Cure really is worse than disease right now in NWT, say docs
I could very be going off the rails on a crazy train.
The year 2020 started off quite nicely, however in the first quarter, things began to go south. There was talk of a new type of virus in China. From bats, maybe? Then the ‘Rona swept over the world. We’re now living through historical times.
Everything changed. You couldn’t escape the story. Life was going to be very, very odd for a few months. Oh, wait, make that a year. Or longer.
I care so very much about the place I now call home. I understand how very precious our existence is up here, and how we deeply appreciate the few amenities we have which are taken for granted in southern Canada.
We ride a wave of economic bust and boom. Gold mines morphed into diamond mines. When, we were eagerly looking for a new, diverse economy. While nothing could really replace the massive employment opportunities and tax revenues from mining, international tourism was growing exponentially and we were learning how to accommodate that influx of eager foreign visitors. Ironically, many were from China, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Overnight, the small groups of tourists — with fancy cameras hung outside of those ubiquitous blue loaner parkas from tour groups — vanished from the streets of the capital. The aurora went unwatched by all of those appreciative eyes.
Premier Caroline Cochrane declared a state of emergency March 24 which gave her government sweeping powers to battle the microscopic SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Stores closed, bars and restaurants shuttered. I could no longer get my breakfasts at the Gold Range Bistro or sip dark rum while on my favourite stool at the Black Knight Pub. Plastic sneeze guards popped up at customer service points in the few stores that remained opened. It made me feel as if I was living at a salad bar, or outside of an aquarium.
Some sections in stores were roped off, some products covered in plastic. For some odd reason, paper products became worth their weight in gold.
Outside of the NWT, the stock markets took a nose dive, making me concerned about my investments, which I will need in order to live and eat for the next few decades. Was my financial plan, so carefully made, going to be in peril? Cat food is expensive and my two creatures gobble it up.
But I digress. Back to my recap intro into the topic of the day.
Our border was closed. Even visits to and from family or friends would be troublesome. Only essential workers would be allowed in — truckers delivering food and gas, or workers heading to the mines or to maintain infrastructure — and anyone who did travel outside would need to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return. Hundreds of people got tested. As of this morning, there have been: 2644 completed tests; 2639 negative tests; 65 tests pending; and five confirmed and recovered cases.
It has become clear, after a while, that the NWT might not be as highly impacted by the actual disease as the rest of Canada. After a couple of months — and after only five cases, all of which recovered with no community spread — it was apparent the quick and informed moves made by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola worked and we were in a ‘Rona-free bubble.
Oops, sorry …
If we continue to be very, very good at keeping our border closed and closely monitoring folks who need to come in (those who have traveled outside the territory will continue to be required to self-isolate upon their return to the NWT), we should be able to enjoy a pretty carefree life in our COVID-free bubble. Right?
Pushing my libertarian streak to the side, I figured I would go along with the government’s plan. People were dying across the world and cases were popping up across Canada. I ordered some fancy face masks early on — apps for Etsy and Amazon are on the home screen of my iPhone, but they were there before the pandemic (“My name is James: I have an online shopping problem…”) — and found out they are hot, uncomfortable and make my glasses fog up when I breathe.
But I have some that I can grab if heading somewhere that demands the use of non-medical masks.
Approaching four months into this mess, I am becoming less tolerant of the rules. In fact, I am done with most of them. Yes, keep the borders essentially closed and strictly enforce quarantines for people coming here. Communities with minimal health-care resources can just tell people not to visit and make sure their own people self-isolate if they do travel.
But for goodness sakes, Cochrane has to let her people free while we enjoy life in our little sweet spot in the panicked and hyped ‘Ronaverse. She has to realize that a leader must balance risk and reward and right now, she’s not taking any risk at all. Cochrane is absolving herself of even being blamed for one new case of COVID-19 by simply hiding behind Kandola’s health orders. And Kandola is only going to do what doctor is want to do: Impose impossibly tough measures that will make sure we don’t get any more than those five cases we’ve had.
I remind readers that the great majority of people who get the virus don’t get very sick from it, if at all. Yes, we need to protect the vulnerable populations. We can do that. But we don’t need to pretend we are living in downtown Toronto or Calgary.
So many of us are freaked out by watching news from the United States, or stories about nursing home deaths in eastern Canada. We are not in that situation in the NWT. It’s unfair for us to continue to live in a public health officers’ dream plan.
And at last, I learned I am not alone in my position. I am not the only one who is concerned over my mental health, that of others and the condition of the local small-business community.
Last week, the biz community spoke out, sharing their concerns with the public. This week, it was the doctors’ turn. But save for an exclusive story on July 2 by CBC North — congrats to Sara Minogue for the scoop — we might never have known that the NWT Medical Association sent a six-page letter to CPHO Dr. Kami Kandola on June 21.
Physical distancing restrictions are more harmful than the small risk of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories states the association, which represents 84 doctors.
“The detrimental health, social and financial effects of social distancing are mounting, while the damage done by the COVID virus itself has been nil, writes Dr. Andrew Kotaska, a nationally recognized physician, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology and who holds outreach clinics in communities such as Inuvik, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.
You can’t argue with the doctor’s statement. It’s time to open things up. Relax some of the restrictions, many of which are really, really silly. And now that we are well-versed in the protocols under full COVID-19 attack, we could easily return to that state if we do get a breakout. But we seem to be pretty good at keeping the virus at bay.
“Schools, businesses, restaurants, and sports facilities should re-open without social distancing restrictions, but with improved global public health measures,” states the letter. “Hospital restrictions on asymptomatic visitors should be lifted.”
The association’s letter — copied to other medical officials and the deputy health minister — includes a long list of potential harms, including:
- increased domestic violence,
- decreased quality of education,
- increased apprehensions of at-risk children,
- increased substance abuse,
- poor access to help for other medical conditions, financial stress; and
- “increasing anxiety from fear out of proportion to the risk of being harmed by COVID-19.
“The Territory has established robust testing capability, contract tracing infrastructure, and self-isolation protocols; the population is familiar with social distancing measures should they be required in the future; and much more is known about the epidemiology of COVID-19,” states the letter.
“The risk of potential harm from COVID-19 without social distancing is much lower than it was thought to be three months ago and no longer justifies the increasing harm caused by the restrictions.”
And health care facilities and hospitals have had sufficient time to prepare, the physicians state.
“The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer is at risk of losing its credibility,” states the letter, adding the association recommends telling the public to expect more cases, but to understand that “we are prepared for it and confident that it can be managed in a manner that will minimize risk to the population of the NWT”
If many people are ignoring what they see as unwarranted social distancing rules now, the collective disdain could spread to the actually critical measures in place, such as the border restrictions and traveller quarantines. That’s when we could find ourselves in trouble.
As I asked in my June 30 blog in the business community’s concerns: Will the premier listen to the biz people and the medical folks? Will any of her ministers speak up and force the issue? Or are they all just off for the summer, since the Assembly rose June 12 and won’t be back in session until Oct. 15? Hello?
It’s one thing for a lone blogger, or even a group of businesspeople to call for some sanity in this time of #CovidCrazy, but it’s a completely different situation when a group of doctors offers a second opinion on a health matter.