/What we’ve learned

What we’ve learned

By Sue Tiffin

Reviewing the papers of 2021 to compile the annual Year in Review section for this week’s edition was at times a heavy task as the COVID-19 pandemic carried on throughout a second year, and at times offered a reminder of all of the good news that happened, too, last year. Wow, what we’ve lived through … but hopefully too, what we’ve learned. 

At the beginning of 2021, we were entering the second economic lockdown in Ontario, with daily COVID-19 cases averaging around 3,000 – but vaccines were on the way. At the beginning of 2022, we’ve lost count of daily cases due to a reduction in testing, not everyone embraced vaccines or could access them, and this week we’ve learned we’re starting the year with “new” restrictions that don’t feel so novel: a return to online learning for students, the closure of in-person dining, a pause on non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures to help protect our health-care system.  

We rely on our government at this time more than ever to help lead based on the resources and the experts they have offering them guidance. While they’re not always going to get it right – we hope that they’ve learned through the pandemic as many of us have to do better. 

That’s what made Monday’s press conference – when Premier Doug Ford emerged to announce new restrictions –  so frustrating: we had the information to do better. We knew winter months would result in a COVID-19 case surge as in the previous year, and we had information at the end of November about Omicron and how it might spread – that while it might be more mild (although not to everyone including our most vulnerable who matter too, of course), it was transmissible to the point that if we did nothing or the bare minimum, if we didn’t have a circuit breaker as cases skyrocketed, we would inevitably face … well, what we’re facing now: overwhelmed hospitals and staff shortages due to sickness across all sectors. While we can’t control everything that comes our way, last-minute flip-flop decision-making has left parents, educators, school boards, business owners, athletes, volunteers, municipalities, the health unit – all of us – scrambling. 

Trying to make decisions during a pandemic can be harrowing. Whether the decision was to keep schools open or not, cancel surgeries or not, close gyms or not, there would have been unhappy campers. But the longer the days went by without the public hearing from their leaders, the more we all struggled. When businesses aren’t sure what’s happening the next week, they lose money when they have to close unexpectedly – restaurants end up with food waste, staff ends up without work with no notice. Had teachers known in December their class plans would change, they might have been able to mentally prepare for that over the break. If parents knew even last week that they’d need two weeks of childcare, they might have been less stressed, and their kids would have been less anxious too, having a plan of some kind in place. 

If we really care about mental health we’ll do everything we can to make schools safe – which experts have been repeating steadfastly for months and months now means vaccination mandates, reduction in class sizes, proper ventilation, access to N95 masks and Rapid Antigen Tests for all and prioritizing educators for vaccines and boosters. If we really care about mental health we’ll make decisions on accurate data and expert guidance and make those decisions as soon as we can so that people feel they have more control in a situation that we’re not controlling very well. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if we’re facing fatigue from the pandemic,or simply how it’s been handled. 

Here’s to 2022, and the hope for as much good news as possible because we know better, and can do better.