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We may be immune to the message, but not the virus

It’s the season of giving. That does not extend to the coronavirus, however. In this case, sharing is not caring.

Actually, the opposing it true: not sharing is caring. It’s for that reason that health officials are calling on Ontarians to mark the holidays safely and responsibly. Celebrating at a distance is the best way to support healthcare professionals, and it is a small price to pay compared to the grief of those who could face far greater losses if we fail to do our part, they argue.

With the number of COVID-19 cases reaching record highs just as the holidays approach, groups representing Ontario’s hospitals, nurses, physicians and respiratory therapists have issued an urgent plea for immediate action to curb the spread of the virus. While the provincial government leads the way, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility to follow the rules, they argue.

Hospitalization rates have increased markedly, as have the number of people in intensive care units at Ontario Hospitals – 794 in hospital at midweek, 219 in the ICU and 132 on ventilators – and the situation is likely to get worse if people act as if this were a regular holiday season. Hospitalizations lag infections, and infections lag gatherings that give the virus a chance to spread. Taking away that opportunity is the best way to get a handle on the situation.

To that end, it would be best if we all scaled back typical holiday plans, along with following the other established protocols such as mask-wearing and hand-washing. Beyond reducing the number of new infections and coronavirus-related hospitalizations, extra precautions could prevent a ripple effect through the health-care system.

If hospitals, emergency departments and ICUs are full, it means that surgeries, procedures, diagnostic tests and routine care will have to be delayed, adding to a substantial backlog not just in hot spots, but throughout Ontario. This risk affects all patients, not only those with COVID-19 – the postponement of cardiac or cancer surgeries, for example, puts thousands more in harm’s way, said health officials.

The Region of Waterloo is not exempt from the increases. The number of new cases has fluctuated over the last few weeks, but the general trend is upward – the rate of cases per 100,000 is above 10, down from the recent peak, but still at levels well above anything we’ve seen thus far in the pandemic.

The situation isn’t going to improve all by itself. Nor can we expect vaccines now being rolled out in very small numbers to have any significant impact until at least the middle of next year. It’s much too soon to let down our guard. 

Christmas is typically the most social time of the year, from office parties to family gatherings. That’s not an option this year, however – indoor events are particularly fraught with issues, especially when we’re already in cold-and-flu season.

The lure to get together with family and friends, coupled with the inevitable coronavirus fatigue is a recipe for more pain down the road.

Those calling for vigilance know that it can be particularly painful to cancel traditional family gatherings, but that sacrifice pales in comparison to the pain of losing a loved one or watching them suffer. While seniors and other vulnerable populations are at greatest risk from COVID-19, there have also been serious health consequences and deaths among younger people, a group that needs particular attention in calling for all of us to do the right thing.

Throughout this protracted pandemic, there have been numerous admonitions to follow the guidelines. It’s good advice, even if some of us have become immune to the message.

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