COVID-19, eh?

March 16, 2020

Written by Jenna McHugh

My life has generally been spent basking in a sweet and soothing feeling of fineness. Everything always works out and everyone will be okay. In 2001, I was 7 years old and relatively unaffected by 9/11 and the global impact it caused. When there was a recession in 2008 I was 14 and my parents made sure that I was not privy to the financial hardships they were experiencing. I always have felt overwhelmingly that things are always going to be fine, until Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the day before COVID-19 was officially announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The sobering, ominous feeling has seemingly penetrated the world in a similar manner to the experiences I’d been immune to up until this point.


We are at a time in the pandemic where we can appropriately assume that many of us are going to be infected with the virus. We are already feeling the impacts. The main strategies to produce positive outcomes for our most vulnerable is to #FlattenTheCurve, a public health term relating to a epidemiological graph pictured here: 📷

Source: Adapted from: CDC. Interim pre-pandemic planning guidance: community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation in the United States—early, targeted, layered use of nonpharmaceutical interventions. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2007. https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/11425.


The meaning behind flattening the curve relates to the acceleration of cases. The acceleration of the second curve is much slower, and indicates a reduction in total number of cases and health effects spread out over a longer period of time. The hope is that the peak of the slope does not surpass the threshold of the health care system.


If you have been paying attention to other media outlets, you’ll understand that the goal is not to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 or to prevent you from contracting it, it is to slow down the spread to protect the vulnerable. Regardless of whether you think you will be fine if you contract it, your objective is to not put yourself in a situation where you could. Once you have it, you could unknowingly spread it and create a host of problems for another person in your life or in your community: your grandparents, your neighbour that likes to smoke her cigarettes on her back porch, or an immunodeficient sibling.


The completion of my Masters of Public Health at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON is ending on quite an ironic note, with in-person classes and large group gatherings cancelled. This is due to the evidence-based practice called social distancing. For the novel Coronavirus pandemic, it has been the most prominent method to slow down the spread of COVID-19. The goal being to reduce social and large group gatherings to prevent person-to-person contact and spreading the illness. The evidence presented here is three-fold:


1) According to Reuters Graphics, one person, a ‘Super Spreader’ can do a lot of damage to a city. South Korea’s Centre for Disease Control & Prevention indicated a positive test from ‘Patient 31’ and retraced her steps and theorized that 80% of the country’s cases have been linked to this individual. Check out their informative graphics here. An individuals unwillingness to be tested and/or isolated from crowds can play a major factor in exacerbating the spread.


2) We can see the differences in communities who have practiced social distancing early. Excellent researchers at the Leverhulm Centre for Demographic Science, have shown us the differences in outcomes between two provinces in Italy. Simply put, Lodi practiced social distancing beginning on February 23, earlier than Bergamo, beginning on March 8, leading to a decrease in total number of cases and the rapid onset of cases, proving the effectiveness of social distancing practice. See their research here.

Source: Demographic Science COVID-19. (2020, March 15). Retrieved from https://osf.io/fd4rh/?view_only=c2f00dfe3677493faa421fc2ea38e295


3) We are also seeing an indication that individuals who are asymptomatic may be spreading the virus unknowingly. In countries like South Korea, we are seeing mass screening, even innovating the novel ‘screening drive thru’. In a graphic analysis presented here by Andreas Backhaus, comparing South Korea to Italy there is a dramatic surge of cases in ages 20-29. It seems likely these individuals have been spreading the virus unknowingly before testing positive. These findings represent an even greater need for social distancing as you may be spreading the Coronavirus, not having any wherewithal.

Backhaus, A. (2020, March 15). Coronavirus: Why it’s so deadly in Italy. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@andreasbackhausab/coronavirus-why-its-so-deadly-in-italy-c4200a15a7bf


In Canada, we’ve seen increases occurring much like every other country, exponentially. The majority of our cases stemmed from recent travel internationally and those testing positive are mostly self-isolating at home. However, information released today tells us that community spread is upon us. Currently, Canada is reporting 324 cases with Ontario at 145, British Columbia at 73, Alberta at 56,Quebec at 39 and others scattered across the East Coast and the prairies. These numbers are growing all the time. Unfortunately, we have had two deaths of seniors in British Columbia when there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in a nursing home.


Here’s where things get good. Canadians have seen what I would call a comparatively excellent response to the pandemic. Governments have been implementing these practices early throughout the provinces. As of last week, Thursday, Ontario had extended the spring break of all publicly funded schools’ to April 6, a two week extension in order to prevent the spread. Other provinces quickly followed suit and this set off a tidal wave of closures of universities and public spaces, such as libraries and community centres. Early and focused interventions and recommendations from The Public Health Agency of Canada have been swift, and useful. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, is likely getting more airtime than she ever thought possible. I applaud her composure and clear direction. Follow her here to see the latest updates.


The sense of camaraderie across the country can not be understated. I feel a deep sense of pride in the work that our governments federally, provincially and municipally have been doing to slow the spread of the virus. As things accelerate across the country, we have seen new updates and recommendations to slow the spread and increase social distancing. These steps are even more salient, considering the response from our neighbours the United States, who have faltered repeatedly over the last two weeks, as the US is set to follow closely with the steep acceleration curve in Italy.


An article published in the Globe and Mail by Andre Picard reminds us to follow the advice of Mr. Rogers and “look for the helpers” and he’s not wrong. Look for the helpers and remember the health care workers who are bravely heading to work every day, but also remember that right now, some of the biggest helpers can’t be seen because they are in their homes catching up on their favourite Netflix show, trying desperately to entertain their children while they are off school, or calling their grandma at a nursing home because visits have been denied.


Canada is at a crucial stage in the spread of the pandemic and the next few weeks could look bleak. What we should cherish most are the efforts people are making to reduce the spread. Our public health agencies, health care centres, and citizens are working together to disseminate the onset of a disaster. We should not lose sight of what matters most, each other. In the immediate future, we will see the Coronavirus becoming more serious and because of this, the impending economic threat could close small businesses. The way Canadians handle the pandemic will set a tone for the future. We know that the vast majority will be coming out of this in a few months’ time; let’s nurture each other now while we need it, so we can dig our heels in and go the extra mile when it’s over.


Jenna McHugh is the Founding Editor of Vigor. Follow her at @jennoratorr.

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