Deep breath. We aren’t there yet.

We’ve all been at this awhile now, and we’re hitting a hard part. The weather is finally changing and bringing us better days, and we could all use the sunshine. The grass is roaring with bright yellow dandelions, taking their turns transforming into fluffy wishes. Most of us need haircuts, our gardens need tending, and with businesses and services starting to reopen we could almost forget that the invisible threat we’ve all been working against through these months is still here, all around us.

But it is here, and with the brighter forecasts this week came disappointing news for a lot of people. Camps, sports, concerts, summer programming, weddings, trips – canceled. People are bummed. It’s one thing to stay home and watch Netflix when the weather is miserable and nothing special is happening. It’s something else when you’re seeing months of fun ahead of you go up and smoke, some at a considerable financial loss.

Some regions have had a lot of success keeping their rates of infection low, or getting them under control (we see you, New Brunswick!). Other areas have struggled more, and our numbers of infections and deaths continue to climb. Globally, we’re not where we’d hope to be, seeing new records in single-day increases. After these months of sacrifice, that’s frustrating. We’ve given up so much and so many people are struggling, and we still can’t get numbers down. As regions begin to open back up, we’ll see those numbers tick up higher.

Two other things crept in with the rising temperatures this week:

1) Increased discussion about the inevitability of a second wave. As much as we’d like to hope otherwise, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells us, “We’ve never had a pandemic in recorded history that has not had a second wave.” We can hope for the best, but it’s vital we prepare for this to hit again, to hit harder, and to realize that it’s likely a second wave may coincide with flu season. It’s important that we hear Dr. Henry, that we listen to public health experts instead of jumping to our own conclusions. We might look at the numbers compared to the initial models and feel they aren’t as bad as we’d expected. It’s vital we don’t see this as our having initially overreacted, but instead as all of these measures paying off and saving countless lives – so far. This week Dr. David Fisman shared his thoughts with the House of Commons standing committee on health. It’s worth your time. If we hadn’t taken these steps, our health care system would have been overwhelmed, completely unable to manage the crush of COVID-19. Too many would have been sick together and we wouldn’t have the resources to care for them, and we’d find ourselves in the terrible position Italy was in, having to make decisions about who would or wouldn’t receive treatment. We’ve avoided that, thankfully. But because we’ve slowed the spread of infection, it continues to circulate and we’ll continue to be vulnerable for longer. Keeping the rates low will help keep resources available, but as long as we haven’t been exposed to COVID-19, we’re vulnerable to its effects in the future. That uncertainty is hard, and we have to proceed carefully. We can’t just go back to how things were before.

To put this in context, keeping infection rates low so that resources are available doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. It only means there’s room for you and your loved ones in the ICU.

We need to find our way forward, but we must do it with care and the advice of public health experts. We can’t all stay home forever, but this won’t get better if we throw caution to the wind and lose what little advantage we have. It won’t get better if moving forward means exponentially more hospitalizations and deaths.

2) Tension. As some stores and services reopen and others must remain closed, as some places require masks and some people object, as some are disappointed about the loss of their summer plans and others are just struggling, there’s anger rising in our interactions. People are losing their patience and tempers and are beginning to take it out on each other.

We can’t do this to each other. It won’t make things better.

It’s okay to be sad that camps are closed.

It’s okay to be disappointed that baseball is canceled.

It’s okay to be stressed that you can’t get a refund on your flights.

It’s okay to be angry that all of this is different.

All of these feelings are valid. It doesn’t help to tell someone they’re wrong for feeling these things.

And it’s important to recognize that while we’re all going through this, we aren’t all going through it the same way, and some people are facing far greater hardships right now. Some people are struggling to pay for groceries. To keep the lights on. Some families with loved ones in long-term care homes haven’t seen their loved ones in months. Some families can’t hug their loved ones who work in hospitals. Some families have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and won’t hug them again.

How do we manage this? We respect each other and we consider our audience. COVID-19 is bad for everyone. It isn’t bad for everyone in the same ways, but we’re all hurting and few of us are our best selves during this time. Give yourself and those around you a little more leeway during this time. We could all use it. Try to be considerate when having these conversations and understand that the person you’re talking to might be dealing with something big. You wouldn’t complain about pregnancy to a friend who just had a miscarriage. You wouldn’t talk about how much you hate yard work with someone who just lost their home.

If a conversation is too much for you, it’s okay not to engage, and take space if you need to. Take care of yourself.

It’s okay to talk about how hard this is. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of how much worse it would be if we weren’t taking care right now, and how great the potential for devastation is. The tricky thing about public health is we never know whose lives we’re protecting with our prevention and care. We can only see the effects when we fail. Every one of us who gets through this with our health, our lives, and our loved ones is incredibly fortunate.

We all have more work to do, more care to take, if we’re to get through this with as little damage as possible. We can’t take for granted how important some of the simpler steps are.

  1. Stay home unless essential. The best way to not get COVID-19 is to not come in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Protect yourself, your community, and our frontline workers by avoiding public spaces, and stay at least 6′ or 2 metres away from anyone outside your household. If you can’t maintain that distance, it’s recommended you wear a non-medical mask to avoid spreading COVID-19 through droplets when you speak. As things open up, make careful choices and take every step you can to reduce risk as you come into more contact with others, for you and for them.
  2. Masks. Do you have questions? Dr. Jennifer Kwan has put together this fantastic guide for you. Some businesses are now requiring customers to wear masks. Its a good time to read up and understand your options. Wearing a non-medical mask won’t prevent you from getting COVID-19, but could reduce the rates of infection by limiting the spread through droplets. My mask protects you, your mask protects me.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. That’s two happy birthdays, or try CHEO’s Dr. Nisha Thampi’s handwashing song to help you make sure you’re getting every part of your hands. If you’re out, use hand sanitizer when it isn’t possible to wash your hands, and carry sanitizing wipes when possible for shopping carts.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Yes, even if you’re wearing a mask.
  5. Stay home if you’re sick, and if you have flu-like symptoms or any reason to believe you may have contracted COVID-19, inquire about getting tested. Ontario has a self-assessment quiz available online here.
  6. Don’t touch your face. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and gains entry through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Don’t touch. Don’t.
  7. Clean frequently touched surfaces like door handles, doorbells, light switches, and your mailbox. Try to open public doors with your sleeve or elbow, and wash your hands (or sanitize) after.
  8. Get your flu shot when it’s available. Every year our hospitals go into surge protocol to deal with flu season. It’s an incredible burden on our system, killing ~3500 Canadians each season and hospitalizing a further ~12,200, not to mention all the visits to ERs, doctor’s offices, and clinics. We can’t afford that on top of COVID-19. We can’t. If you don’t normally get a flu shot, you need to this year. (But you should normally get a flu shot. It isn’t COVID-19, but it’s still a very serious respiratory illness.)
  9. Donate to the food bank as you’re able. The need is there year-round, and it’s greater with COVID-19. There’s a lot that’s out of our control right now, but no one should go without food. If you’re in a position to help, please consider giving to Food Banks Canada or Feeding America.

We aren’t there yet, but we’ve come a long way since this started. While this week has been hard for a lot of people, I can’t help but be reminded of how much good we’ve all done for each other through these months. We’ve all put our lives on hold to keep each other alive. We have lost too many people in this time, and too many families are hurting. Let’s hold them close in our hearts as we look to the months ahead of us, and let’s be careful not to forget them. There’s more to come and we don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. I’ve always found uncertainty difficult to deal with, and we’re all stuck without clear answers for the foreseeable future.

But it won’t always be like this. This is one of the hard parts, and we need to go through it awhile longer. It’s okay to acknowledge how hard it is. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other while we’re in this.

And let’s take the small wins as they come. I hope the sun is shining where you are and you’re finally able to enjoy some warmth this weekend. On this weekend I’d normally have my house and yard filled with friends and their kids. We can’t be together that way this year, but we’re well, and we’ll come together again when it’s safe.

Something to look forward to.

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