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COLUMN: Devil's advocate

"While the press and our public health officials are keeping us mindful of the precariousness of our situation, we need to continue to make a determined societal effort to restart our economy and community living by using our common sense," writes columnist Alan Murdock.
Murdock Alan-col
Columnist Alan Murdock
A recent editorial by the St. Albert Gazette issued ‘A Word of Warning’ about reopening society to community and commercial normality. And yet.

Presently, we have two competing ideas of what to do about surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to limit the numbers of people who will become infected with COVID-19 while at the same time we need to ‘open our society’ so that increasing rates of deaths from other causes (heart attacks, strokes, drug overdoses, homicides and suicides,) don’t replace the COVID-19 fatalities. That is in addition to the crushing blow of increased poverty and despair that we are now trying to mitigate by going deeply into debt. We should also bear in mind that for those living in North America, unemployment adds a 25-per-cent increased risk of suicide.

Tragically, George Floyd’s death on May 25 lit the fire of a massive international revolt. Spatial distancing, a key strategy for limiting the spread of the virus, has been temporarily abandoned.

Some, including this scribe, have been crossing our fingers that this unplanned herd immunity exercise, on top of several U.S. states prematurely relaxing controls on public and business activity, would not lead to an explosion of COVID-19 related illness and deaths. Such an occurrence could paralyze not just the North American but also the world economy. Unhappily, that is what is happening.

Realistically, our future is tied in with the U.S., which is experiencing an overall upswing of new cases over the past two weeks – attributable in part to an accelerated growth in cases reported in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. Other states which had growth rates above neutral (growth factor exceeding 1.0) before the mass demonstrations (Alabama, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah) have also not yet declined in numbers.

The good news is that the frequency of new cases from people who joined the protests in Minneapolis was lower than for the city’s general population over that same period. Also, new case numbers in Chicago and New York City continue to decline. The bad news is that California reports that the average age of coronavirus cases is dropping with 44 per cent of positive cases now under the age of 35. Part of this, but not all, is due to a drop in numbers of new cases amongst seniors.  

This mixed picture comes with a silver lining. First, many of the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly in long-term care, have already been through the worst. They should get outdoors this summer. Secondly, strict spatial distancing for outside group activities may not be necessary – using a facemask would appear to offer sufficient protection. Thirdly, children should go back to school this fall – for their mental and social health as well as educational experience.

So while the press and our public health officials are keeping us mindful of the precariousness of our situation, we need to continue to make a determined societal effort to restart our economy and community living by using our common sense.

Let us join The Great Reset called on by the World Economic Forum. Cleanse our hands. Put on a facemask. Be mindful of spatial distancing for indoor activities.  Only then will we be able to reopen society.

It’s really up to us – individually. To hell with Trump.




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