COVID-19, a novel strain from the coronavirus family of infectious respiratory tract illnesses (like SARS and MERS), spreads across the globe, Canada and our city. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic because COVID-19 has a foothold on every continent except for Antarctica. Europe is now the outbreak epicentre, not China.
But the P-word is not a reason to panic. ‘P’ also stands for precaution, prevention, preparedness, patience, people and, most importantly, PERSPECTIVE. Even if we successfully #FlattenTheCurve, this will get worse over the coming weeks and months before it gets better.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Chief Medical Officer of Health was brutally honest in her memo to City Council and subsequent comments to the media this past Sunday. She stated we likely have hundreds if not a thousand cases of COVID-19 in the city now.
Local hospitals have prepared as best they can for a wave of folks – the elderly and immune-compromised – who will need care. Elective surgeries have been cancelled, supplies have been stockpiled and they have plans to adapt spaces for a patient surge and will implement measures to protect our healthcare professionals.
In my opinion, containment was always the stuff of unicorns and leprechauns. Community spread will occur and managing its duration and severity is our defining and collective challenge. Combatting COVID-19 is literally in our hands. From frequent hand-washing, coughing into your elbow or a tissue, avoiding touching your face and public surfaces, to limiting all non-essential trips out of the home, we can make a difference.
Yes, this will have an enormous impact on local businesses, but epidemiology trumps economics. To help, you can buy gift certificates for future restaurant visits to help these business with immediate cash flow. And don’t forget our local food banks that need cash, pharmacy or grocery gift cards. Government support programs for affected workers need to be changed quickly and flexibility will be key.
To the skeptics, this is not an overhyped cough or just another flu. The best parallel we have to this global event is the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919. In Philadelphia, officials waited for two weeks to act after the first reported cases in mid-September 1918 and even allowed a parade to occur, whereas St. Louis acted decisively and shut things down in the immediate 48 hours after their first reported cases in early October 1918.
Deaths and spread in Philly were much worse than St. Louis because the latter city effectively implemented, the phrase du jour, social distancing. This means staying at home, working from home (if you can) and it is not an invitation for a kid’s playdate or wine and munchies with friends. As one public health official said, “social distancing is not a snow day”.
On the bright side, we know from global experience to date that about 80 per cent of those who contract COVID-19 will experience milder symptoms and fully recover. But social distancing by healthy people will limit, or at least delay, passage of the virus to the other 20 per cent of the population that is more at risk.
Perspective requires accurate informa-tion. These five organizations are excellent to keep pace with what is happening globally and here at home: the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health. Bookmark them, follow them on social media or subscribe to their updates.
As for hoarding of toilet paper, COVID-19 is not a gastro bug, norovirus or dysentery. If you need 100 rolls of toilet paper for two weeks, you have other internal plumbing issues. Don’t fret stockouts of Purell and Clorox wipes, just ask your parents and grandparents how they disinfected things back in the day.
If your heart is set on hand sanitizer, look up “Guide to Local Production: WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations” for the WHO how-to PDF-guide…it could be a fun project for you and the kids while school is postponed.
A few weeks or months at home could be just the ticket to clean your bathroom cupboards and maybe find some Purell. Or dust off that #1 bestseller from 2015. Or binge-watch some great TV and movies as most carriers have waived data limits and overage charges.
Be well, stay safe and keep your distance … and things in perspective..