It feels like we’re living in the middle of a mystery — or, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford says, we’re in the early chapters of a story that is still being written and how we behave can influence the ending.
It’s not possible to know how this pandemic will end; there’s no script. This virus is new to humans. There is no vaccine, no treatment. We only learned of it on Dec. 31, 2019.
That might feel like a lifetime ago, given how our lives have changed. But it’s really just a stitch in time. And it’s not at all clear yet whether we have squandered that time.
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That’s hard to grasp in our world of instant gratification. Our lives are so sophisticated and our technology so advanced, we are not used to being confronted with something we can’t harness and wrestle to the ground.
Suddenly, our value system has been upended. We now realize the jobs so many take for granted are our lifelines. There are countless individuals serving as unsung heroes — truck drivers, warehouse workers, cleaners, grocery store workers, cooks, caregivers in retirement homes. They deserve our gratitude as we realize they’re the people who are quietly keeping our lives running.
They are, in fact, essential workers.
And the trivial disruptions we used to fume about — a late bus, cancelled hair appointment, postponed yoga class — seem so insignificant, they’re laughable.
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What we want most is for all of this to end.
It is testing the patience and stamina of us all, especially frontline health-care workers who put their lives on the line to save the rest of us.
It is testing the wisdom and judgment of our political leaders and public health officials, whose decisions will have life-and-death consequences.
And when this is over there will be a reckoning about whether they acted fast enough to scale up testing, trace contacts, isolate the infected and restrict people’s movements. The Ontario models released April 3 project anywhere between 3,000 and 15,000 could die in that province, even with measures in place to restrict people’s lives.
We have a right to know what epidemiological models public health officers and politicians are using to guide their policy decisions. But no one should expect they’ll provide right or wrong answers.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiology professor at Imperial College London, says models are not crystal balls. He is the highest-profile disease modeller, and his team’s work led the U.S. and the U.K. to swiftly pivot to social distancing measures.
Models use available data to project best- and worst-case scenarios. Much about this virus is still unknown and must be estimated or assumed. They help guide policymakers, but their precision is limited.
So don’t expect disease models to tell us with certainty if the end is in sight. Ontario’s model suggests the pandemic could last 18 months to two years.
No wise political leader should be cornered into giving a precise date.
We don’t need false hope and we don’t need panic. We need facts, patience and stamina as we all work towards writing the final chapter of this mystery.
Dawna Friesen is anchor of Global National, the flagship national newscast for Global News.
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