Battling COVID-19 Episode 8: Staying The Course by Dr. Michael Szabo

Summer is officially in full gear now.  Isn’t it great?  Warm weather is here! Backyard barbeques, long walks outside, swimming and picnics.  But we all know it isn’t completely like old times, there’s still a little something different, right?  COVID-19, the pesky little virus we’ve come to know all too well, is still around.

In Canada, we’ve done very well to minimize the spread of this virus. The majority of us have done an excellent job at following the public health guidelines to physically distance, wash our hands, avoid others if we are unwell and to wear a mask when appropriate. We look to our neighbours in the south and can see what occurs when the guidelines aren’t followed, and we don’t want that to happen to us. However, it’s tough to believe that we need to be vigilant when most of us don’t know people who are getting infected and we hear that only around 200 new cases a day are occurring across the entire country. 

One of the truths about human nature is that it’s very hard to believe something is real unless we see it. 

One of the truths about human nature is that it’s very hard to believe something is real unless we see it. I often think that what is even more powerful than seeing something bad happen, is to feel something bad happen, as experienced when a loved one or even, we, ourselves, endure a health-related crisis. We rarely can look at life in the same manner after that.  Emotions are powerful.

As health care workers, we never lose sight of this. We all see and feel the reality of this virus and what it can do. We look at the chest x-rays, review the blood work, monitor the oxygen levels and experience the anxiety and fear of a patient who cannot breathe due to this infection. We place people on life support when they require it.  We see the blood clots, strokes and heart attacks that COVID-19 causes. We see the kidney damage. We see the patients who have recovered from the virus but months later, are still unwell, struggling with debilitating fatigue, joint swelling and breathing problems. We also see that the vast majority of patients recover completely and are well again. This makes it easier to deal with because we know it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. But we know bad outcomes still can, and will, happen.

We need to remain vigilant about this highly infectious virus.  It hasn’t disappeared and is still very much among us.  We must accept some uncomfortable realities here. This virus doesn’t care about us – it just wants to spread.  It doesn’t care about our economy or our mental health.  As long as we give it the opportunity to jump from one of us to another, that is exactly what it will do. This isn’t “fair”, but whoever said the universe was always a fair place? At this time, it’s extremely important that we focus on what we CAN do to combat the spread of this virus, because we now know plenty on how to do that. And the good news is that much of it is pretty simple.

The simple things are the most powerful right now. Avoid close contact with others, especially indoors. This is one of the most important facts that has come to light recently. The virus seems to spread best indoors where people are in prolonged close contact. It also spreads outdoors where large numbers of people are close to one another, particularly when close talking, shouting or singing is involved, such as sports events or bar patios.  Avoid those situations ideally. If you can’t, then wear a face mask, as scientific evidence shows that it reduces the likelihood of spread in those environments. One of the most common situations for all of us is visiting a store. We should all wear a mask when we go inside any building open to the public. 

We need to wash our hands repeatedly and avoid touching our face and continue to develop that habit. Stay six feet away from others as much as possible and avoid being around anyone if you feel unwell, even if you just feel tired and have muscle aches, as these could be early or mild COVID-19 symptoms. We are still trying to understand it, but it does appear that the virus can be transmitted from asymptomatic people. At this time, it remains prudent to assume anyone you come into contact with could transmit the virus to you. 

Fortunately, the measures we can take to protect ourselves don’t mean we need to be socially isolated. We can get out into the world and interact with family, friends and loved ones. We just need to be cautious about it and do it under the correct conditions. The public health measures we take can actually help us open up society. It’s incorrect to say that these measures keep us locked down, they’re our toolkit for getting out into the world. We’re in a good position in Canada right now. Let’s stay the course. 

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