Editorial: Christmas lapses could come at high cost to fight against COVID-19

With all of the COVID-19 transmission and deaths related to the disease that have occurred over the last few months of the year, it can seem difficult to remember a time when Manitoba wasn’t in crisis mode but you actually don’t have to look all that far back. 

Two months ago from today, on Oct. 16, Manitoba reported 106 new cases of the virus. While that would seem like an exceedingly good day now, at the time it was actually a very bad one. It was, in fact, only the fourth day since the pandemic began that the province had reported more than 100 new daily cases, and the other three had all occurred within the previous five days. There had been about 3,300 cases of the virus in the province overall by that same day, a little more than one-seventh of the number of cases that we have now. The first day fo the pandemic that Manitoba saw more than 200 cases in a single day, 201 to be exact (lower than what we now consider to be an improvement over where we were a few weeks ago) came on Oct. 26, two weeks exactly after Thanksgiving Day. Since then, there have only been three days when Manitoba reported fewer than 200 new cases, two of which occurred since the start of November. As the year’s 11th month rolled on, it became more likely for there to be more than 200 cases, or 400, then it was for their to be a daily case count in the 200s. 

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Effectively, by gathering on Thanksgiving weekend, Manitobans squandered what luck and diligence had brought during the first wave: relatively low case counts, virus-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Over the first 13 days of December, 160 people in this province died from COVID-19, an average of more than a dozen per day. It shows how far we have fallen from the pre-Thanksgiving period when you consider that a day with less than 10 deaths is now considered a pretty good day. It seems almost certain that December will see more COVID-deaths than November, when almost 260 people died from the disease.

Back in early October, as Thanksgiving was approaching, it already seemed like the pandemic had been a long tough slog, because it had. A couple months later, it seems even longer, because it is, and because public health orders have become more restrictive in response to rising case numbers. It is natural to feel like it isn’t fair for this virus to ruin Christmas or Hanukkah and New Year’s. And it is natural to feel like bending the rules a little won’t necessarily lead to a bad outcome. People felt the same way at Thanksgiving and two weeks later, case numbers started skyrocketing.

Not everybody will obey public health advice and orders to not gather with people from outside their households at Christmas. We haven’t seen a law yet in this country or in any other that at least some people wouldn’t break. That’s why we have them. But that doesn’t mean that more of us should follow their example. If you have a mother, and you ever got in trouble for breaking a rule and tried to use the excuse that all your other friends were doing it, you most likely heard the sarcastic rhetorical questions, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

As things stand right now, even if the number of new daily COVID cases continues to drop slowly, we are not going to see a January without any public health restrictions. The same probably goes for February. The situation may not improve markedly until after March, after more than a year of restrictions of varying degrees. If you want to go out for a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day, or enjoy a green beer at a bar on St. Patrick’s Day, or take your mom out for lunch on Mother’s Day, it’s going to take some sacrifice.

Manitoba was in good shape at Thanksgiving. A few weeks later, surgeries were being cancelled and hospitals were starting to get overwhelmed. If too many people give in to their desire to feel normal now, when the baseline is more than twice what it was in early October, 2021 may be remembered as the year that health care services had to be rationed out to those who needed them the most and others were left to suffer without treatment because hospitals were out of capacity. Humans aren’t known for being good at prioritizing long-term gain in exchange for short-term pain, but deciding not to could have serious side-effects down the road.

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