I am not an optimist about the COVID-19 pandemic because we’re not escaping this thing without many good people of all ages and nationalities dying.
This thing is going to be with us for months. It’s already killed thousands around the globe. Many were elderly but had years left to live. Many others were in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It kills and it’s going to kill many more. If communities – not governments, but communities composed of flawed men and flawed women and flawed leaders and flawed voters – rally, the damage will be minimal. If they don’t, the death toll will see millions die.
And at the present, there are communities around the world and around North America that are failing.
So, no, I’m not an optimist. Having a job that now requires you to learn about COVID-19 for hours upon hours will do that.
But even if there are not reasons to be fearful and dismayed, that does not mean this fiendish thing is unstoppable. That does not mean that depression must be maintained. That does not mean there are not nuggets of hope to be gleaned.
These are things I tell myself. These are things I don’t tell myself nearly enough.
Yesterday, Dr. Bonnie Henry held another press conference and announced that the number of cases had risen again and now stands at 659. Fourteen people have died.
Still, today, I found reasons to hope.
We actually get it
Having watched the consequences of being slow to act elsewhere, people here are getting the message. We lucked out a bit because we have seen the consequences elsewhere of not getting that message. But we’re also taking this seriously, with just a few exceptions. People are scolding one another. My townhouse complex has a group chat for parents. Very quickly, the tone has shifted. Kids aren’t playing with one another. And although it sucks for the kids, it shows that normal average people who don’t spend nine hours watching and writing the news realize what is at stake.
Our politicians are being pressed by their citizens to act quicker, and certainly not to ease off restrictions, as the President of the United States has begun suggesting. That public support for harder rules, not easier ones, is vitally important and will give authorities the ability to take the battle to COVID-19.
But the need for those rules elsewhere has come because residents rebelled against social-distancing guidelines. Canadians seem to be largely abiding. The business sector, really, is the one area where stricter rules may be needed as many stressed-out owners continue to do only as much as is absolutely required.
The math is OK?
Yes, we see where Canada is on the charts. And at first glance it looks to be heading the way some other countries have gone, with cases increasing at exponential rates. Each new case turns into three more, which turn into three more. Eventually, hundreds end up dying and doctors have to make agonizing decisions about who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.
But that’s not our destiny, and the number of cases can’t fully capture what’s happening. Those numbers depend on how many and who gets tested. Two places can have the same number of positive test results, and yet if one of them is detecting half of all actual cases and the other is detecting only a quarter, one place is going to end up in far worse shape.
Instead of just eyeing the case numbers, I’ve been closely watching how the number of hospitalizations changes. That number isn’t going to be subject to the variables that impact the testing number. If somebody needs a ventilator, they need a ventilator.
The number of hospitalized patients increased more than fourfold between last Wednesday and this Wednesday (March 25). The actual number of hospitalized is 64. That number will grow dramatically. But I have hope (that’s the theme of this column, after all) that the last two weeks of work by government and health care workers and grocery stores and you and me and most everyone else in this province is going to have a positive effect that can be seen with time. There is also the fact that the case number includes 173 people now deemed to have recovered. The number of active cases – unrecovered patients – hasn’t increased substantially the last day or two.
More beds, ready for more problems
Which brings us to the third reason: We have more time than I worried we would. Earlier this week Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that B.C.’s hospitals are operating at about two-thirds capacity. There are now more than 3,600 free acute-care beds in British Columbia.
This is stunning. For years, I’ve been reporting on how crowded B.C.’s hospitals are. Usually they’re at 103.5 per cent capacity. That’s why patients end up in ER hallways. That 3,000 beds are now unoccupied is mind-boggling and comforting.
Not that there hasn’t been a cost. Moving more seniors out of hospitals and into private long-term care facilities, instead of waiting for a public bed to open up, is likely costing the province millions every day. Thousands of surgeries have been cancelled, and a huge number of people who need a new hip or other non-urgent treatment will have to wait in pain much longer. But the ability to free up that space will buy British Columbia weeks for social distancing to start to have an effect on the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Bonnie Henry and you
Which brings us to the final reason to hope. On Wednesday, Henry said she was “heartened” at the relative modest growth in the number of hospitalizations. Throughout this, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have struck the same calm, but forceful tone, over and over.
They can’t be extremely positive, because there is still plenty of ways this can go extremely bad and there are still many unknowns. And this will go extremely bad if British Columbians start to think they’ve got COVID-19 under control and can start congregating like they did waaaaaaaay back at the start of March 2020.
I hope the fact that more draconian distancing measures haven’t been implemented, despite the calls of many worried British Columbians and statements by world health officials that too much is much better than too little, is a sign that Henry, Dix and other decision-makers have data that cause them to be more confident than they can actually let on lest they shake our resolve.
But the subtext to some of these briefings is that British Columbia and Canada might be able to control this in a way that some other jurisdictions – including, worryingly for our economy, the United States – may not.
We can do this. You can do this. I can do this. It’s scary. And fear is helpful, as I wrote an eon (14 days) ago.
But we should be hopeful too. This is a long dentist’s appointment. It sucks. We can’t move. It might be painful. But as a community we’ll get through it together – so long as we’re not actually together.
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