As I am writing this, schools are just reopening. Let me explain what the concerns were; what to be on the lookout for; and, what to do in the meantime to keep everyone safe.

I hope I am wrong but within the next month you will most likely see a spike in COVID-19 cases in the community — hopefully not a huge one. In the first few days there will be reports of positive cases and classrooms going into quarantine. That is to be expected as teachers, staff, and students come together and bring the virus in with them.

Increased surveillance will result in an initial spike in reported cases. If it stops there, we’ll be okay. However, if we go by past experience, within two to four weeks of the kids coming back, we usually saw a spike of colds and sore throats (viral for the most part) in our communities. I am hoping that with distancing, hand-washing, and wearing masks — and if the weather is on our side allowing open windows, outdoor classes and improved ventilation — we make it past that danger period.

That would prove that that we’ve established a new normal in our relationship with the virus causing COVID-19. If we fail, all need not be lost if the government responds properly with increased testing, rapid turn-around of results and proper contact tracing.

In the meantime, for the next month, I would be careful to protect anyone at increased risk from the disease. For example, that might mean limiting your school-aged children’s contact with their grandparents to at a distance, no hugging and wearing a mask.

Since we can’t make the virus disappear, we have to limit its spread within our community. We don’t want a repeat of March and April where people died because we lacked the resources to take care of them. Keeping the numbers down hopefully will mean we’ll have the resources to cope. However, there’s a very important side bar to this that we cannot ignore.

We’ve allowed clinics, doctors’ offices, and “elective” surgery to drop by the wayside as we focused only on the virus. That also has to stop. We have to get catch up on the significant backlog. People are going to suffer and die if we don’t. Without a vaccine or everyone getting sick, this virus is not going away. We must learn to function while it’s here. Knowledge and pulling together as a community to protect each other is our strongest way forward.

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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