It struck like a blow to the gut. From green to orange in a heartbeat! Many of us have made sacrifices to keep the virus that causes COVID-19 at bay. We limited our social gatherings; wore our mask properly; washed our hands; and maintained a distance of at least two meters from those we love. And now this!
But do not despair. There are many things that our government has gotten wrong — and we’ll go over them in a few lines — but the truth of the matter is that we are nowhere near where we were in March or April … thanks to you. Where we are now is totally the result of your individual actions. Distancing; hand-washing; wearing a mask; and, limiting social gatherings, works. We need to keep it going and it will work again. But our government needs to do better.
First and foremost, it has to improve its messaging to those who disbelieve or who fail to follow the proper precautions for whatever reason. Research shows that messaging works best when it involves people that the target audience believe in and respect, or when something dreadful happens either to them, their loved ones or someone they know and care about.
Wouldn’t the testimonials of the family and friends of those whom COVID-19 have stolen, make a powerful and compelling argument to take this virus seriously? The same way that people undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer or with a tracheostomy to replace their cancerous voice box made effective ads about the dangers of tobacco smoking that helped drive down the number of people who smoked?
The same way that MADD commercials, featuring loved ones talking about someone lost to a drunk driver, hammered home the necessity not to drive when under the influence? These campaigns have worked. Why has it taken so long for the government to use them?
Our leaders have missed other important opportunities to get things right. Where is their presence on social media to refute the stupidity being spread as fact? They warned us about a second wave, but where are the resources and, just as important, the planning to enable us to get through it safely? Many of the new modular units being talked about won’t be ready until next year but the need is now.
What about staffing of the emergency rooms and intensive care units? We have a serious shortage of nurses. This is not new. COVID-19 has made it worse in the same way that it highlighted our underfunding of our elder care facilities. The government found the resources needed to train patient care attendant staff but where are the resources for our nurses?
We can deal with this crisis. We’ve already shown that we can. Each of us has an important role to play. But it’s time for the government to step up to its responsibilities the same way that many of you have.
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.