Editorial – Lessons unlearned in 2021

As Ontario enters the third calendar year of the pandemic, the question that should be asked by everyone is: Have we learned how to deal with a large-scale public health crisis in Ontario?

After the initial reactions and restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the province in March 2020, the Ontario government made a number of announcements to fix many shortfalls in the health care system.

As the pandemic carried on, and the prospect of an approved COVID-19 vaccine was near, Ontario rolled out a vaccine task force to get needles into arms as quickly as possible. Throughout the pandemic, testing strategies were ramped up, increasing capacity in labs. Millions were spent giving subsidies and grants to companies to build out capacity for producing personal protective equipment. And many more millions have been spent buying rapid tests for quick use when needed. A lot of money spent in a short period of time. So much it has been compared to the war effort we read about from World War Two.

Once Ontario reached September 2021 and vaccine numbers were considered “good”, the lessons on how to deliver large-scale testing and vaccinations were largely forgotten. The vaccine task force was disbanded, strategies put on the shelf, mass-vaccination clinics shuttered, and rapid tests could not be given away.

Enter the Omicron variant, several more times infectious than the Delta variant. The Ford government opened the third dose vaccine booster to everyone 18 years old and older, and chaos ensued – all during the busiest holiday season of the year. Now pharmacies are overrun with requests for booster appointments because not enough are available through public health units. Vaccine supply is not an issue, a lack of staff and large spaces to hold clinics are – not that 4,800 schools are currently closed for the Christmas holidays and most have large spaces.

PCR testing is swamped with a multi-day backlog and growing, and there are not enough rapid antigen tests available to test those who feel ill. The system is failing again, as daily new infection numbers break records. Students are set to return to the classroom on January 3 – maybe.

The amount of money that has been spent thus far on pandemic response, combined with the planning and work done by the government, public health units, school boards and municipalities, and the medical system, should not have left Ontario in the state that we are in now – unable to cope again with a surging pandemic.

The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 should not have been so quickly unlearned. Now Ontario is faced with repeating history again. Hopefully in 2022, those lessons remain and do not come at such a great cost again.

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