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Failing to curb virus’ spread has us falling into the red

Running in the red, whether behind the wheel of your car or in managing your finances, is typically not a good thing. The same is true with measures to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, though that’s  increasingly likely given the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Waterloo Region is currently at “orange” level, called “restrict,” with intermediate control measures in place.  The third of five levels that ends with a new lockdown, an orange classification puts more stringent limits on social gatherings (10 people indoors, 25 outdoors), church services (30 per cent capacity indoors) and restaurants (maximum of 50 per facility).

At “red,” the restrictions become even more stringent, though most businesses would continue to operate, unlike a complete lockdown.

Nobody wants to go that way, but the number of cases is what will determine that. Ontario has seen a big increase in COVID-19 diagnoses, with daily jumps of more than 1,000. While the mortality rate has fallen as the healthcare system learned more about treating the disease, there were still a dozen deaths in the past week, bringing the total to 3,383. Of pressing concern are hospitalization rates. At midweek, there were some 530 people hospitalized due to the disease, 127 of whom were in intensive care, 75 on ventilators.

In the region, the numbers are spiking just now, with daily increases at levels not seen since April, at the height of the original outbreak. As a result, we’ve advanced from “yellow” to “orange” in the past week, with sliding into “red” looking like a possibility.

Such restrictions are necessary when we fail to follow basic protocols, allowing the virus to spread more easily. And the more it spreads, the more likely it will spread to those who relax their vigilance, particularly when it comes to avoiding social contact. In fact, social events – more often private and in our homes rather than in restaurants – are proving to be bigger spreaders than workplaces and schools.

That latter point is good news for those who want to keep schools open, as those closures are some of the most onerous when it comes to making adjustments for the pandemic.

Research shows that getting kids back to school has not been a big issue. The return to classrooms has largely been safe, not really fuelling the pandemic. That said, there has been an uptick in those numbers of late – of the cumulative total of 3,518 school-related cases, 1,126 have come in the past two weeks. Still, the numbers remain relatively low, which is good news for parents with kids in school.

The provincial government is working on new guidelines for to help reverse the recent increases at schools, with no plans for closures.

Where some of us were lulled into a false sense of security by lower case counts during the summer, the surge is a stark reminder why that wasn’t a good idea. Positive news about vaccines are encouraging, but it’ll be many months before they’re widely distributed even if they ultimately win regulatory approval.

Letting down our guard at this point is ill-advised, with officials 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 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 even as we’re on the verge of redlining.

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