In Our Words: COVID-19 reopening must be done with caution

Here’s another COVID-19 column. Today, we will talk about how different areas and countries are choosing to get people back to work. Some ideas could work, some already haven’t and while some ideas seem to make sense on paper, there isn’t a clear correct answer yet.

One of the paramount issues at play worldwide right now is whether or not we should open businesses closed due to COVID-19, and if so, when and how it shall be done.

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Yes, people need to get back to work. Yes, businesses can’t continue to have week after week of next to no revenue. Rent isn’t going to pay itself, after all, and refrigerators don’t automatically refill themselves, no matter how many times you open the door and look inside hoping something tasty will magically appear.

At the same time, we must ensure that however business reopenings are rolled out and travel restrictions are loosened, they’re done in the safest way possible.

Opening everything up as normal, including unfettered travel for everyone in and out of the north, may sound good right now. It would not be the right decision. Experts have said there will likely be a second wave of COVID-19 and however bad it may be will depend on the decisions people make in the wrap-up of the first wave.

In order to keep people safe, any reopening needs to be done slowly and carefully. We need to ease ourselves back into day-to-day life while maintaining a knowledge of what our “new normal” is - washing hands, staying away from others whenever possible, not speaking moistly and maybe wearing a mask to keep you from getting anyone ill if you turn out to be carrying COVID-19.

As a province, Manitoba appears to be ready to gradually reopen businesses and enterprise shut down during COVID-19. Cases of the disease have been pretty much stagnant over the past few weeks. There are fewer than 20 people left across Manitoba with the disease as I write this. The plan is slow but steady and we aren’t likely to see everything back up and running (if all goes smoothly) until later this summer. Mass gatherings, with a couple exceptions where social distancing can be done successfully, will be essentially verboten. Testing criteria has been opened up to nearly anyone who feels they need a test. Manitoba appears to be handling things well enough.

Often in these columns, I compare Manitoba’s COVID-19 response to Saskatchewan’s response to the disease. I fear I’ve been overly negative about how our western neighbours have been handling the outbreak.

So, let’s change tack and let’s compliment Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 response. Let’s say something nice.

Ummm… let’s see here.

At least you’re not Brazil? I guess that works? Sure.

Compared to Manitoba, Saskatchewan has more than twice as many reported cases, more than four times (five at time of writing, but we’re being generous) as many active cases and well over one hundred times as many total cases in northern communities as Manitoba. There are still two active outbreaks of the disease in northern Saskatchewan.

Despite all that, Saskatchewan appears to be moving ahead on their own reopening plans faster than Manitoba. Saskatchewan already is planning on moving on to phase three of its provincial reopening plan June 8, while Manitoba is now only ramping up to phase two. Restaurants and bars will be able to open up to half capacity. Gyms will reopen. Tattoo parlours and nail salons will reopen, too. Travel restrictions for most of the north have been lifted already, despite the fact that transmission into northern communities from elsewhere already caused both outbreaks in La Loche and Beauval.

None of those things are happening right now in Manitoba - at least, not yet.

While I am quite critical of Saskatchewan’s reopening plans, it could still be worse. They could be the U.S. Yes, we’re now comparing Canadian and American responses to COVID-19 again. We’re doing this one more time.

You may be aware that all 50 states, as of late last week, have at least partially reopened businesses ordered closed by state and local governments. Connecticut was the last one to open back up, so to speak, last week.

Out of all 50 states, 17 have reported increases of at least 10 per cent in total COVID-19 cases over the past week. Keep in mind, too, that people infected with COVID-19 do not immediately test positive or show symptoms. There’s every chance that there are Americans (and possibly Canadians) out and about with COVID-19 who don’t know it and are putting people in danger.

It’s pretty clear that people arguing for a full restoration immediately to full economic service aren’t seeing reality. Yeah, it would be nice to go down to Winnipeg or Saskatoon for a weekend and see some friends, but it just isn’t feasible right now. Will it be soon? Let’s hope so.

It is easy for us in northern Manitoba to minimize COVID-19. We have had three total cases of it since this all started. If we continue on with no new cases until June 8, it’ll be two full months since the last one was reported. With that said, we’ll end up with more if we open everything up willy-nilly and attempt to roll things back to the way they were before.

We cannot believe that maintaining the economy is worth a cost in human lives, but we also can’t ignore that the longer COVID-19 lasts, the bigger an impact it will have on our lives once we get the all-clear to continue on. The best we can hope for is a compromise, to have our cake, buy it and sell it too - and hope it doesn’t make anyone sick.

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