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We've done okay with COVID, don't blow it now

This week's Market Squared marks nearly a year since the start of pandemic here in Guelph, our success in making it this far, and why we can't give up now.
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On Monday it’s March, and in another couple of weeks it will be the first anniversary of the initiation of pandemic restrictions.

On March 15, the City of Guelph started closing facilities and taking “enhanced precautions,” on March 16, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health diagnosed our first regional case of the virus, and on March 17, Premier Doug Ford declared a province-wide state of emergency. We were off to the races then, and nearly one year later we’re still racing to get back to normal.

It’s easy to feel angry at the situation, and it’s easy to feel angry about the, at times, pitiful government response, but for a change I want to focus on things we should take pride in almost a year into the pandemic.

As committee of the whole gets its quarterly update on the municipal response to COVID on Monday, I will think about how Mayor Cam Guthrie and the rest of our political leaders in this city have not tried to pretend to be public health experts.

A lot of politicians have been very performative, acting like they’ve long been hobbyists in the area of public health policy or statistical modelling, but they’ve been actors reading a script, and in some cases, they were doing some improv on the fly. Here in Guelph, health decisions have been left largely in the hands of those with expertise while politicians have rightly focused on politics.

And speaking of politics, we need to acknowledge that our city council has presented a united front on science and good public health policy. Sadly, not everywhere in Ontario has representatives that speak with one voice on matters of science and medicine. A truthful voice.

Earlier this week, the deputy mayor of Centre Wellington was removed from his position after throwing his lot in with a group of anti-science politicians from the federal and provincial levels. It’s hard to say that you care about people when you so nonchalantly reject the primary way by which people are protected from the virus: wearing a mask.

On that subject, we need to pay tribute to our local Cassandra of the COVID crisis, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer.

Mercer not only was one of the first health authorities in Canada, if not the first, to institute a mandatory mask order, her health unit moved ahead and established a vaccine booking system weeks ahead of the Government of Ontario. We started three weeks behind other health units in receiving first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but we’ve kept pace with the provincial rate of vaccination.

But we must also salute the people of Guelph, who, for the most part, have been so good about following stay at home orders, and other public health measures. Sure, there have been bad apples, but they have not spoiled the bunch, and as this week ended, there were only 90 active COVID cases in the city.

From care-mongering to shop local campaigns, the people and the City of Guelph have been united trying to help everyone in the Royal City get through this crisis safely and securely. Has it always been successful? No, of course not, there’s no such thing as perfect, but there has been the good-faith effort has been heartening as we’ve tried to keep calm and carry on as best we could.

But I do now sense that there are cracks in that unity.

On the nightly news, we see vaccine distribution covered through the lens of a horse race. “Today, Country X gave out more vaccine than Canada, and we’re now in ninth place ahead of other countries that somehow care less about vaccinating their people than our slacker PM in Ottawa.”

The Canadian inferiority complex doesn’t allow for such real-world considerations like having no vaccine-creation capacity, or that fact that three companies are producing vaccine for 7.5 billion people in the largest inoculation program in human history.

To put this in context, California has two million more people than the whole of Canada. We’ve got 0.48 per cent of the world population, and we’re behind the whole of Latin America in GDP. Having said that though, I guarantee that nearly everyone in Canada will get a COVID vaccine before even a third of the population in Latin America, so let’s keep things in context.

Now, nearly a year into the pandemic reality, I do understand that itchy feeling. I understand the desire to cast off the protective armour forced upon us by the pandemic. I’m not even thinking about extravagant tropical vacations.  I would just love the chance to watch a movie in a movie theatre again.

We have worked so hard, and we have shown such great patience. It would be a shame to self-sabotage like the titular rabbit in the parable of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” to look backwards in self-satisfaction before tripping over our own feet just short of the finish line.