Walking Through the Storm

At this point in our year-long war against COVID, we’re winning some battles but losing others.

Vaccinations in long-term care homes have been overwhelmingly successful in preventing deaths and serious illness. And, if we were still only battling the original form of the virus, we’d be looking at a continued decline in cases. The reproduction rate for classic COVID is less than one – meaning that each case, on average, infects less than one new person.

But, as predicted, the much more transmissible variants are taking over, now accounting for almost 70% of new cases in Toronto. The reproduction number for the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant is around 1.2, causing case numbers to surge far faster than vaccinations can reduce them.

In Toronto this week, case numbers soared, with two days of more than 1000 cases marking the end of the week. Province-wide, cases rose to an 1855 daily average, with two consecutive days of well above 2000. Although deaths are down, thanks to vaccinations in nursing homes, hospitalizations are up. More than 400 COVID patients are in Intensive Care Units, triple the number at which large numbers of people are endangered because surgeries are postponed.

So why is the Province loosening restrictions? It certainly isn’t because they are listening to their own COVID Science Advisory Table, which is calling for stricter measures to once again prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.

Health experts are also warning that the most common variant also tends to make you sicker sooner, and there is mounting evidence that younger people are more likely to experience severe illness than is the case with the original strain.

Last week, at the City’s request, the Province opened up outdoor dining in Toronto. This week, it is similarly opening up outdoor fitness and sports training for up to 10 people. That’s because transmission is far less likely outdoors, provided that rules are followed.

Indoor activities are a much higher risk – and the City did not ask for indoor personal care activities such as hair cutting or styling to be allowed, as the Province today announced would be happening in Toronto in two weeks. Likewise for the loosening of restrictions on indoor dining that the Province imposed on Red Zone areas.

Even before the emergence of the variants, indoor dining was known to be high risk for virus transmission. Today, a large outbreak was announced at a hair salon in Pickering.

Failure to contain the variants would likely lead to another business shutdown and possible school closures. If the government is smart, and we are as well, we can avoid that. The right recipe can get us through this to a summer when most of us will be vaccinated and we really can safely resume our normal lives.

In the meantime, we can take some inspiration from the Bluebelles, featuring a young Patti Labelle.

– John