Many years ago, at the end of a two-day blizzard, my brother and I exploded out of the house. We had been trapped inside all that time, driving each other (and our parents) crazy. I can’t recall if we left of our own volition or if our parents kicked us out, glad for the reprieve from our bickering. The temperature was way below zero. The air was brittle-cold; our eyelashes froze up; our lungs balked at breathing the frigid air. We didn’t care. We ran around the yard. We had a snowball fight. We made snow angels. We stomped on every drift in the trees to see which were hard enough to dig tunnels and caves. Two hours later, we staggered into the house, our energy all run off, much to our parents’ relief.
I felt like that again last month after my husband and I got our second COVID vaccine. We didn’t exactly explode out – we’re too old for that, – but perhaps now we could go grocery shopping at a reasonable hour rather than at “seniors’ hours” of 7:00 am. Perhaps we could expand our bubble to visit some of our relatives and friends – outside, of course. Perhaps life could start its slow return to life-after-COVID.
Or perhaps not.
Our premier declared Alberta “Open for Summer” as of July 1 and removed all restrictions. And I do mean ALL. No masks (except on public transit, including taxis). No limits on indoor or outdoor gatherings. No limits on numbers in mall or gyms or restaurants or bars or casinos. Social distancing – out the window. And people exploded out, glad to be out of months-long lockdown, glad to expand their bubble to whomever they wanted to include, glad to go where they wanted when they wanted.
Alberta is not the only place removing restrictions. Other Canadian provinces are relaxing theirs. Most American states have completely removed their restrictions, as have other countries. Their reasoning? Infection rates are declining. The numbers of people in hospitals and ICUs are declining.
Wait! Didn’t this happen last year this time? Case numbers fall? The number of people in hospitals and ICUs decline? Yes, there were still restrictions, and some cities had imposed mandatory mask bylaws when indoors or on public transit. Major events – the Calgary Stampede, music festivals, theatrical productions, even the 2020 Summer Olympics – were cancelled but otherwise, people gathered outdoors, they partied, they met at bars, they celebrated their freedom. Some went so far as to protest (and some still do) these restrictions as impingements on their rights and freedoms, apparently oblivious to the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that these rights are not absolute, that the Government can limit them if the limit is reasonable, legal and justifiable. Can you think of anything more reasonable or justifiable than a pandemic?
Then came autumn. Numbers went up, and up, and up, and, well, you know the rest.
And so, I wonder: are we headed for the same fate come this autumn? Yes, we now have vaccines, and large percentages have been vaccinated – in Canada, 79% of those 12 years and older have one shot; 56% are double-vaccinated. As with most averages, those numbers are misleading – vaccination rates vary among provinces, and some areas are dangerously under-vaccinated. Moreover, the rate of vaccination has slowed, slowing our progress to “herd immunity” which may require as much as 90% of the population to be vaccinated, as recommended in an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
More frightening, the Delta variant has raised its ugly head and is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC. That is already happening in the USA, in England and elsewhere. These places are experiencing Delta-fueled infection rates equal to this past winter, and not just among the unvaccinated. So-called “breakthrough” cases among fully vaccinated people are increasing, too. Here in Alberta, case numbers are showing a slight “uptick,” and we have yet to see what will happen two weeks after the end of Stampede. Another surge, perhaps?
On top of that, large portions of the world have received no or very little vaccine, creating a primordial stew in which more (and more lethal? more contagious?) variants can develop – we’re already up to Lambda.
Fortunately, not everyone is throwing caution to the wind. Festival organizers are limiting attendance, requiring (or encouraging) mask-wearing, imposing assigned seating and social distancing, or even requiring proof of vaccination for entry. Staff in many businesses still wear masks. Many people (including us) continue to wear masks in indoor locations. Some of us still practice social distancing and limit our bubbles and excursions. Will that be enough?
So I ask: Are we really free of COVID, or merely out on parole? Our behaviour over these next few months will tell.
#COVID #Pandemic #NotesFromIsolationWard #Vaccines #OpenForSummer #DeltaVariant #CanadianCharterRightsFreedoms #MargaretGHanna