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COVID-19 update: Are we ready to re-open?

It’s been awhile since I focused primarily about COVID-19 in my weekly Thursday updates. As the pandemic persists, all of us feel the impacts more personally. Whenever I have written about COVID, I've included some of my personal lockdown experiences, as well as what I’ve heard from many of you. My family has been extremely careful, especially since mid-December. There is nothing like a case of COVID-19 in your family to make everyone extremely compliant. My grandson fought off his symptoms in one week, but his virus made all of us knuckle down. No one else in the family tested positive thankfully, but we had to spend our first Christmas ever away from our first born daughter and grandkids. I’m sure many of you faced similar unwelcome situations with your families. Whenever I listen to the daily COVID updates by our governments, it is these personal experiences that start to make me view the actions announced with a more critical eye. It’s natural after all this time, even while ‘we are still all In this together’, to have strong opinions on the progress made in stopping the virus. Premier Ford’s announcement this week that we will soon embark upon another phased re-opening brings such opinions back to the surface. The whole experience brought something into keen focus for me: when a child gets infected with COVID, Mom or Dad also has to quarantine for 14 days - and there is no sick pay for that. Only one person in the household needs to be sick for everyone to need to isolate. In a two parent household, both incomes could vanish for an entire pay period. Sick pay must be addressed if we face another wave of high infections rates before we are all vaccinated. I have advocated that we learn from our pandemic vulnerability and bring back the kind of paid sick leave in the working world that was available during my young adult life in the '70s and '80s. With schools set to re-open and multiple known COVID variants present in the community, however, we are at risk of families, who need to work to put food on the table, keeping positive cases secret.

This is how community spread happens and employers - who want a normal economy back - should know by now that facilitating proper disclosure and quarantining with paid sick leave is the fastest route back to normal. Very little has been heard from either Federal or Provincial governments on this situation even though the legislative role they could play is clear. The phased re-opening of businesses is also on the way. While we have an idea on the plan based on what has been announced, there are so many moving parts it may be obsolete by the time you read this. For the most up-to-date information, always consult the province’s COVID web portal.

I know that businesses and their employees are suffering, so I support swift action if we see cases continue to climb, especially concerning new COVID variants. There is no longer any space for hesitation in this respect.

There is little doubt, for example, Ontario reached the frightening pace of over 4,000 new cases a day in January, precisely because the Provincial government hesitated to lockdown until the last Christmas present was purchased on Christmas Eve.

To get through any future restrictions, we will need to see more support for local and small businesses, and an actual moratorium on residential evictions. As Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Lawrence Loh warned yesterday, a re-opening plan, if implemented too quickly, could drive up infections and lead to a third wave of COVID.

Lawrence Loh, Medical Officer of Health, Peel Region It seems wrong to have to say, once again, that it is up to you and your family to keep yourselves safe. But that really is the case.

You have to fight all of these new COVID variants by following the same rules that apply whether at school, in a store or a restaurant, or even at home when a member of the family is infected. Wash your hands, wear your mask, touch as little as possible and keep two metres apart.

Last week, City Council extended the mask by-law until June and also approved more rigorous outreach to reach people in apartment and condo buildings, where proximity and shared spaces remain a sticky problem.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, put it very succinctly:

"We have to wait for our opportunity to receive the vaccine, mindfully," said de Villa. "Waiting for a vaccine won’t stop community spread. Being mindful of how we avoid the spread of COVID 19 does.”

Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health, City of Toronto

While the vaccine supply is prepared, Dr. de Villa is setting up vaccine locations across the city.

I was disappointed to see some of Don Valley North’s most transit-dependent neighbourhoods, full of frontline and essential workers, are far from the proposed vaccine clinics. As we await supply, I advocate for the City to prepare plans to make vaccines readily available in these neighbourhoods as soon as possible.

I know we all need a break from virtual schooling, video fitness workouts and constantly working from home. As we head towards a much needed Family Day long weekend, one which can also include Valentine’s Day and Year of the Ox celebrations, please be careful.

Here’s a small and special idea. Gather your household under a warm blanket and watch a movie together. I recommend the lovely Pixar movie SOUL. Let me know how you plan to spend the weekend. Let’s stay safe everyone.


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