September 25th, 2021

Laying It Out: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 20, 2021.

If COVID-19 was a shark that ate people, imagine our reactions if we handled it the same.

Some imagination is required for the analogy to work, because sharks eating people isn’t actually a problem, but hear me out. Imagine we all lived on a beach where we spent most of our lives in the water, and a shark shows up.

In this world we’ve grown accustomed to sharks picking off a few of our old and weak each year, but the number lost is small enough, most don’t even notice.

But this time, it’s an enormous Great White and the word around the world is it’s aggressive and relentless. In fact, we aren’t the first beach it’s been to and so we know in advance it will devour one per cent of unprotected swimmers.

We know the only way to guarantee safety is to get everyone out of the water, but in this not-all-that hypothetical world, we’ve created a system where we believe if we don’t go in the water, we can’t survive on the beach.

And so, faced with this dilemma, decisions by beach management have a profound effect. If we don’t get out of the water, the shark might eat us, but if we get everyone out of the water, we jeopardize lives by crashing our underwater system – a “current”economy if you will.

At our beach, we collectively choose our management, and we take pride in our freedom to swim where we want. Ordering us out of the water is not something leaders can take lightly.

So when this particular shark showed up, beaches in our part of the world took what managers sold as a balanced approach. And since management has wrongly convinced us it can’t possibly provide what the ocean can, balance was something we were buying.

“We’re going to have to learn to swim with the shark,” they said.

We told people to stay out of the water if they can, but should a swim be essential, wear a wetsuit and stay six feet apart. Then we deemed a group of us “essential swimmers” and left them with the shark.

Some of us sat on the beach and spread rumours it was “just a reef shark,” or even “the shark is a hoax,” but for the most part we cheered on heroic frontline swimmers and lifeguards who risked their lives for the greater good.

Then the first wave of attacks went by, and we lost fewer people than we were told could happen. “Well that shark wasn’t so bad,” we thought, and management told us it was safe to go back in the water.

Even though we knew the shark was still here, we listened to our leaders and swam more freely. Of course, as soon as it had more food, it began to eat more often. We had every piece of evidence necessary to know this would happen, but we tried to swim with the shark anyway.

And what happened? After it was already too late to save certain lives, we did the same thing we did before – get some out of the water, leave some in and wait for its appetite to slow.

Here we are again. Attacks are on the decline, and our lifeguard shacks have plenty of space. The minister of lifeguards says what a great job we did not swimming with the shark, and that it’s time we reward ourselves by swimming with the shark.

As a bonus, sharks from the UK and South Africa are now in the water, and rumour has it, they bite more often.

The point of this oddball analogy is, like this hungry hypothetical shark, the very real COVID-19 needs to eat, and we are its food. How much it eats depends on how much access we give to its source of nutrition – us. As long as it’s here, it will keep eating. The more food we offer by “going for a swim,” the more it will consume.

And since we’ve spent a year taking this “balanced” approach, the virus lingers, eating a little at a time until we let our guard down and give it the buffet. Is the vaccine our shark repellent? Maybe, but until we have shots in every arm, the virus will feast on everyone else.

We’ve seen other countries starve their shark, so we know a “zero attacks” approach can work. Experts continue to remind us that if we stop feeding this thing, it dies in seven weeks.

But if we get back in the water while the shark is still here, there is only one way this turns out. We’ll end up on the beach anyway, and we’ll have left a whole lot more blood in the water.

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

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