The following blog was written by Dr. Samantha Hill, a Cardiovascular Surgeon, owner of a Masters in Biostatistics and Epidemiology AND another Masters in Health Practioner Teacher Education. In her spare time she is the current President of the Ontario Medical Association, which represents 44,000 physicians, medical students and residents.
It’s time for some serious advice from your doctors to ensure that everyone has the safest and happiest holiday season.
The recently announced lockdown is effective Boxing Day, but Ontarians do not have to wait. All of us can, and should, take action now, including cancelling plans to visit family and friends on Christmas.
COVID-19 is serious. The numbers of Ontarians confirmed positive for COVID, hospitalized, admitted to the ICU, and ventilated continue to rise dramatically. Hospitals are again reducing non-emergent care and preparing for surge capacity. LTCs are overwhelmed and calling out for help, as their patients, our elderly, suffer.
Clearly, we need to do better.
This spring, we demonstrated severe lockdowns save lives from COVID. But, we failed our most vulnerable, saw high health costs (late presentations of other illnesses, marked increase in mental health challenges, and a staggering pandemic deficit of health) and severe economic consequences.
In September, we moved indoors again. Despite most people following public health guidelines, labs and contact tracers are again overwhelmed. Lockdowns are present and imminent.
Let me be clear, that means we are failing.
Lockdowns are a last resort, imposed when we fail to live safely within tenuous new normals and escalating precautions are not enough to protect us. There is no space for blame. We are all in this together, and we all have a role to play.
I find myself needing to remind you, that during lockdowns, essential workers still go to work: your doctors, all front-line health-care providers, teachers, but also “invisible” essential workers who stock grocery store aisles, work the cash register, service the TTC, support LTCs and hospitals, etc. Many ride the TTC to do so.
Doctors know that being deemed essential does not equate with being safe from COVID-19. A grocery store is no safer than a clothing store. Lunch in the work breakroom is no safer than lunch with others anywhere else. An hour on public transit is no safer than a one-hour flight. Over the past nine months, we have seen outbreaks, illness and deaths stemming from essential services. These services stay open because we need them.
Essential workers are exposed to increased risks for the well-being of others. We decided we can’t live without them. So we have an obligation to protect them, not just bang pots. Their lives, literally, depend on our choices.
So how do we keep people safe? You already know: Mask up, wash your hands, maintain social distancing. Always choose the safer activity, skip the social event or stay home. When we get it right, we decrease the spread of COVID in our communities, avoid lockdowns, protect our most vulnerable, our essential workers and everyone else, without sacrificing everything else.
A COVID vaccine is on the way for all of us – we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we are still squarely in the tunnel, and will be until the majority of Ontarians have been vaccinated (and the timeline for this is the end of 2021). Worse though, one-third of Ontarians are planning to ignore the public health recommendations to not socialize over the holidays. Worst-case modelling projections predict nearly 10,000 cases daily by January. Our choices today determine that.
So, this doctor’s advice?
- Assess the risk and benefit of each action, job, trip or interaction, particularly during the holidays. Is it worth the risk not just to you, but to all of Ontario? For those scanning: ALMOST EVERYONE SHOULD STAY HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS.
- When worth the risk,
- wear your mask and distance yourself from those who will not
- wash or sanitize your hands frequently
- stay two metres apart
- minimize the time you spend in close quarters with others, the number of people involved, how often you interact with others.
- Don’t grow complacent. Small actions matter: start a line when a store is full; redirect friends to gather outdoors or skip eating; keep your kid with a runny nose home; no one can tell if it’s just a cold.
- Keep getting tested for COVID-19. We need to know where it is to eradicate it.
2020 has been a long, dark, year but the vaccines are arriving, bringing renewed hope. Let’s all do our part and ensure that as many of us as possible make it into the daylight 2021 promises.