Rural people have been unfairly burdened by lockdown measures in this pandemic.
They are also unfairly burdened by media hysteria. Whether it’s from nightly newscasts that whip up fear or the endless fixation on the number of COVID-19 cases, even healthy country dwellers can get the impression that death is a handshake away.
Where’s the perspective? As of June 19, one person had died from COVID-19 in all of Renfrew County. She was in her nineties. Back in March, we didn’t know who was vulnerable but we very quickly discovered that even a healthy 90-year-old could test positive to COVID-19, have few or no symptoms and shake it off. We don’t hear that on the evening news. We also discovered that most people who test positive have no or few symptoms and don’t feel sick. We also now know that the elderly who were suffering from other ailments or were already dying account for the majority of deaths from COVID-19. Health Canada reports that people older than 80 account for 70 per cent of all fatalities.
Some perspective is needed. The death of a 95-year-old man with terminal cancer and COVID-19 is sad. But the upending of a 25-year-old’s future with a draconian lockdown can be tragic.
Moreover, we know that healthy, young people are not at risk. No one under 20 has died from COVID-19 in Ontario and a healthy adult has about the same risk of dying from COVID worldwide as from the common flu.
Rural areas are also at very low risk. The bigger the city the bigger the risk. Of 2,550 COVID fatalities in Ontario as of June 18, 1,000 occurred in Toronto. There were 5,300 fatalities in Quebec and 3,130 of them were in Montreal alone.
Compare that to the total number of fatalities as of June 18 in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut or Prince Edward Island – zero. There were 2 COVID deaths in New Brunswick , 3 in Newfoundland, 7 in Manitoba and 13 in Saskatchewan. That means that one long-term care facility in Montreal recorded more COVID deaths than five provinces and three territories combined.
Alberta had 151 deaths over the same period — on par with the province’s traffic fatalities. To be safe, should Alberta have also shut down its highways? No. The figures are telling us that we should relax the restrictions, especially in rural areas.
We need to move a lot faster to get our economy off life-support. By June 12, the province announced Stage 2 of re-opening, allowing groups of 10 to gather. But surely, restaurants in rural areas should have been given the green light earlier and allowed customers indoors. Not to say we should throw caution to the wind. We all know who is the most vulnerable and we should respect their concerns and protect them. We have all learned to wash our hands, avoid touching our faces and distance ourselves.
By June 1, Renfrew’s restaurants and the town’s one cinema should have been allowed to open with a few distancing measures. They were not.
Surely auctioneers can hold an outside farm auction practically risk-free. Just ask people to stand an arm’s length apart. Despite the fact that the virus disperses outdoors, outside farm auctions were still banned in June. Whatever happened to ‘following the science’?
Rural churches should have opened much earlier with social distancing. But some rules are simply hypocritical. Churches are apparently not as essential as the marijuana stores that didn’t exist two years ago and are open every day during lockdown. In New York City, a group of Catholic priests and Orthodox Jews are suing New York City and New York state for violating their constitutional rights by the selective targeting and enforcement of the pandemic-related lockdown orders.
For more perspective, we know that the reporting of COVID deaths is inflated. Our health units know by how much but won’t tell us. A man dying of an illness and given one month to live, who tests positive for COVID-19 and dies in four weeks is counted as a COVID fatality. In Washington State, five people who were fatally shot were placed in the COVID-19 column under cause of death.
We are not getting enough information and more and more people are fed up and frustrated. People have made necessary sacrifices and we’re willing to endure and persevere for the sake of our most vulnerable. But we now need to know more details of who is at risk, where the risks really are and, of those who get sick, what are the possible long-term effects and the chances that it could happen to us. That data is easy to compile and we have a right to know.
Patrick Meagher is editor of Farmers Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.