It was one year ago this week the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in full force. A state of emergency was declared, lock downs initiated, businesses and schools shuttered, arenas emptied, and people were told to stay home and stay safe. We didn’t really know what COVID-19 was, but the fear was real. At the time, the expectation was that this would last a few weeks then life would return to normal. One year later, normal has not returned. In addition to the uncertainty of when normalcy may return, we are faced with dealing with glaring problems with the social safety net that generations have built up.
Long-term care homes have been hit the hardest throughout the country. Five per cent of all COVID-19 infections in Ontario have been residents of LTC homes but 53 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths have been from that same group. Clearly there is a significant issue with our out-of-date system for caring for the elderly. In fact, 87 per cent of all deaths in Ontario from the virus have been people aged 70 and older. That is unacceptable and speaks to how the LTC industry as a whole has been underfunded and inappropriately run for the past 25 years.
Education is another area that has been hard hit. Nearly 20 per cent of all kindergarten to Grade 12 students are learning remotely. Promised spending for hiring teachers, upgrading schools, and upgrading internet connections have not improved this difficult situation. Despite having half a year to plan for students to return to school last fall, the Ministry of Education adopted a haphazard approach that resulted in further exposing the inequities in Ontario’s public education system. Antiquated buildings, inadequate funding for upgrades, and technology deficiencies are leaving our students at a disadvantage. One that will affect students for a generation.
Part in parcel with issues in education is support for families. This includes affordable quality day care and access to mental health supports. Months of lock downs and near isolation for many will have long-lasting affects. This combined with cutting access for those already receiving services due to pandemic restrictions means there will be an overload surge when in-person access can resume.
This also bodes ill for the health care system, where delayed treatments of disease will exacerbate the strain on hospitals, and in many cases cost lives.
The empty platitudes and funding announcements seen so far are only stop gap solutions and do not treat the underlying problems. For decades, subsequent governments have chipped away at the existing social safety net and largely ignored new issues and challenges. It will take real leadership and a commitment to do what is right to make the systematic changes needed. And that leadership will also have to determine how we are going to pay for it all. One year into the pandemic, we have a long way to go.