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DIY defence no match for triple whammy

GAIL LETHBRIDGE @chronicleherald Gail Lethbridge is a Halifaxbased columnist for the SaltWire Network.

The only tools left in the quiver of public health are begging, besieging and badgering people to wear masks and take other precautions.

There will be no mandates or restrictions, but the message is unambiguous.

Put the masks back on, get your vaccination booster, wash your hands and stay home if you feel sick.

Welcome to the next wave of the public health crisis, assuming we’ve ever been out of public-health-crisis mode since March 2020.

The recent rare public appearance by chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang was an indication of how seriously officials are taking the triple threat of respiratory viruses.

The sense of urgency in his news conference had all the hallmarks of 2020. Dr. Strang might have been straining to say “put the masks the blazes back on” evoking the angry-dad tone of his former sidekick, Premier Stephen McNeil.

But this time, the urgency has no backbone and no McNeil.

There will be no fines for failure to comply, no checking of vaccine status at the doors of bars and restaurants and no lockdowns.

There was no Premier Tim Houston at Strang’s side, either. In other words, this public health crisis is important, but not that important.

In this wave, the responsibility for protecting others is on the shoulders of individuals, not the government. If you want to protect loved ones and the already broken health-care system, it’s up to you.

The only tools left in the quiver of public health are begging, besieging and badgering people to wear masks and take other precautions.

And it’s not just for the sake of grandma anymore. It’s for the sake of the kids.

Dr. Strang was accompanied by Dr. Andrew Lynk, head of pediatric medicine at the IWK Health Centre. Lynk was at pains to tell us how bad things are in the children’s hospital.

“I just walked through our intensive care unit at the

IWK today and there’s little babies and even four-yearolds in with (respiratory syncytial virus), who are in the intensive care unit,” Lynk said. “We can prevent some of this. Not all of it, but we can prevent some of this.”

Never in his 30-year career has he seen such demand on the children’s hospital.

In November, the IWK was operating at 100-160 per cent capacity; it has been swamped with children coming to an emergency room and being admitted for viral infections.

And he wants us to know that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The culprits are the flu, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19, all highly contagious and with children in their crosshairs. Seniors and other vulnerable populations are also at risk.

The other problem is the capacity of hospitals, which are struggling with understaffing. Even in whe best of times, there aren’t enough nurses and other health-care professionals to meet the demand.

The ones that are left are tired and burned out by a long pandemic.

Gone are the days of mandates and stay-at-home public orders. Those worked when people were afraid, unvaccinated and leaning into governments for guidance and financial support.

Even public health officials have seen that severe restrictions brought their own set of physical, psychological and economic harms.

And since the convoy protest, we now have a cohort of mandate protesters ready to mobilize against restrictions.

The harms of their opposition were on display last winter in Ottawa and on the Canada-U.S. border.

But with the present wave of three viruses, the doctors and health-care system are now staring into the face of a perfect storm of disease.

Making things worse is the shortage of over-the-counter children’s medicines like Tylenol to treat colds and fevers. And powerful antibiotics like Amoxicillin are also in short supply.

This will be driving the surge of children in emergency departments as desperate parents take their fevered kids in for treatment.

The government has decided that the response to the public health crisis will have to be measured against other harms to individuals, the economy and the larger social fabric.

I don’t envy them their task.





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