical emergency either. And who knows? If current case number and test positivity trends stick around, we may be on our way to post-pandemic life well before the first weekend of September, depending on how many people get out of hospital, how many more are admitted, how many get vaccines and how effective those vaccines prove themselves against the Delta variant. There’s still far too many moving parts to make confident predictions about anything, given how many of those predictions have been wrong in the past, but it seems like Manitobans will be able to give thanks together in the fall without the sort of catastrophic consequences that resulted from people doing so last year.