Over 1,200 people tuned in virtually to hear local community leaders discuss the importance of staying home, the upcoming vaccine, a possible third wave and fatigue from the virus Thursday night while also answering live questions.
The webinar Finding the Balance During COVID-19 is part of the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington's (CMHAWW) monthly video series with Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik and Helen Fishburn, mental health expert executive director of CMHAWW where they aim to discuss relevant information and provide calm reassurance related to the virus. The series is sponsored by Zajdlik's charity Bracelet of Hope.
Moderated by community leader Marva Wisdom, the series welcomes a special guest each episode, this month being Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
Mercer said her recent letter to the public where she advised people to stay home — as visiting homes are now the leading cause of transmission — was a message she held in her heart for a while.
“Sometimes we can't always put what we want people to do in very plain language and sometimes, all of us in health care, the messages are hard and ones that people don't want to hear especially now with COVID-19,” said Mercer.
With the current circumstances, she said the number one behaviour that is causing the most community cases is one most people likely don’t want to stop: socializing with our friends and family.
She said when WDG Public Health traced cases, it found that most cases were coming from private social gatherings such as birthday parties, sleepovers, game nights and playdates and just parties in general.
“Almost always those were the root cause,” said Mercer, stressing that people are getting the virus from friends and family.
“I want to say it's about the people in our lives. It's not about the things, the doorknobs in our lives. It's about the people.”
Mercer said the safety protocols placed in schools really are working because Public Health has seen very little transmission rates in schools.
“Sleepovers and playdates. That’s the way kids get it,” said Mercer.
Zajdlik said while the provincial guidelines allow 10 people to gather indoors given that they’re all wearing masks and distancing themselves six-feet apart from one another, it’s a bad idea to physically gather if it's not absolutely necessary.
“I think those guidelines are going to shift and change very quickly,” said Zajdlik, also adding that the rules can't change fast enough for how quickly this virus is changing.
“The provinces around us and the country are literally shutting down, closing borders, going into the red, halting any socializing outside of your intimate personal household bubble.”
Mercer said that even when there are 10 people wearing masks and distanced in an office setting, over time, if one person gets infected, there can be infections in the office.
“If people are talking like on the phone, again we see more people affected and if anybody takes their mask off to have a drink, to have something to eat, then the rates of infection go up,” said Mercer.
Mercer said if people actually change their behaviour and adhere to her letter, it will take two to three weeks before the community can see a difference.
“It’s not impossible to stop the trainwreck that we’re on in our area,” said Mercer adding that we can keep our restaurants and our businesses open if we just make a difference.
Zajdlik said if people don’t follow the guidelines there will be a third wave in the new year.
“If that happens. I believe we will go into lockdown,” said Zajdlik, reminding the community that Mercer was the first officer of public health in the province to enforce mandatory masks.
“She did that in June way ahead of everyone else. I think that’s why we’re in such good shape in this region,” said Zajdlik.
“She is brave. She is courageous. She is smart. Follow her.”
Zajdlik also said what’s happened in the scientific community in terms of getting the vaccines ready for distribution is nothing short of miraculous.
On Wednesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Canada will be receiving four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and two million doses of Moderna's vaccine between January and March of 2021 with the priority of those getting vaccinated going to those in long-term care homes and care homes.
“It’s massive. What’s been accomplished is absolutely huge,” said Zajdlik about the mRNS vaccines.
“We’ve never had vaccines made from mRNA which is a type of genetic material but there's been 30 years of research that has gone into creating this vaccine,” she said further clarifying that while the technology has been out for a long time, scientists have been waiting for the opportunity to use it.
“This vaccine and technology, they were made for a time like this.”
“I have no concerns at all about getting this vaccine,” said Zajdlik stressing that if the community wants, she will get it first.
“Please line up to get this vaccine. It is going to change everything and it will get us to the spring where we just see a massive light at the end of the tunnel.”
Fishburn said from a mental health standpoint, everyone is pretty sick of COVID-19 and many of the precautions we need to take are mentally challenging because they are the very things that keep us mentally well such as spending time with loved ones showing physical forms of affection.
“It's counterintuitive actually for our mental health in a pandemic,” said Fishburn.
She said sometimes doing the right thing can feel very wrong so it's really no surprise that we’ve seen a resurgence in positive cases.
“It doesn't mean that people don’t care. It doesn’t mean that people aren't concerned. I think really what it means is that people are tired. They’re weary of all the rules, all the regulations that keep them apart.
Fishburn said the resurgence in cases also reflects on how difficult behavioural change is especially when it is long-lasting.
“This is not a short crisis,” said Fishburn, adding that it is really important for people to acknowledge and remember how difficult this change actually is.
Fishburn said it's important to take a break from all the COVID-19 related information and take a mental health break during the pandemic.
Tracey Curtis, president of the Rotary Club of Guelph who briefly made an appearance in the webinar said a few things the community can do to get through this time is to support the community by shopping local, stay kind and patient, donate to Zajdlik’s Bracelet of Hope charity (all donations from the webinar go directly to the charity) and also participate in Sparkles in the Park 2020 as Christmas can be celebrated safely with the community.
A recording of the webinar can be accessed here.