Throughout this pandemic, I have diligently followed public health directions. I got vaccinated, respected the curfews, and limited activities. Despite these precautions, I contracted COVID twice, most likely the Alpha and Omicron variants. Alpha took a round out of me as vaccines were not available yet. However, my kids, their mother and I breezed through our most recent infections. Now, as this wave passes, for me, this pandemic is finally over. All my fears and anxieties about COVID have lifted. That is changing the way I view things.
From December 2020 to December 2021, 1,077 fully vaccinated Canadians died of COVID. In 2019 influenza and pneumonia killed 6,912. That suggests the risk to my family, even its eldest members, all of whom have boosters, is now at a level that we would have been comfortable exposing ourselves to pre-pandemic.
The long-haul risk is still scary, with estimates of 10-30 per cent having symptoms that last longer than two weeks. However, the reality of COVID becoming an endemic disease has been with us since it smashed through all global containment efforts in 2020. There is no version of a future that I want to live in where we can avoid infection indefinitely. If you are going to be a part of society, you will likely contract COVID at some point. But with the vaccines we have, the new ones being developed and the latest treatments becoming available, we are ready for it.
Before this pandemic even started, our health care system had one of the lowest beds-per-capita in the developed world and an average occupancy of 91 percent (a shamefully high number). This has left us unprepared for the pandemic. We need to ask some tough questions. We knew in 2020 that COVID waves could continue for years. Where are the new hospitals? Where are the armies of new personnel trained to address infectious disease surges? In the past two years, we could have rebuilt our public health care system, paid our nurses better, hired thousands and doubled our bed space. Instead, our leaders let the burden fall on health care workers.
We came together when times were hard. Now it’s time to start dismantling the crisis infrastructure and returning to the Canada, where we trust each other and breathe the same air without fear.
Some will need to live with more precautions. Some will see their lives and maybe careers change to address their personal health risk levels. There is a new endemic disease with us now, and it does change some things. But it’s time for governments to stop waiting for this to pass. It is time for them to do what they should have done from the outset, start adapting and stop perpetuating a state of crisis instead of addressing its causes.
Jasper Boychuk is a resident of Cantley, QC.