Dr. William Brown
Special to The Lake Report
The last week has been a terrible lesson in how not to open up in the face of an active pandemic, what with record numbers of new cases reported in states such as Florida, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Utah, Montana and beyond.
As bad as those numbers are, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the real numbers of new cases are probably 10 times worse – making for, by any sane standard, an out-of-control pandemic.
Those record numbers correspond to states that wilfully – encouraged by a likeminded White House – opened up too early with too little control. Scenes of crowded bars, restaurants and beaches tell the story with no social distancing and nary a mask in sight. Score one for the virus.
COVID-19 has surely proven that it can spread freely and widely in the absence of early identification of cases and contact tracing, meaningful social distancing, mandatory use of masks and quarantining when and where warranted, to stem the tide.
It’s an illustration of what happens when politics trumps public health concerns to jumpstart failing economies, and in the case of the United States, reverse falling poll numbers in the face of a November election.
The contrast with FDR’s courageous leadership in managing the fallout from the Great Depression and the current fiascos in Russia, Brazil and Philippines and the USA, to name a few, is stark.
Compared to the mess south of the border, Canada managed the pandemic well except for the bungling early on with long-term care facilities – a failure that accounted for over 80 per cent of the deaths in Ontario and Quebec.
However, these days my concern is more local. Why? Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to a large number of seniors, many with one or more comorbid conditions, which makes them especially vulnerable to this virus.
Except for some problems with long-term care facilities in the region early on, we managed through a combination of luck, relatively few visitors through to June, awareness of the risks, closing many businesses, social distancing, wearing masks and quarantining when necessary, to keep the town safe.
However, with the expected flood of visitors in the coming months from the Golden Horseshoe and beyond, and possibly the United States if the border opens up, the risks to locals will surely increase substantially.
If my observations of some visitors’ behaviour on recent good weather weekends are any guide, the added risk to locals from thousands of visitors, some of whom show little inclination to socially distance or wear a mask in busy grocery stores, is very real – for much the same reasons we saw for the huge spikes in cases in several American states.
The latter reopened too quickly with too few restrictions. That could well be our fate, too.
One of the characteristics of COVID-19 is that active shedders of the virus may be entirely asymptomatic and, without timely widespread testing, public health authorities have no way of identifying those spreading the virus.
That’s the dilemma – unless reopening is cautiously done, with a willingness to vigorously clamp down should new cases be identified – the risk of a major outbreak in this community is high. Because many of us are in our seventies or older, NOTLers are especially vulnerable to the serious effects of the virus.
So, beware. The best advice is to continue what you’ve been doing with respect to social distancing and managing your personal risk.
Don’t count on the local or provincial government to manage the risk without your help.
Dr. William Brown is a professor of neurology at McMaster University and co-founder of the Infohealth series held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library.