July 24th, 2021

Laying It Out: Staying the course straight into the next brutal wave

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 13, 2021.

If on the first of February I gave you one cent and told you I would double it each day thereafter for a month, on the 10th day I would owe you $5.12.

However, when Feb. 28 rolls around, your last payment is going to be a shade over $1.3 million. Exponential growth is funny that way – it doesn’t seem like much at first but before you know it numbers are astronomical.

Many Albertans are in a more celebratory mood these days – as is to be expected considering the government has essentially urged celebration – and with lifted restrictions and a plan for full reopen, it’s understandable if you’re looking forward to a pandemic-less world.

Overall cases really have been trending down, as are hospitalizations and Albertans in ICU, and each day when Dr. Deena Hinshaw heads to the podium, she tells us just that. Many business owners and their workers are back on the job this week, and considering the winter COVID shutdown came with pretty much zero in-your-pocket financial support for either, it’s easy to see why being trapped by necessity would look like eagerness.

But here’s the kicker. Each time we let our guard down the virus reminds us who’s in control, and this time it’s brought stronger, more relentless friends.

To make matters worse, the exponential growth of the variant strains of this virus has already begun, and once again we are deploying the strategy of, “Try not to get COVID.”

On Feb. 4 the total active cases of the UK (B117) and South African (B1351) strains combined in Alberta was 57. On Feb. 9, the day after restaurants, bars et al reopened, the reported total was 104, and two days later it reached 156.

Today’s total is 171.

Now, I’ll concede Alberta’s top doc knows a lot more than I do, and in a ‘don’t panic’ kind of tone she said Thursday’s bump of 36 new cases had been accumulated over more than one 24-hour period. But what I fail to see is how that matters when just a few weeks ago we had zero and now the variants aren’t just here, they’re picking up steam.

Suggesting the accurate numbers are taking extra time gives me the impression they don’t really know how many variant cases are already here, and therefore aren’t equipped to stop it. And yes, I say “stop” with intent, because this now 11-month plan to “slow” spreads, or “flatten curves,” is an objective failure.

It’s one thing to make what we thought was the right health-versus-the-economy decision when this all arrived – full lockdown would have definitely been met with passionate opposition in Canada – but we do have a year of real-world experiences to go by now, and yet we’re about to run bareback into an electric fence as if we don’t know the shock is coming.

Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist with the University of Calgary, says that shock will arrive in early March when the UK variant becomes the dominant strain in the province. These things are literally her job to predict, and she has been analyzing data from all over the world and studying the behaviour of this virus since it arrived.

In an interview with CTV Calgary this week, Gasperowicz said once the more contagious variant takes over, it will run rampant.

“In matters of weeks we can get to thousands of daily new cases and then it will be super, super difficult to control it,” she said.

Her modelling suggests if we don’t do something now, we will reach 1,000 cases of B117 by March 4, with 2,000 a day close behind.

And in case you don’t believe her, she was also in the news last October successfully predicting the December wave, and I bet you wish we would have listened to her then. She pleaded for a strict supported lockdown in the fall, and had she gotten her wish, we could have avoided exactly what we know happened, which was more than two months of partial lockdown we’re just now trying to lift – and in ill-advised fashion once again.

She’s pleading for a strict supported lockdown again, and if we take her advice this time, we can be done with this before Easter. If we don’t, just as it happened with Christmas, Easter will assuredly coincide with the peak of the next brutal wave – and lockdown.

We can all be understandably upset about vaccine rollouts, and some serious answers to why it’s gone so poorly thus far will have to be sought, but we need to play the hand we are dealt. And right now, Alberta is on pace to have the worst variant outbreak in the country.

We can’t wait for the feds to make decisions for us. We need our government in Edmonton to take control, and that means fully respecting this virus.

If we don’t act now, we will regret it in March and beyond, and that’s no longer just a possibility. As tired of this as we are, and as hard as it is to admit, we need lock it back down.

We need to actually pay people to stay home, actually pay businesses to stay closed and ban evictions of any kind, but we need to do it now.

It doesn’t matter if you think Alberta can afford it. As history is set to repeat all over again, we simply can’t afford not to.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. Contact him at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

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