Covid Lessons (1)
We have now returned to what feels like a pre-pandemic normal with our approach to Covid. Yet while hoping for the best, we must plan for more difficult outcomes in the future as well. Such preparation has sadly been in short supply during previous periods of relaxation. Last minute announcements of rules and divergent approaches by the provinces have exhausted the population and sapped the morale of people in general. There will likely be substantial pushback if we again find ourselves seemingly making up the rules as we go come the fall.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the virus is still very much present in our society, with Covid death rates currently higher than at any point in 2021 save the major surge in the first 6 weeks of last year. We certainly need to find a long-term sustainable strategy that people will follow. Yet such a sustainable strategy is not quickly reverting to lockdowns, mandatory masking and vaccine requirements at the drop of a hat. We need a clearly laid out and public set of conditions for when such rules would be reimposed. This is the only way to avoid a general feeling that our health regulations are decided according to the political mood of the moment.
Creating a list of such conditions will require both forward thinking as well as a critical analysis of what’s come before. In terms of learning from the errors of the past, there seems to be very little appetite for critical thinking at the moment. Premier Legault recently vaunted his government’s performance by showing that the excess death rate, which measures how many more people have died over a period than is typical, has gone from being substantially above other provinces early in the pandemic to approximately in line with other regions when taken over all of the last two years. This is missing a critical point. Covid deaths have been very largely concentrated in the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Over 60% of Covid deaths in Canada have been of those over 80 years old. The explosion in deaths of Quebec’s elderly in the early months of the pandemic meant those in frail health passed away earlier, leaving fewer in the following year or two to come to the end of their lives in a natural way. Our Covid approach has always been about giving everyone as many days of life as possible. Rather than vindicating Quebec’s performance, the excess death rates reinforce its shortcomings, namely that many seniors had shorter lives and died in great discomfort, requiring ventilators and being isolated from their loved ones in their last moments.
Moreover, given that the Chief Coroner’s report on the tragic outcomes at nursing homes won’t lead to public inquiries, this dark chapter of Quebec history will likely fade from our collective memory, giving us less opportunity to learn from the errors of the past. It’s up to everyone to keep pressure on our elected officials to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last several years.