By Pauline Kerr
We are in a wait-and-see period, watching COVID-19 statistics from Alberta with growing concern and, if the truth be told, frustration.
Some provinces have taken strong measures to curb COVID-19, but some have not, and all Canadians may end up paying the price.
At the same time, we watch the local situation, where numbers are much more positive – an increasing number of people getting vaccinated (yes, the vaccine passport worked), combined with a growing sense that things are slowly shifting back to normal, or rather, the 2021 version of normal.
Whether a hint at more positive changes to come, or a short reprieve before another onslaught, the present COVID situation in our area provides us with the opportunity to consider the reset that must be made, if this community is to regain the strength it needs to thrive in the future.
We have the chance to think about the inequities revealed by the pandemic and plan for change, before we settle back into our old ways.
There were and are many. The curbside pickup and similar measures that allowed most of this community to keep functioning to a certain extent, were based on the assumption everyone has a credit card, car and cell phone, and not everyone does.
Telling someone to isolate at home for two weeks is easy enough to say, but not so easy to do for the growing number of people in this community who do not have a permanent address.
As for attending school via computer – that works well for students who have access to decent technology and an adult to assist and supervise. What about the other kids?
The adult called on to supervise the kitchen-table classroom during lockdowns was, in many cases, Mom. Entrepreneurs locked the doors to their businesses, and employees took leaves of absence or quit their jobs. We continue to have a shortage of workers, but many of the vacancies are in retail and service sectors – part-time, minimum-wage jobs, not career opportunities. While the pandemic took a financial toll on many families, women have paid a particularly heavy price.
Closing down public buildings, restaurants and shops revealed a blatant shortage of one necessary but largely undiscussed social amenity – access to public washrooms. Delivery people, police and others who are out on the road for extended periods of time need washrooms. Portable toilets work reasonably well in the summer; winter is another matter. Bravo to the businesses that took the extra cleaning measures to keep their washrooms open for public use.
One of the cruelest inequities has not been a matter of economics but of health. People who functioned reasonably well with home care and other community supports found many of the programs on which they depended, suddenly unavailable. Offices were closed, social workers and others conducted meetings by computer or phone only and group sessions ceased. People trying to cope with addictions or mental health issues suffered.
On a different level, a lot of surgeries got delayed or cancelled – not just eyebrow lifts and the like, but cancer surgery, hip replacements and other procedures that save lives and provide quality of life. Waiting a couple of weeks to find out if you have cancer is hard; try waiting a year-and-a-half.
We hope we are done with lockdowns but are not naïve enough to think another one is impossible. Nor are difficult medical decisions involving who gets ventilators out of the question for this province.
In many ways, dealing with this pandemic has been one giant game of Whac-A-Mole. Just when we begin to have answers, the questions change. We wore masks (at least most of us did) and scrubbed our hands until a vaccine was available. Then a new variant popped up that reset vaccination goals. We reset the goals.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. What we do know is we have a chance to make changes so we can cope effectively, ethically and compassionately with future challenges. And there will be challenges – COVID-19, climate change or something else.