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Navigating a Pandemic

“Are we there yet?!” After a month in the back seat of the covid chariot, we all want to know when things will get better.

“Not yet. It’s a long, rocky road, but watch for signs,” we’re told, while navigating roadblocks, empty shelves, empty pockets and fear of an invisible contagion spread by apparently healthy friends and neighbours as they sing or talk.

April 7th, Wuhan citizens ended 11 weeks of lockdown. Canada will get there, and actions today will shape what “there” looks like.

The trip

Thankfully, we have science in the driver’s seat. On this wild road, our map is borrowed and our data is delayed, but smart people are making their best estimates. Prevent Cancer Now scientists offer our perspectives.

All statistics are imperfect, but Intensive Care admissions and deaths are showing that the pandemic-free destination is a ways off. Steep cliffs on either side of the road mean we must stay the course and follow the directions of public health experts.

Prime Minister Trudeau is serious, saying that the federal government is trying to work with provinces. Modelling must be based upon data with a realistic timeline, independent of testing delays. Testing is not uniform among provinces, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is working with ancient history. On April 1st, PHAC stopped publishing graphs according to the date of symptoms onset or testing rather than the more common “date of report” – that can be up to two weeks later. At that time they had complete data for less than half of Canada’s confirmed cases. On April 8th when national modelling was released PHAC had compiled data for 8,580 of almost 18,000 confirmed cases (note: data is continuously updated, so numbers will have changed), and data moves slowly from care homes, health units and hospitals to provinces, and from provinces to the federal scientists.

Even COVID-19 death data is uncertain. When many residents in a care home die, but only a few were tested, do you count them all as COVID-19 cases? Only sometimes. Ontario’s epidemiology report released with modelling results on April 3rd, noted a variety of criteria in footnotes.

More testing reveals more COVID-19, but our limited data is no crystal ball. Quebec’s greater testing found more cases than Ontario, though there is a similar number of deaths in both provinces. One day, a test for antibodies will give us a picture of Canadians’ risk of repeated runaway infection.

With all of this uncertainty, what do we know?

— Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Save Lives —
  • Wash hands frequently (kids know how!).
  • Don’t touch our faces.
  • When we must go out, keep more than 2 metres away from others. Wear a clean, cloth mask in public places such as stores or transit, because COVID-19 can be transmitted before symptoms develop and during mild disease.
  • If you have symptoms, self-quarantine and seek medical attention as advised by your family doctor or your public health officer.
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise

COVID-19 threatens those with compromised health. Italy’s report, borne out globally, found that patients with chronic health conditions were more likely to die, and that those with three or more conditions did not survive. From the most to least common, these include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, cancer within the past 5 years, kidney disease, COPD, stroke or dementia.

Be kind to your lungs

Don’t smoke or vape, and do enjoy reduced air pollution with shutdowns. Air pollution dramatically increases severity of COVID-19, and severe disease is in regions with bad air.

The virus increases everyone’s vulnerability to environmental pollution, so this is no time to loosen environmental protections as seen in Ontario, Alberta or the U.S. Volatile chemicals exacerbate asthma and could increase the severity of COVID-19. Choose fragrance-free products and peroxide-based bleaches. Check out the Canadian Committee for Indoor Air Quality Module Addressing Chemical Sensitivities.

Prevent chronic disease and cancer

Men are more likely to die of COVID-19, and they also have higher incidence of chronic conditions (Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System).

Actions to prevent cancer also prevent chronic diseases, and therefore could reduce severity of COVID-19. First steps include Making Healthy Choices.

Where are we going?

The Irish refer to isolation against COVID-19 as “cocooning.” We will emerge, changed individually and as a community and country, with renewed priorities sharpened by reflection and, for too many of us, loss and grief. COVID-19 has turned life upside down, and we hope that Canada will emerge a more self-sufficient, resilient nation with renewed appreciation of health.

It is hard in the thick of the fray, but the current unprecedented investments must support best options for sustainability. Some examples include:

  1. Accelerating transition to a low-carbon future.
  2. Supporting healthy food systems, including organic, regenerative agriculture.
  3. Building high-speed broadband Internet for tele-commuting and e-learning with fibre-optic and wired infrastructure. Free of radiofrequency radiation, fibre is the safest, most resilient option and uses less energy, avoiding the need for energy-hogging wireless.