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Local First – COVID coping November episode

Hello, bonjour, and welcome to Local First and to a new episode of COVID Coping. I’m Candice Vetter reporting remotely.

With the news of how and where the COVID-19 virus spreads changing rapidly, it is time for an update.

It looks like there may be new restrictions in place, just in time for Christmas, which should be no surprise. It has become obvious that community transmission is raging. Public health officials and governments have pointed fingers at various activities and sectors of society, but realistically, almost any activity involving interacting with people is dangerous and requires extreme precautions.

So, who can you socialize with? Well, if you have been socializing with only one or two other households throughout the pandemic, and they have also only socialized with your household, that is the simplest.

Something Dr. Theresa Tam said makes perfect sense, but did not get a lot of media attention. She described social bubbles as needing to be monogamous. That means only socializing within one bubble, not with people having overlapping bubbles. This message appears to be the least heard, and one of the most important.

If anyone in any of those households has a child in school or daycare, or a job in health care or with the general public, that is not the same as monogamous to your bubble. People with family members in those settings should probably just not socialize, unless it’s outdoors and far apart.

Confusing messages from politicians and from health officials, such as allowing larger indoor gatherings, have likely contributed to the spread, both of misinformed ideas and of the disease itself.

It’s hard to say why larger gatherings were allowed at all, especially in the cases of churches, indoor businesses that did not require masks or have effective ventilation, or many families or workers meeting in public settings.

And what about work? There have been numerous anecdotal reports of workplaces with managers who did not take the virus seriously and started demanding staff return to work, or be fired, even if their presence in the workplace was not essential. Yet there is no penalty for those companies or their managers. Where are the premiers on that? Being afraid of speaking out against business, is not an excuse for encouraging bad judgement.

Other workplace decisions have been problematic. In Nunavut, a mining company, which I will not name, had been testing workers coming in on rotation at the airport in Edmonton before flying into camp. However, they decided to save money and quit doing that. Result? The camp caught the COVID and it spread quickly. That is simply irresponsible and there should be penalties.

Bringing a very contagious, life-threatening disease into Nunavut, which had had no cases, and has a minimal health care system, was not just a mistake, but practically criminal. People who “don’t believe” do not have the right to force their unbelief on other people and risk their lives.

Also, while some schools have been able to adequately distance children from each other, others have not had the space. Depending on what report I read on what day, it appears that transmission through schools can account for 25 to 40 per cent of case transmissions. So the odds of catching it from a child in school are quite high.

Parties, of course, are major spreading events. In Sudbury, which had very few cases, a single Hallowe’en party caused 40 new infections. Forty! At parties and social gatherings it is just too difficult to stay apart from others. Alcohol also disinhibits normal cautious behavior, so that a person is more likely to forget to be careful.

Finally, because the virus is more airborne than first expected, there is no way to safely avoid it if in an indoor gathering. Yes, there is no way to truly avoid it. If a single person in a group has it, odds are high that most of the rest of attendees will catch it.

Until a rapid test is widely available, and with assessment centres only testing symptomatic or exposed persons, it will be very difficult to keep track of who has the disease.

So the safest alternatives are to avoid all public gatherings, do as much as possible of work or shopping or appointments online, and only visit friends outdoors and wearing masks.

A big mistake made last spring, particularly in Italy and Spain, was not allowing residents to leave their homes at all. As it turned out, homes in crowded cities became hotbeds of infection, while mental and physical health declined precipitously because of the lack of outdoor activities.

We now know, and should have known then, that engaging in as many outdoor activities as you can, in uncrowded spaces, is the safest way to maintain distance while getting fresh air, exercise and even social interactions. If there are many people in the parks or on the trails, wear a mask. Whether wearing a mask or not, don’t approach people, stay two metres apart and try to position yourself and others so that wind isn’t blowing directly from one person to another. Don’t touch anything you can avoid.

As usual, wash your hands as often as you get the opportunity, avoid public transport, and wear a three-layer, tightly woven mask. And if it’s a mask that won’t be reused, dispose of it in the garbage. I have seen more masks on the ground than drink containers or cigarette butts lately, and that is disgusting.

At the beginning of the pandemic a lot of the focus was on surfaces which may be contaminated. However, since then evidence suggests that, while cleaning surfaces, washing newly purchased items and extensive handwashing are helpful, community spread may be through microscopic droplets which hang in the air for some time, a lot longer than the larger droplets expelled with coughing and sneezing.

Viral load is major contributor to catching the disease and to its seriousness if contracted. By reducing the amount of time spent in a place where it could be spreading, the risk is also reduced. So health care or retail workers may want to refuse very long shifts, if they possibly can. And of course, workers going from place to place, whether PSWs in long term care homes who cannot get decent hours in one establishment, or supply teachers moving among many schools because of outdated union rules, are a big part of the problem.

Why provincial governments have not strengthened employee protection in those situations is another question. Employers are allowed to hire numerous part-timers instead of providing fulltime jobs, so that those employers can avoid paying benefits, even CPP and EI. Why is that allowed? Forty years ago it wasn’t. All employees, whether part-time or fulltime, unless hired very temporarily, were given the basic benefits of CPP and EI. It is time the provinces went back to that. There would then be no advantage to hiring only part-timers, and staff would not be forced to work multiple jobs to make a living wage. I mean, duh.

That is totally within provincial powers, so why aren’t they providing that basic protection? I know someone who has worked for several years at a major drugstore chain, which I will not name, and for over a year has been working 30 hours per week, but she’s still considered “part-time” and has no access to benefits. If they laid her off tomorrow she wouldn’t be eligible for EI. How is that allowed? Too much corporate power in the world is one of the causes of the pandemic. Will it change? Or will the almighty corporate lobbyists win again?

But back to COVID. Treatments have changed, with intravenous steroids shown to be helpful, CPAP machines helpful, hydroxychloroquine unhelpful, the anti-viral Remdesivir not helpful, and intubation not as helpful as first thought. Keeping patients lying on their backs is bad—as someone who’s suffered from frequent pneumonia I can attest to that. It is way easier to breathe sitting propped up than lying down.

Aftereffects, even of non-serious cases, can be long lasting and severe, are not fully known, and may not be for years. I personally know two people who had severe heart damage after getting the disease—leading to permanent disability. Yes, permanent, and they were not old people.

One change I hope remains is telling staff not to go to work sick. I have railed against that for years. No one has a right to infect others, period. Good advice for flu season, too.

As for influenza, sufficient vaccines are late in arriving, but if all the COVID precautions are taken, it would be difficult to catch a cold or flu, and that may help until vaccinations are caught up.

If you have a COVID related story you would be willing to share, I am very interested in hearing from you. Contact me, Candice Vetter, at

CJRO, last on the dial, first for local news.

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