Healthy Questioning (written January 7th)
Governments in general have good intentions in these difficult pandemic times. Yet by asking appropriate questions about health regulations, we as citizens can help our government maximize the effectiveness of policies that so heavily impact our lives.
The curfew, a relatively uncommon policy in North America outside of Quebec, has attracted significant criticism over the past several weeks, especially following a scathing open letter signed by 13 Quebec academics and published on the open news source Pivot.
Unfortunately, there have been no significant studies on curfew effectiveness conducted following the curfew of last winter. However, evidence suggests that Covid transmission occurs mainly in workplaces and schools, so the potential benefits of curfews may be slight. Yet the negative impacts of a curfew are substantial. Social workers and others on the front lines have spoken about impacts on mental health, levels of depression, and increases in domestic abuse. There are also additional hardships for sex workers and the homeless.
Something the provincial government has largely overlooked is that the National Capital Region provides an excellent case study on the effectiveness of curfews. The region in many ways behaves as a single city. Yet only a portion of it is subject to the curfew. The curves for Covid cases on both sides of the river have been quite similar since the beginning of the pandemic. The population of Ottawa is about 2.5 times larger than that of the Outaouais, with case numbers consistently two to three times higher in Ottawa, exactly what we would expect based solely on its larger population. This was the case before, during and after the period of the first curfew from January to May of last year. The only divergence has been in the last couple of days, as case counts in Outaouais since the introduction of the curfew have surprisingly outpaced those in Ottawa. This could be due to limited testing capacity in Ottawa, which makes case counts a less meaningful measure of the severity of transmission. Regardless, the situation in the National Capital Region raises serious questions about the efficacy of curfews to fight Covid transmission.
Another Covid rule rarely seen outside of Quebec is the closing of stores on Sundays. The idea is to avoid burnout of employees, but the negative consequences could also easily outweigh the positives. On Saturdays, lines within or to enter grocery stores could become much longer, increasing overall transmission. As well, in a time when we’re debating whether other recent laws encourage secularism or racism, mandating that everyone rest on the day associated with Christianity could be seen as contradictory. There is a similar concern given that gatherings were allowed at Christmas but not at New Year’s, a much more important time for those who identify with religions other than Christianity, and who already feel targeted by the secularism laws.
Let’s all work together to make sure that our health regulations are as effective as possible, minimizing negative impacts wherever we can. After all, it looks like we will be living with these rules for a while.