Navigating the funny world of COVID and the “Orange Zone”
By: Roxanne Halverson
OTTAWA, ONTARIO ~~~~~~ December 10, 2020 (LSN) It’s a funny world, the COVID world. It’s a world where you can still fly across the country, if you pass a temperature test, and understand that once you board the plane you will be sitting closer to strangers than you can to many of your own family members. You will be masked but you can remove the mask when you are eating or drinking, beside a total stranger. Kenora, Rainy River, Dryden, Thunder Bay, Terrace Bay Marathon, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ontario
Yet Aunt Jane, who lives just a few blocks away from you, can’t come over for Christmas dinner. If, however, you are Health Minister Patty Hadju you can hop on a private jet and fly from Ottawa to Thunder Bay to visit your family for any number of holiday weekends after lecturing the rest of the country to stay home. It appears Christmas and New Years have been cancelled, but in this COVID world, the question is, will Boxing Day also be cancelled or will big box stores be open for big post-Christmas sales?
In a COVID world you can also still get your pre-Christmas shopping done in crowded big box stores, but you can’t support local merchants because some are in lockdown. You can, in some regions, still dine indoors at restaurants, but you must wear a mask until you are seated, then you can remove it, only to don it again to walk a few feet to to the washroom. On top of that you have government leaders in one breath saying they understand the struggles small businesses face in the COVID world while in the next, telling Canadians to stay home and only go out for necessities. How do they expect expect restaurants and small retailers, to survive if their customers are told to stay home? Therein lies the problem, many COVID rules just don’t make sense and some are just plain befuddling.
Thunder Bay has now moved into a new dimension of the COVID world, the “orange zone”, of Ontario’s COVID Response Framework meaning new restrictions on business, gatherings, and various other elements of people’s everyday lives. https://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/news/local-news/heres-what-the-orange-zone-means-in-covid-19-framework
This apparently is due to rising case numbers in the region. Since the pandemic began the Thunder Bay District Health Unit has recorded a total of 400 cases. Currently its reporting some 118 active cases, of which over half are in the Southbridge Roseview long term care facility (LTCF). That means there may be fifty active cases in the entire district’s total population of 146,000, amounting to three cases per 10,000 people. To date, the District Health Unit has recorded six COVID deaths—including four at Southbridge Roseview and two others, one in the first wave and one in the second. Both individuals had underlying health conditions. Of the current 118 active cases there are two hospital and one in ICU, all of which quite likely have come from the Southbridge Roseview outbreak. Two other long term care residences in the district have declared outbreaks. John Owens Evans retirement centre in Geraldton where one staff member tested positive and The Walford facility in Thunder Bay where another staff member tested positive. The low threshold of a positive test in, either staff or a resident, is to ensure that outbreak management measures can be put in place swiftly. A prudent practice given how quickly the disease can spread in LTCFs.
These outbreaks, particularly Southbridge Roseview one, may be what prompted the Thunder Bay District’s move into the “orange zone”. In justifying it Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said he is concerned about the rising number of cases in the region and their impact on the capacity of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre. Given that only three COVID patients are currently being treated in the health center, it does not appear it is even close to being overburdened. As well, communities within the health district have their own hospitals including Nipigon, Geraldton, Marathon, Manitouwadge and Terrace Bay none of which have COVID patients in their care. Yet, the mayor warned “if the numbers keep rising, another provincially ordered lockdown is possible.” The rhetoric of
Mauro and the region's Medical Officer Dr. Janet Demille is an exaggeration at best, and alarmist at worst—a mishmash of threats and fear. Mauro warned citizens to comply
with the orange zone restrictions and to stay home or else the region could face another lockdown. Dr. Demille sternly advised that “COVID can be anywhere and goes on to claim that “everytime you leave your house to go to the grocery store or the workplace, you have to assume that anyone you come into contact with may have COVID, so it’s important to stay home or outside, as much as possible.” Yet there are only fifty some “community” cases within a geographic area of 230,000 square miles.
How do grocery and retail clerks, pharmacists, cashiers, and other people working in the public square feel about this type of hyperbole? It is a wonder that anyone other than health care workers and cops go to work given her vast over estimation of the threat. It seems she wants people to believe that COVID will get you unless you lock yourself up in your home, or stay outside a lot, you know, now that winter is upon us. What she fails to mention, is something that is clearly outlined in the Federal COVID Tracing Application, that Justin Trudeau is bugging everyone to download. The “app” advises that the only time you are likely to contract coronavirus is when you’re within six feet of someone for more than fifteen minutes. So, if you pop into a store to browse as long as you practice social distancing and wear a mask, your chance of contracting the virus is virtualy nil. In fact, Ontario has just released data that suggests the the retail sector accounts for just 0.1 percent of COVID cases, yet people being told to only go out to shop for necessities and stay home as much as possible.
We hear this rhetoric daily from all levels of government and the mainstream media who have been complicit in stoking the fear with their obsession on new cases, and only new cases, using words like terrifying, alarming and dire. The fact is that of the 12,000 Canadians who have perished due to COVID almost 90 percent were over the age of 70, and of that group, close to 75 percent were over the age of 80. Of the 9500 people who died in the first wave 90 percent had at least one or as many as three other conditions (comordities) ranging from pneumonia and heart or lung disease to diabetes and Alzheimers. To date, no one under the age of 45 has died of COVID that was not battling at least one other ailment. Of those who died in the 70 plus age cohort, some 80 percent were residents of LTCFs. Statistics also reveal that the average age of a COVID victim in Canada is 82, which also happens to be the current average life expectancy of Canadians. This data comes from federal and provincial government health websites and a recently released Statistics Canada report compiling information on COVID impacts during the first wave. The COVID fatality statistics have been remarkedly consistent, meaning that the percentage of fatality rates in all age coherts has remained the same since the pandemic began.
The fact is that most of the elderly who lost their lives due to COVID were not in good health and not able to live on their own. The sadder fact is they died because government leaders and health official, at all levels, failed miserably to recognize the need to ensure contigencies were in place to protect these most vulnerable members of our society. When the virus first appeared on the horizon, it should been been pretty clear that its most likely victims would be the elderly and particularly those residing in LTCFs. Such facilities are frequently over-crowded, under-staffed, often house four residents to a room. This, on top of the fact that things such as bathrooms, dining rooms and recreational factilites shares, makes for a perfect storm should the virus get into the such places. Does anyone not remember that things got so horrible in facilities in Ontario and Quebec that the military was called in to stem the carnage.
Shocked and mortified by how their lack of foresight resulted in so much death and suffering in LTCFs, governments pledged to do better in preparation for the second wave. On November 23rd, Ontario released directives that include increased testing of all general staff, volunteers, and careworkers based based zone levels. https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-long-term-care-home-surveillance-testing?_ga=2.5866106.810879157.1607452076-1811276199.1596019983
Yet despite these new measures, the pattern of increasing COVID cases and deaths in LTCFs continues to emerge, and provincial and municipal government leaders are again resorting to increased restrictions. Many, such as Mayor Mauro has, are threatening lockdowns to curb community spread in an effort to protect people in these facilities. Given that 80 percent of the 9500 Canadians who succumbed to COVID during the first wave were LTCF residents, when the entire country was in full lockdown from March through to June, it should be clear such extreme measures were not very effective in protecting these people. There are also an increasing number of scientists and medical experts who are advising against lockdowns? Even the WHO has stated that lockdowns and extreme restrictions do more harm than good. It would seem govenments at all level are doing what it is akin Albert Einstein’s definiation of insanity “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Many provinces, including Ontario, have reduced contact tracing due to the overwhelming number of cases, but wouldn’t it make more sense to target contact tracing to these facilities, given they account for 27 percent of COVID cases, and result in killing over 80 percent of the residents who contract it. As for rapid testing, some test kits have been approved by Health Canada and distributed to the provinces. Ontario has already deployed some of these kits to LTCF, but it is unclear as to how and when they will be used.
Now a surprise early shipment of the 250,000 units of the Pfizer vaccine is on its way, scheduled to arrive by the end of December. Given this vaccine requires two shots to be effective it’s really only 125,000 doses. We still don’t know when Canada receive its next shipments and the Liberal government has been reluctant to give Canadians any firm dates. This is largely due to the collapse of partnership it entered into with China to produce a vaccine, when China introduced new “rules” that halted the shipping of vaccines beyond its borders. Thus Canada was late in placing orders with other pharmiceutical companies who were well on their way to developing a vaccine, placing it behind the US, the United Kingdom, Mexico and numerous other European countries, many of which have already launched major immunization programs.
The Federal Government has announced that these 125,000 vaccines will be distributed to provinces on a per capita basis. Most provinces has already indicated that the first priority will be to vaccinate front line health care workers in LTCFs and hospitals. Given that there are over 400,000 nurses with active licenses practicing in in Ontario alone, it is clear this first batch of vaccines isn’t going to go very far anywhere. In the meantime, we can hope that the rapid test kits, and the more intensive testing a staff in LTCF, and perhaps the use of contact tracing in these facilities will help stem the tide of the viruses among their residents. What didn’t work and still isn’t, are ever increasing restrictions, lockdowns and now the introduction of arrests and outrageously high fines for people who “break the rules”. It truly is a funny world, the COVID world.
By: Roxanne Halverson
Former TBT anchor and reporter
Living in Ottawa (retired RCMP Senior Emergency Management Planner