By Pauline Kerr
The novel coronavirus we call COVID-19 is doing what coronaviruses are prone to do – mutating.
The so-called variants are popping up at a phenomenal rate and scaring the living daylights out of health officials. Communities that thought they were home-free, with effective vaccines right around the corner, have discovered they were premature in celebrating the return to normal.
The long-feared third wave of this pandemic is no longer something health officials hope to prevent. One look at the number of new cases, and the increasing prevalence of the “variants of concern” shows the third wave has crested and is about to come crashing down on us.
A best-case scenario would have been to develop a vaccine and get it in enough arms to knock down COVID-19 before the virus mutated too much. With reports that at least one of the variants shows resistance to the vaccine, the best-case scenario is not going to happen.
The next-best bet would be to try to keep the numbers as low as possible while vaccinating as many people as possible. We may have no control over how this virus mutates, but we do have some control over the rest of it.
The variants may be more virulent than the original, but they still respond to the same things that knocked down the first wave to manageable levels – distance, as well as masks and hand-washing. They worked well the first time around, and they still work.
Many of us suspect the rising numbers are not entirely the fault of the new variant strains of COVID-19.
At least partly responsible are the folks who think nothing of leaving an area in lockdown to dine and shop in a more open zone nearby. Unlike other countries, ours has been hesitant to impose local travel restrictions, leaving it up to individuals to determine what trips are necessary. Some have behaved responsibly and avoided going to and from high-risk areas; others have been oblivious to the warnings and have gone ahead and put themselves and others at risk.
There is already talk of another lockdown in this province, and unless local travel restrictions make a belated entry onto the list of what is on the table and what is not, members of the public will continue to be free to travel at their own discretion.
For the sake of those of us still awaiting our turn to get vaccinated, we hope people who choose to travel to this area do so as safely as possible. Our shops welcome the business – many, in fact, depend on it – but not if it means risking transmission of COVID-19.
Some people have had a chance to be vaccinated because of their profession but have declined the offer, either to wait for a vaccine they deem safer, or to wait and watch to see how well others tolerate it. In the meantime, they are unprotected, and so are their families, co-workers, friends and everyone else they encounter. Moreover, when people see health-care workers who are hesitant to get vaccinated, they themselves might have second thoughts.
For the most part, people in this area want the vaccine, the sooner, the better. To ensure Ontario and the rest of Canada get maximum benefit, we need enough people vaccinated that we knock down the pandemic permanently.
As long as the virus finds hosts in which to spread and mutate, COVID-19 will be with us in some form. There is always the danger a new variant will emerge that is much deadlier than earlier strains, and vaccine-resistant. It has happened before with other viruses including influenza.
In other words, we are not out of the woods yet.
We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from contracting COVID-19 for at least a few more months. We know what that means – another spring and summer of masks and distancing, to ensure the loved ones we are desperate to hug and spend time with are alive and healthy.
We can do this. We must do this.