Editorial: Reducing COVID-19 risk up to people, including those we curse daily for not obeying rules

Remember back in March and April when the novel coronavirus arrived in Manitoba and then the number of cases started rising and schools and businesses were shut down by order of the public health department and everybody had to stay home most of the time, except to go out for essentials? Do you remember how difficult that seemed?

Unfortunately, that was the easy part of the pandemic.

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Manitoba now has more active cases of coronavirus than it did back in the spring and had the highest five-day running total of new cases in all of the pandemic from Aug. 5 through Aug. 9, including two of the highest-single day totals for new cases since the first positive test was recorded in mid-March.

But despite that, there are no plans to initiate any widespread shutdowns or postpone the reopening of schools or reimpose the requirement that people from other western Canadian provinces who arrive in Manitoba self-isolate for 14 days. At least, not yet.

What’s more, Winnipeg isn’t currently the location of most of the new cases being announced – it’s Brandon.

It was easy about a month or so ago to think that Manitoba had this virus licked. Manitoba went two weeks – about one incubation period for the virus – without any new cases. Not one. And plans to continue reopening the province and the economy proceeded, with many of us probably thinking that our days of worrying about COVID-19 were behind us, at least for a little bit. Lots of people probably thought that they could let their guard down and probably did so. And, coincidentally, a few weeks later the case numbers started climbing and now, since the beginning of August, we have six days when more than 10 new cases have been identified. That represents about one-third of the total number of days with 10 or more new cases since Manitoba’s pandemic began five months ago.

As boring as sitting around at home and not seeing friends or coworkers or going to restaurants and bars or playing VLTs was, it was simple. People just stayed home. Now that we’re not required to do so anymore, managing the coronavirus is each person’s responsibility, both to avoid coming into contact with it and to avoid passing it on to someone else. Unfortunately, people aren’t always responsible or considerate of others, which drives the risk of catching COVID-19 even higher.

Northern Manitoba has had it pretty good during the pandemic. There have only been three confirmed cases of COVID-19 north of the 53rd parallel and the last one was more than four months ago. As a result, it’s almost certain that most of us are complacent and we may not have been practising the behaviours that we need to follow in order for the world to function somewhat normally without resulting in an explosion in the number of coronavirus infections in this province. That doesn’t bode well for us when the virus arrives in the north. Training for professions such as being a soldier, for example, requires practice and repetition, practice and repetition, over and over again, until you don’t even have to think to react the way you should to a given situation, even if it arises out of nowhere. A trip to Walmart in Thompson on a busy weekend afternoon can furnish plenty of evidence that some people aren’t well-trained in appropriate pandemic behaviours, whether they are customers or employees. The fact that the store will be requiring masks on everyone as of Aug. 12 is one part of reducing risk. But if people aren’t washing their hands frequently, staying home when they’re not feeling well and making a conscious effort to stay out of other people’s space, particularly when lining up at the cash registers – the most likely place for prolonged contact with someone to occur while shopping – it might not be as effective as it could be.

This phase of the pandemic isn’t about the government telling people what to do. It’s about people remembering what they’ve heard about for months and practising it diligently. If you’ve seen how many people fail to follow traffic directions at the few intersections in town where specific lanes have specific uses, your confidence in that happening may not be particularly high.

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