By Pauline Kerr
Last March at this time, we were starting to see people die from COVID-19 – not somewhere halfway around the world, but here.
As we scrambled to retrieve the items our kids had left at school, we wondered when they would be returning. Some were predicting an extra week or two for March break; others thought school was out for the duration. Kids might be home for months or even another year or two.
Few realized the entire education system would change in a year, to incorporate remote learning. What we need to ensure is the good parts of the traditional system, such as sports and extracurricular activities, are not lost.
Early in the pandemic, it became obvious that we would share the experience of many other countries and see our oldest and most fragile citizens hit hardest, victims of not only the terrifying new virus, but of decades of neglect by successive governments.
The strong measures in place to protect our hospital patients and staff were desperately lacking in the long-term care sector. There is no quick fix, but shoving long-term care back into the “when we have time and money” file is not an option.
Those who work in the long-term care sector need wages and benefits, plus personal protective equipment and respect in synch with their hospital counterparts. The safety of our loved ones depends on it, whether they live or work in long-term care.
Despite efforts by all levels of government to keep businesses afloat with grants, programs, loans and pleas to “buy local,” we figured out early on that the pandemic would close some doors permanently. Jobs would be lost. We failed to realize the heaviest toll would be paid by women and young people.
Even before COVID-19 hit, there was a worrying shift from regular jobs with benefits, to insecure employment – contract work, part-time jobs and temporary positions with few or no benefits.
What we have learned from the pandemic is paid sick leave protects not only workers but those with whom they come in contact. People struggling to put food on the table cannot afford to risk losing several days’ pay or even their jobs to self-isolate for two weeks every time they get the sniffles or a fever. Many small business owners cannot afford to pay sick benefits, true, but surely there is a solution that works for both employees and business owners. Government needs to help find that solution.
Over the past year, we have learned a lot, including how to shop for necessities using our computer. The kitchen table has become office, classroom and video conferencing centre. Appropriate wearing apparel for a council or business meeting, school or job interview has become a nice shirt and jacket, sweat pants and bedroom slippers. And we know exactly how far two metres is.
While we await our COVID-19 shots, most of us suspect life will not return to pre-pandemic normal. Masks and hand sanitizer will remain in a lot of handbags and desk drawers a long time after the last COVID patient recovers, and the once-ubiquitous handshake has gone the way of the dodo bird. Zoom has not only become a part of our vocabulary, but a part of our culture. High-speed internet is now a necessity. The benefits of telecommuting have been proved, and even small, local businesses have developed an online presence that will serve them well in the future.
We have long feared a global pandemic, and it came to pass. A year after it started, we are still here – at least most of us – and still wearing our masks – at least most of us. The pandemic has shown us not so much where change is needed, but where it is already happening at an accelerated rate.
A year ago, few of us realized a pandemic would be far more than a hospital emergency, but would have a profound impact on every element of our society, from minor hockey to the American presidential election – something to be forgotten at our peril.