The story is clear: patrons of a karaoke bar in Quebec City have been responsible for a “super-spreader” event. Forty of those attending have tested positive for COVID-19 and — at the time of this writing — there were three related cases identified among students at three schools which has resulted in more than 100 classmates being sent home to quarantine.

It’s bound to get worse as some of the original 40 patrons visited at least six other bars in the city that same night. One individual in particular, “went everywhere”, according to public health officials.

On the heels of the infamous party on the South Shore that lead to numerous bars and other local businesses having to shut down temporarily, I would have expected the government to be more proactive and careful. Choral groups, choirs, and religious institutions have restrictions in place because of the proven risk of singing as a way to spread the virus that causes COVID-19. Why wasn’t karaoke similarly controlled?

Most of us are making a real effort to keep distant, wash our hands, and wear masks appropriately. Schools are trying to protect their children and their staff. However, the undeniable facts are that:

1) this virus will most likely not disappear until we have a vaccine and people are vaccinated;

2) the situation will predictably get worse as we move indoors and have to shut windows as the weather gets colder;

3) our emergency rooms are straining already as they were pre-COVID;

4) nurses are in extremely short supply across the entire province; and lastly,

5) flu and cold season is close at hand.

For all these reasons, we are currently balanced on a knife’s edge. If the government fails to act we will stumble and many will suffer. Aside from restricting karaoke and similar high risk activities, it’s time for the government to take action against people who flout the rules and put the rest of us at risk.

There are some people who just don’t seem to care and if the risk were limited to them then it would be well within their rights to put themselves in that situation. But when the public good is threatened, the government already has the power to step in. We do it rarely — for example, for patients with active tuberculosis who refuse to undergo treatment.

The same should apply here. I am not suggesting the random, unnecessary and discriminatory practices that have characterized the police enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing. I am advocating for public health to step in when people put the rest of us at risk when they should isolate themselves and don’t.

The province has already announced a crackdown on those who don’t wear masks in indoor public spaces. Good. Because it’s time for government to take the appropriate steps to protect us.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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