In the past 18 years, Canadians faced two pandemic-events, SARS and H1N1. Combined, the two events saw just over 60,000 people infected, and 550 people die. H1N1 was, by far, the larger of the two public health crises to deal with. In contrast, over 24,000 people in Canada have contracted COVID-19, and 762 people have died, so far. Unlike SARS and H1N1 where one demographic or another was more susceptible to contracting the illness, COVID-19 is indiscriminate.
Public health response and preparedness across the country have been uneven at best, and accentuates the ever-growing urban-rural divide in this country.
Municipalities and local public health agencies have to plan for pandemic responses as part of regular emergency preparedness. Yet when a public health emergency occurs, and this clearly is one, federal and provincial governments are caught ill-prepared. We have forgotten that golden rule, learned in scouting and in life, be prepared.
Our health care system continues to be challenged to meet the basic needs of equipment like masks and other personal protective equipment. Various levels of government in Canada are working to secure supplies, but now compete against other countries for limited supplies. Had there been an investment in stockpiles of equipment and regular maintenance done, public health responses could have been faster and more acute.
Locally, we know that there are about 200 respirators in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region and there are plans to expand treatment and triage in Cornwall to help deal with a surge of infections, if it occurs. We know that only after three-plus weeks of asking officials for the straight goods. Clear and concise communication is part of planning
We are entering the second month of a virtual shutdown of regular life to deal with this pandemic. One important takeaway is that we need to do better. Some government officials have responded to this pandemic better than others, but overall we are putting out fires after they have broken out, rather than preventing them from starting in the first place.
To do better will mean investing in the health care system, research, and in maintaining equipment that hopefully will never be needed. We did not learn these lessons from the past two health crises, and people are paying the price. Hopefully there will not be a next time.