The National Post ran a story in late June about a COVID-19 outbreak at a Kingston, Ontario, nail salon, after six employees and 12 patrons tested positive. The headline read: “COVID-19 outbreak: 18 new cases linked to nail salon in Kingston.
Scary headline for a national newspaper but how many of those 18 people went crawling on hands and knees to the local hospital? How many needed ventilators? How many are having trouble breathing and are clinging to life? How many are now dead? The answer is zero to all of the above. After frightening readers, the article went on to say: “None of the people who tested positive have been hospitalized.”
So, that’s a good news story.
As of July 22, there had been 106 COVID-19 cases in the region of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington. Of those cases, 105 are now back to good health. There was only one active case in the entire region and that person was not hospitalized. There are no cases of lingering symptoms. That’s another good news story.
Why don’t we see a headline like: “Only 1 in 2,000 test positive to COVID-19 in Kingston and area – no hospitalizations, no deaths.”
Sadly, too many people, from news agencies to political leaders and health officials, are operating on reference points that are unreasonable worst case scenarios. Sweden didn’t lock down. New York State did and Sweden has a much lower COVID-19 death toll per capita. I am not advocating we throw caution to the wind. Sweden didn’t. We all know the precautions we need to take (wash hands, wear masks when needed) but we also need to allow people freedom to operate their businesses to feed their families and the freedom to live their lives. We also need to consider building herd immunity if there is no vaccine. That means a spike in positive testing among healthy people can be good news because it builds immunity.
What too many politicians fail to realize is that lockdowns and restrictions on our freedom affect mental health. For several months, people couldn’t visit friends, relatives, and some couldn’t even go to work. Unemployment and social restrictions are key indicators of suicide.
I know one person who tested positive to COVID-19 and he was over it in a week. I know two people who are dead because of government restrictions. One man, who lived alone in an Ottawa high rise, jumped from his balcony. A colleague of my wife, who also lived alone and has given gifts to our children, lost her job and was found in a river on Canada Day. The stupidly repeated slogan “whatever it takes to save one life” from COVID-19 pushes others closer to the brink.
Some health care workers are seeing the damage close up. “I’m seeing a level of fear that I’ve not seen in my clinical experience over 20 years,” Dr. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, told the Epoch Times. “I did a clinic today. I spoke to half a dozen people who lost their jobs. They can’t pay their bills. They’re having nightmares. They’re feeling like they could be without their homes. They’ve got food insecurity. This is an all-out assault on their wellbeing.”
Due to pandemic restrictions in Canada, 10 per cent of working Canadians either lost their job or saw their working hours reduced. Projecting unemployment scenarios caused by COVID-19, McIntyre calculated that increased unemployment would cause 418 to 2,114 suicides.
Public officials need to take mental health into account. They will face heat no matter what they do but anyone can lead in easy times. True leaders are courageous and are willing to make tough decisions for the common good. While we are now hearing a barrage of arguments against opening our schools in the fall, a Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital study urged the province to open schools with necessary precautions. That’s what the province should do and is planning to do. The province should also continue to ease restrictions on sports for young people, churches and businesses, particularly in rural areas where no one is sick.
Politicians need to acknowledge that the average Canadian, excluding those already very sick and elderly, is more likely to die in an accident than from COVID-19. Also, of July 22, only one person under the age of 19 in Canada had died from COVID-19. Statistically speaking, a Canadian under the age of 45 is more likely to be murdered than to die from COVID-19.
Meantime, if there are meaningful statistics that show that there are a significant number of healthy people with long-lasting effects from COVID-19, let’s see them.
Public leaders need to look at the science and weigh COVID restrictions against the harm that the rhetoric and restrictions are causing the people they serve. Meantime, news editors need to stop encouraging hype and horror. We all need to be prudent but we also need to stop being scared and be allowed to live our lives. We need to flatten the fear.
Patrick Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org