Editorial – Rolling the dice

Ontario dropped the mandatory five-day quarantine period last week for people who are infected with COVID-19. This was not a big announcement by the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore during his press conference held August 31. Rather this was just quietly slipped into the conversation rather nonchalantly – akin to a child burying a test with a bad mark in-between two better test results. This is just the latest lightening or lessening of how the province treats COVID-19, and like other moves this should be concerning.

Recently Ontario’s Ministry of Health dissolved the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. This independent group of scientists, researchers, and public health experts evaluated data and gave recommendations to government and Public Health Ontario for dealing with the pandemic. For over two years this group was invaluable for providing independent expert projections and recommendations. Throughout wave after wave of COVID-19 infection, the Science Table was accurate in most predictions, and when its advice was not taken, it showed with higher infection levels and harsher moves into business closures and shut downs to stem the infection tide. There is a benefit to having this group independent from the arms of government. The duties of this advisory group will now fall to Public Health Ontario.

Since the start of 2022, we have seen governments – not just Ontario’s – move away from treating the pandemic as a pandemic. Ontario stopped mass-testing due to the overwhelming spike in cases that prompted our last round of shutdowns after Christmas. Since then, living with COVID-19 is pushed as the “new norm”. We live with other diseases and viruses like influenza so COVID is now just part of this pantheon of things to treat. But there is a big risk moving away from the pandemic and moving into this endemic phase of post-COVID life.

In nearly 30 months the world went from not knowing what COVID is, to developing multiple vaccines, treatments, and returning to mostly normal. That normalcy is at risk. Booster vaccination rates are lower in younger populations. It has been less than three months since a COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children under six-years old. Second dose vaccinations and boosters for children under-17 are lower. Serious medical outcomes reduced with mass vaccination for those older than 60 years old, and that population remains at a high vaccination level. During the height of lock downs, restrictions were eased when certain milestones were reached for vaccination and hospitalizations. Before dropping the quarantine period, some incentive should have been put in place to encourage more vaccinations and boosters.

This government, or any government, saying that COVID-19 is normalized and should be treated that way before there is scientific proof to back that up is taking a big roll of the dice. Let us hope we are not on the wrong side with how the dice land.

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