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It’s no time to let down our guard in fight against COVID-19

Are we headed for a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak? Another lockdown? The number of cases are spiking, but how bad things get depend largely on us.

Ontario has seen an increase in cases recently, largely the result of numbers from the Greater Toronto Area, though there has been an uptick even here in Waterloo Region.

The provincial numbers above 300 new cases per day are the highest since June. Two-thirds of the new instances involve people under the age of 40, which reflects a trend seen since the wider reopening of the economy.

A spike was expected due to students returning back to school, from kindergarten through to universities. Officials have been working on ways to keep students and teachers safe, though some transmission seems inevitable. The bigger worry, particularly on college campuses, is a disregard for safety protocols outside of school hours: parties may be seen as a part of the experience, but they’re completely inappropriate and dangerous just now.

To be sure, we’re all suffering some level of pandemic fatigue. Given the large drop in cases, people can be forgiven for thinking the worst was behind us. That said, the numbers dropped not because the virus was waning but because we were staying home, avoiding group situations and adopting good hygiene – relaxing our vigilance provides the virus an opportunity to spread once again.

While some of us may have been lulled into a false sense of security by lower cases counts and the re-opening of the economy, COVID-19 remains a threat. Health officials continue to warn us that is the case, with varying levels of response from the public: some of us have maintained new habits of social distancing, for example, while others are acting like the virus is a thing of the past.

Letting down our guard at this point is ill-advised, say health organizations such as the Ontario Hospital Association, which issued a statement imploring residents to strictly adhere to the public health measures that helped bring the first wave under control and allowed Ontario to re-open its economy. They, like other public health officials, stress that people must continue to wash their hands frequently, practice physical distancing, wear masks when required, stay home when they are sick, and neither host nor attend unsafe gatherings and parties.

Many of us have returned to work, with kids heading back to school; those are gatherings, but they are largely controllable and an essential part of restoring some semblance of normality. The likes of parties and other social gatherings aren’t necessary. Sure, we’d like to get back to that kind of normal, too, but a little shared sacrifice now will not only save lives but help us avoid returning to a lockdown situation. Nobody wants to go through that again.

Rationally, we know these measures are in place for our safety and, more to the point, for the safety of others, family, friends and strangers alike. But rationality gets stretched a little thinner with each day. Some people will argue the relatively low number of cases, at least in comparison to worst-case scenarios, are an indication that we can begin returning to our normal lives. Others will counter the numbers are lower precisely because of the measures still in place.

While we’ve seen reopening as a largely linear matter – restrictions are continually loosened, more parts of the economy are revived – we should know by know that might not be the case. It’s a sure bet that health officials will be watching closely for any change in the number of cases, which have dwindled to only a few new additions each day. They shouldn’t hesitate to reverse course if there’s a spike attributable to reopening.

To avoid that, we each have to do what’s right.

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