EDITORIAL: Welcome To The Pandemic

By John Swartz

We are not in the midst of an apocalypse, it’s a pandemic. They are not the same thing.

Many people are approaching the current COVID – 19 crisis with a level head, but it’s hard to remain level when a significant number of people are going to extremes buying out entire stores of toilet paper, sanitizers and water (Water? what’s wrong with what comes out of the tap? It’s just as good as anything else bottled in Simcoe County). Many others are buying into every post they see on social media – and most of it is bunk.

Then there are also those who just don’t get the severity of the situation and think it’s all overblown. Are you in this camp? Can I have a word with you? Keep your opinion for yourself. Do what you want, but you have to understand that all the recent measures being taken are for your parents or grandparents, your brother or sister whose health hasn’t been so good the last few years; you know, the high risk folks your indifference unduly jeopardizes.

You may not care too much for your own health, but take a moment to realize you staying home, or away from other people stops a path of transmission for a virus which by all accounts is the most virulent we’ve seen, more virulent than SARS, MERs or the H1N1 flu virus.

Wait, I’m not done with you. You may not get sick with this. Chances are about 50/50 you, or anyone you know will not get sick. But, you can be carrying the virus right now, likely are, and just don’t know and may never know it. You could be passing it on to someone, heck I could be in this boat, and making someone else’s life hell, or worse.

Cutting Through The Junk

Since Friday I have been researching Canadian and American sources trying to learn as much as I can from folks who have been in the battle with the other diseases. Many of those folks are researchers and doctors at Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, University of Toronto or worked on the ground in Africa with the Ebola outbreak. I’ve listened to the news conferences (yes even to that goofball’s south of the border). I listened to many podcasts on the current situation. In every case all the people I sourced for my own edification are PhD’s or MD’s. I also listened to the talking heads, but only to gauge how they are messaging this thing, and many of them really don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

Here’s what I learned and hopefully some of the myths can be vanquished right here and now. This virus is not the most deadly in comparison to the ones mentioned already. However the speed it is spreading at is almost unprecedented, which makes it potentially the most deadly.

Remember SARS? Not the concert, but the hype. We didn’t go to these extremes shutting things down and cleaning where we just cleaned, and really making an effort to remember not to shake hands, etc. No we didn’t. That’s because it spread more slowly and the medical community was able to track it better. This thing, with no thanks to the massive failure south of the border, nobody has a terrifically good handle on. Frankly, most of the educated class I’ve been listening to are just short of horrified at how the virus is spreading. The outcomes of infection they’re used to, but what is scarring them is how logistically unprepared we are to deal with this.

The logistics are going to make things very bad for those who get very sick from the virus. Because of the speed of the spread our hospitals are going to get overwhelmed. Earlier today reports from Italian doctors recounted how they had to make choices among the extremely sick regarding whether patient A or patient B gets treatment because they didn’t have the facilities, ICU’s, ventilators, etc. to effectively treat ALL the patients.

Do we want this here?

It Can Pay To Listen, To The Right People

It doesn’t have to be like elsewhere. Listen to the government. Why? Because for once they are listening to the experts. They really are. If you watch the press conferences you can see it in their eyes, their faces, the way they talk. This is no election campaign husting they’re on.

Do you know how hard it is to get any politician to act so quickly? It’s bloody hard. I’ve been following closely, and interacting with politicians for 40 years, 25 professionally, and I’ve never seen this before.

Some of you shouldn’t second guess them about what to do with your behavior. Think for a minute. Have you consulted with the top medical expects personally in the last two weeks? Ever? Have you consulted with the top researchers in one of the top countries for medical research in the last two weeks? I’m guessing you haven’t.

Today I listened to reporters asking incredulous questions of the panel announcing new restrictions and measures. They questioned why the Canada/U.S. border isn’t being closed, some out right asking if it was a political decision or medical. Had reporters listened at all, they would have heard Chrystia Freeland, Bill Blair, Marc Garneau and the other panelists state while it could be done, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot in a number of ways.

Top of the list, we have food now, shut the border and you think you’ve seen empty shelves at the grocery store, wait until the produce and meat departments are bare. We have so much cross border food transportation in both directions closing it would be devastating to us, forget the financial markets.

Unless you’ve lived in a border town, I grew up in one, it’s hard to appreciate the amount of interconnections communities on opposite sides of the border have. Everything from business, including jobs, to families have some form of international tie. Besides, the cat is out of the bag, the virus is here. It’s fast, but try to imagine it spreading throughout Canada from west or east coast points of entry, and then explain why Ontario has the highest counts for detected infections when the prairies have none by comparison to Ontario and B.C.

No, we bought it in from New York and Michigan ourselves, or Americans coming for better beer brought it with them, weeks ago. Closing the border would have worked better weeks ago, now it really doesn’t matter. Besides, experts have cited several studies where border closings had been affected for disease outbreak over the years and those studies found it made no difference in infection rates.

It’s good enough we are telling ourselves to stay home, we’re telling Americans to stay home, and now the Americans are telling themselves the same message. It makes little sense to tell truck drivers and returning snowbirds they aren’t getting in. Regular travelers are being told they have to self isolate for 14 days, and sign a document saying they have been told so; who would come with that condition?

The Reason For Closings And Restrictions

This thing is almost unstoppable now. Every expert I’ve sourced is of that opinion. They are also of the opinion it has to be slowed down dramatically. The delay in acting is not much different from other viral emergencies, but the lack of forthcoming on the part of the Chinese, and the sheer stupidity of the Iranian religious leadership combined with the unprecedented speed of this thing means drastic action delayed or ignored by citizens now will make things much worse.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said today, “Another key point is that if we slow down the speed of the infections we’ll be able to maintain high quality clinical care which will reduce the mortality rate.”

What he means is closings, cancellations, restrictions and social distancing won’t stop people from getting sick, but it will slow down the speed of the spread of the virus. This will give hospitals a fighting chance to deal with the sick over a longer period of time, rather than all showing up tomorrow.


It doesn’t make sense for SUNonline/Orillia to repeat everything others are doing. They’re all doing the same thing, listing what’s closed, listing how to wash your hands (the true mark of a civilization where after how long? we have to be instructed how to wash hands), repeating many things in sound and eye bytes that don’t really tell enough, so we won’t do that here. Instead we’ll focus on myth busting and informing you of the lesser-known, but important, factual details when we get them.

Telling you bullet point by bullet point what is closed is more onerous than telling you what is open. The trouble is closings are pushing out info on what’s open and there some things still open. Take for granted your concert, play or night out is cancelled. If not, and you are involved with a group in a leadership capacity, call your ticket holders/attendees. Likewise, if you have tickets or an invite to something, you can pick up a phone too, it could be smaller sized gatherings are still happening.

Today Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital announced visiting hours are restricted to one person per patient (with some exceptions) between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Elective and non-urgent surgeries are being postponed – they will call you. Staff are screening all visitors and don’t want anyone coming to the hospital who doesn’t absolutely need to be there.

Also today area doctors announced they are closing their offices. They aren’t going away, they’re just too busy for your hangnail. For many days now the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) has been saying NOT to call your doctor, or go to their offices. If you think you have the coronavirus. You are to call 1-866-797-0000 and you will be asked questions about your concern (make sure you mention any recent travels, existing medical conditions and prescriptions) and then advised when and where to go – if you need to go anywhere but stay home. Serous cases will get medical help.

The province wants all restaurants to close, except for drive-thrus and take out. Visit the City Hall website for municipal information and some closings information. Bottom line, call or check websites before you even put your coat on to go anywhere.

Also, I’ve had two reports in the last 24 hours of people at grocery stores encountering other shoppers hacking away like they’re not in a crowded place with a virus running rampant. For Pete’s sake. There is no defense from you right now if you are doing this. Stay home.

Rays Of Sunshine

It appears from the data, young children are going to get a bit of a pass on this one. They are unlikely to get sick, and if they do it is unlikely to be worse than a common cold. That doesn’t mean extreme cases aren’t going to happen and that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have the coronavirus and be passing it around. The latter is the main reason schools were closed.

Yesterday a Facebook page sprung up. In 24 hours CareMongering-Orillia has become a community and clearing house of people helping each other get through this in various ways. There are some who think it’s a place to post memes, but overall some good community information is being posted.

And, now that you have some extra time, do your spring cleaning, fix that squeaky hinge, organize some drawers and closets, be productive. You can also take some time to listen to this Joe Rogan podcast (and to cheer you up, some of his others), or this Sam Harris podcast, and this one, to get better insight from experts about this pandemic – and I think you’ll find something in them to calm the nerves a bit.

A long term outcome, maybe it’s just a hope, is twofold. Maybe, just maybe we’ll come out f this with an educated mind when it comes to political leadership. Right now, the government looks to be acting responsibly, swiftly and correctly, but there have been decades of ignoring the advice and warnings of people who actually know something of pandemics and the logistics of dealing with them politicians either ignored, or hoped wouldn’t have to be acted on.

This was a mistake. Our hospitals have been starved of money (one could say a good portion wasted) and bureaucratic leadership which made this a dire situation. Healthcare isn’t the only area politicians buried their collective heads in the sand on, or listened to ‘business’ people instead; I wasn’t going to mention climate change, but there it is. Let’s support our government for the mean time because they appear to have the place where the sun doesn’t shine sufficiently kicked hard enough to do many of the right things.

After this works itself out though, we need to have a conversation with ourselves on whether we are going to put up with politics as it has been.

The other hope is, since it appears the economy is on a soaped up slide, we finally, collectively agree basing our economy on a gambling system is not a good idea. How many recessions caused by some people gambling with your money do we have to endure? There have been three, counting this one, this century and we have 80 years to go. The billionaires are not the smartest people in the room, they’ve proven that one. They keep us telling they are, and the media keeps repeating it (business as news?) like its gospel, but in the end they are not playing with their money, just yours. The pain and suffering brought on like clockwork doesn’t have to happen. I’m not sure what system we need to come up with, making money is still important, but the current one sure isn’t it.

I think on those two counts, and maybe others, we will come out of this with clearer heads about how to improve our society.

Finally, the best local COVID – 19 information is available from the Ontario ministry of health (here as well), the federal government website and the SMDHU.

Good luck. We’ll be back when there is something to share. In the mean time, we’re going to try and keep up with some semblance of regular information and news.


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