Cases of novel coronavirus infection in the United States are soaring—and the pace continues to accelerate. Canada is set to follow suit.
The American COVID-19 trajectory, with a two week lag, is remarkably similar to that of Italy’s, although the American infection rate now appears to be increasing further still.
On Saturday, for the first time, the US had more new cases than any other nation, including Italy. It will likely surpass all countries in terms of total cases in the near future.
Thus far Canada’s curve also mirrors the Italian experience.
Unfortunately, this was all freakishly predictable weeks ago. These warnings were not heeded in the US, nor in several other countries who are now paying the price.
For Canada, it remains to be seen whether our measures were enacted early enough. Likely the curve will be flattened somewhat, but by how much remains an open-ended question.
As we continue along this ordeal we would do well to change course where we can. However, as officials attempt to point out, due to the lag, efforts taken today will only have an effect two weeks from now. Infectious outbreaks—and measures taken to combat them--can only be evaluated in retrospect, through the proverbial rear view mirror.
Unsurprisingly, given its glib disownment of all things rational and scientific, the US government—with a paleolithic reprobate at its helm—has utterly bungled the response and its people will now pay the price for its slothful inactivity over the past two months.
The price will be a brutal one.
The problem with the COVID-19 pandemic is not so much the death and illness the virus causes directly, though this is clearly tragic and impactful to all those affected—either directly through infection, or indirectly through the illness of someone we know and care for.
But the real impact from a system and societal point of view unfolds as the health care response to infected cases siphons massive amounts of resources from other areas of an already strapped apparatus. At some point the system’s capacity becomes overwhelmed and very difficult decisions will need to be made.
Just look at Italy. Who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t? Real dilemmas about, for instance, whether or not to proceed with lifesaving cancer surgery or to redeploy scarce resources. Decisions literally about life and death.
We in Canada are fortunate enough, however, that we can still take some mitigating measures. We are very close to the tipping point, but perhaps not quite past it. We have had the immense good fortune of being one of the last industrialized countries to be affected by the virus and so have had the time to prepare.
Over the next week, the US will almost certainly become the new global epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will have more cases than Italy in a couple of days and will soon pass the number in China.
A massive tsunami is on our doorstep.
The border to our south must be sealed. At present, the border is closed to “non-essential” travel. But the list of “essential” reasons for travel remains broad, and seems overly weighted towards maintaining the patency of trade channels for the purposes of commerce, among other things.
Clearly there are essential goods that need to flow in each direction. But we should take a hard look at just what “essential” means in this context. Stringent measures should not be seen as permanent—this crisis won’t last forever—but for the time being, we need to be ruthless with trade policy in order to save lives.
Nevertheless, we know that COVID-19 has arrived and so the strategy must also incorporate this reality.
Given the lack of treatment, beyond oxygen and mechanical ventilation for the sickest of patients—as of yet there is no proven treatment and no vaccine—public health authorities are left with the rudimentary strategies of social distancing and quarantining when appropriate. Keep people apart as much as possible.
To a large degree, this now seems to be taking place and Canadians should be applauded for this. None of this is easy, and has come as a jolting shock for many.
These are transformative times and there is much that will need to be reckoned when the storm begins to ease.
In the meanwhile, there will undoubtedly be hard times for many. But perhaps this is also an opportunity to see each other through a different lens. To appreciate, and maybe even to nurture, our common humanity.
We are in this together.