Dangerous Doubling

Your choice: a one-time payment of one million dollars or a penny that doubles every day for a month. The mathematics of doubling causes the penny is worth more than $1 million by day 28 and more than $5 million by day 30.

Thankfully, COVID cases double at longer intervals, but the principle is the same.

At the beginning of September, when the alarm about rising numbers started being sounded, Toronto’s weekly new case total was 265. A month later it was 2001, and two months after that – this week – we’ve jumped to 4,018.

If the current rate of increase continues, or if we see a surge on top of the existing surge, by spring we could see staggering consequences: a very high number of deaths, hospitals unable to cope, schools closed, people unable to work – an almost total shutdown of our society.

A glimpse of that potential reality should be all we need to decide that this is somewhere we don’t want to go. To change course, we need the right combination of government intervention and personal cooperation.

The Ontario Government and Toronto Public Health have, for the most part, steered us on a responsible course of restrictions related to risk. Compare Ontario to Alberta, where an ideological bias against restrictions has led to triple the number of cases per capita and the setting up of field hospitals.

But an alarming number of us are still not taking this seriously enough. This causes a rise in cases and that, in turn, leads to more restrictions.

The latest new measures, announced today by Toronto Public Health, are an abrupt change in guidelines for school children. Effective Monday, any child with any new or worsening COVID symptom must stay home and self-isolate and they either get a negative test or have been home for 10 days. Siblings in the same household must also self-isolate, even if they do not have symptoms.

Common symptoms are fever, cough, headache, stuffy or runny nose, loss of taste, muscle ache and fatigue, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, and sore throat or pain when swallowing.

Obviously, having one of these symptoms is common, especially in winter, and the new guidelines will create problems for the many parents unable to work from home. Toronto Public Health said that the measures were taken to control increased school cases and to increase the likelihood that schools can remain open.

The move came after random asymptomatic testing at Thorncliffe Park Public School found 26 cases, prompting three teachers to walk off the job, citing unsafe conditions, and the closing of the school until at least the middle of next week.

School-age children are much less likely to become seriously ill from the virus and often show no symptoms at all. But I have seen no evidence that they are less likely to get COVID or to spread it.

We need to get through the next four or five months, after which the situation may get much better. In the meantime, Janis Joplin describes what this pandemic is starting to feel like.

– John