Pandemic puts a damper on another holiday season
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Pandemic puts a damper on another holiday season

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

Actually, the opposite is true: not sharing is caring. It’s for that reason that health officials are again 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 surging again due to the Omicron variant, groups representing Ontario’s hospitals, nurses and physicians 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 – 412 in hospital at midweek, 165 in the ICU and 105 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 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, say health officials, who were starting to chip away at backlogs when the latest wave struck.

The Region of Waterloo is not exempt from the increases. The number of new cases has been moving upward over the last few weeks, but we’re now seeing spikes comparable to the highest points a year ago.

The situation isn’t going to improve all by itself. While there’s a push to get booster shots into as many people as possible – and to get the unvaccinated to realize the seriousness of the situation – it’s preventative measures that will have to do this close to the holidays.

Christmas is typically the most social time of the year, from office parties to family gatherings. Where such activities were off the table last year, we can expect more of them this time around. The lure to get together with family and friends, coupled with the inevitable coronavirus fatigue is a recipe for more pain down the road, but we’re perhaps making the shift to seeing the virus as endemic, with much less patience for restrictions. Politicians are walking on eggshells at this point, their moves more unpopular as they appear ineffective.

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, if not for the wider community then for those around us.

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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