This is the third year of the pandemic and COVID-19 has affected every person, family, business and organization. It’s clear that COVID-19 is not going to be eradicated in the near future, and our community will have to learn to “live” with this novel infectious disease. The plan for the community, moving forward, has to be realistic, based on what we know and have learned so far.
Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean that were going back to the way things were before the pandemic. If there is one thing we know now, this disease is unpredictable.
We will have to use caution when we participate in certain, previously care-free activities. Attending a large gathering such as a family wedding, school dance or college graduation may have the additional risk of getting sick. Vacation travel and restaurant dining will also carry an additional risk. But this does not mean that these activities are out of the question. Rather, as individuals, and as a community, we have to contemplate the risks and make rational choices to reduce these risks.
Onward, there will continue to be periods of lower disease activity, meaning less people who become ill or are hospitalized, interspersed by times of greater or increased activity. Right now, there are signals of increased disease activity in our community. Additionally, there are likely to be new variants, some mild and some more severe. This variability has to factor into the plan moving forward. Here is a realistic plan to live with COVID-19:
- We will need continued a community-wide vaccination program for people on a regular basis. Similar to the annual flu vaccine, where a booster is administered on a yearly basis to ensure residents stay current or up–to-date with their vaccination. It is likely that these booster vaccinations will be formulated to target variants in circulation. A vaccination program is not insurmountable, as there is already established infrastructure for vaccine delivery through health care provider offices, clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, and vaccination clinics.
- In the short and intermediate term, public health measures will remain. These measures will be increased or decreased based on the burden of disease activity. With the current uptick in COVID-19, people should continue to wear a face mask indoors or when they can not remain consistently two meters away from other people. Wearing a mask is particularly helpful at preventing transmission to people with chronic medical problems, who are more likely to suffer the worst consequences of COVID-19. Right now, we need to be much more vigilant about excluding people who are sick with infectious diseases from going to school or work. In the future, when there is increased disease activity, additional public health measures may be required (i.e., mandatory masking, physical distance, capacity limits, and curtailment of dining events).
- We will need to spend money on additional healthcare services. On a provincial level, about 1 out of every 17 intensive care unit beds (ICU) are occupied by people with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, April 5. During previous surges, there were times when close to half of all the ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. Up to now, we have managed the increased hospital demand by curtailing other services such as cancelling “elective” surgery and other scheduled care. But this is not sustainable, as these services are also important to the health of the community.
The return to “normal” is a tantalizing prospect, but in the short and intermediate term, “normal” must and will look different than before COVID-19. In the long term, we can expect better drug treatments and even better vaccines. But for now, we must use previously mentioned risk-based approach in making individual and community level decisions. There are likely going to be other pandemics in our lifetime, and we need to be prepared. We made tough choices during the HIV crisis, and we will need to make difficult decisions to manage COVID-19 in order to successfully live with it.
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit