Since the first positive test for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was reported in Manitoba March 12, the situation has changed rapidly, with decisions by the province, such as the one to close down schools, being made within hours of other officials saying that such moves are not recommended. This, along with the decision to keep schools open last week, which was effectively reversed by mid-week, may have been a slight misstep but, for the most part so far, many decisions made by the province have seemed correct and reasonable, through the need for so much on-the-fly policy making indicates that consideration should be given in the future to better emergency planning so everyone is playing by the same rule book. But that is a discussion for another day. Right now, the important thing is for everyone to take the necessary steps to spread out the impact of the pandemic as much as possible rather than having a crush of serious cases overwhelm the health care system all at once.
While Manitoba is in a better position than B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Alberta so far, the fact that there are only 35 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the province as of March 25 is no reason for us to let down our guard.
To this point, in Manitoba, most testing has been done on people who have travelled internationally and are showing possible COVID-19 symptoms like coughing, fever and shortness of breath. People who have been in contact with such travellers, people in nursing homes or intensive care units and anyone with any type of respiratory infection have also been tested, but there is good reason to believe that there may be more cases out there, given that nearly half of the cases in the country so far are believed to have resulted from contact with people who have the virus within Canada’s borders. Feeling safe because there haven’t been any cases in Manitoba’s north to date is probably not the best course of action.
While some of may feel bored already after only a few days of mostly staying in our homes, presuming we are following public health guidelines, which we should be, we should probably be prepared for a lot more boredom in our future. Statistical models based on data about COVID-19 transmission show that to significantly “flatten the curve” – to not reduce the overall number of cases but to spread them out over time – it could take three months or even six months of people staying away from each other as much as possible. This is going to have a devastating impact upon many businesses, some small or large, and many, such as independent restaurants and stores, are going to have a hard time staying afloat until the situation improves. That is obviously a terrible thing, but we need to acknowledge reality and we need to urge our governments to come up with and publicize their detailed plans to contend with the economic fallout of the steps that are necessary to avoid catastrophic outcomes like those that have befallen Italy.
In the face of such incomprehensible and seemingly insurmountable challenges, it is easy for people to feel despair and be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. No one person can end this pandemic or the repercussions resulting from it, but we can take control of things that are in our control. We can wash our hands, cover our sneezes and coughs, avoid unnecessary physical contact with anyone besides our immediate families and coworkers, if our employers can not find ways for us to work from home and take comfort in the fact that we are not struggling alone, even if that is not much comfort.