Learning to Live with COVID

Many of us were hoping that, sometime around now, COVID-19 would depart as quickly as it arrived. Unfortunately, the virus had other plans, assuming a more dangerous form we won't see the last of any time soon.

Which leaves us with little choice but to learn to live with it.

Because we've entered an unwelcome phase in which no individual action – not even vaccination – can by itself keep us safe, we again need government action to protect us. This time, the protection is from those who choose not to protect themselves.

Were we still looking at the initial form of the virus, current vaccination rates might have us in a much safer place. But the Delta variant is at least twice as contagious and can make you sicker faster. Left completely unchecked, each case has the potential to spread to at least six others.

Which brings us to the unvaccinated. Although about 75% of Ontario's eligible population now has two doses, 25% still adds up to millions of people. Add to them the 13% of the population under 12, for whom a vaccine won't likely be approved before early winter, and you have a large pool of people giving the virus a place to live, spread, and possibly mutate further.

According to data presented this week by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer, adults not fully vaccinated are six times more likely to get symptomatic COVID, 30 times more likely to be hospitalized and 48 times more likely to end up in Intensive Care. And although both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are able to spread COVID, the unvaccinated do so far more frequently, not only because they are more likely to be infected but because they may be highly contagious for a longer period of time.

If upwards of 90% of us were fully vaccinated, the virus might have difficulty finding new hosts, cutting transmission to a level where a combination of vaccinations and personal protective measures would keep most of us safe. But we're not there and may never be.

This week, Premier Doug Ford belatedly and reluctantly introduced an Ontario vaccine passport which will be available October 22. Starting a month before that, on September 22, admission to indoor restaurants, theatres, gyms and other non-essential settings are restricted to those who can show proof of double vaccination. (For information on how to show proof of vaccination before then, see the article below).

Vaccine passports have been called for, not only by health experts but by businesses seeing it as their best chance to stay open through a fourth wave that already has too much momentum. In recent weeks, many businesses adopted their own vaccination requirements for both employees and customers.

With the exception of a very small number who qualify for medical exemptions, and for children under 12, those without two doses will find it increasingly difficult to travel or go about everyday life the way they could this summer. Or to be employed outside the home.

Some will see this as punishment, designed to force them into something they don't want to do. And already, there are early indications that it will cause some who were on the fence to fall onto the vaccinated side.

At this point, I'm just hoping that, by making it less likely that the unvaccinated can spread the virus, we can avoid another winter of lockdowns, school closures and business collapses – unacceptable outcomes which, now, are largely preventable.

As kids finally return to the classroom and school yard, I'm reminded of a bittersweet song about how childhood can be a mixture of joy and sadness.