COVID-19 will bring out our best and our worst

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We watched COVID-19 hit China.  We watched it move to Iran.  We saw it shut down Italy.  We saw South Korea spring to action after a spike in infection.

We’re no longer at the sidelines.  Our country’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, says this week is our chance to flatten the curve.  Dr. Tam recently tweeted out reminding Canadians, “For some the disease will be more severe or life threatening, so we all need to take every precaution to protect the vulnerable.”

In a few weeks time, we will see if the efforts led by our federal, provincial and municipal health officials were effective.  We’ll also see if Canadians heeded their advice.

Our government is asking a lot of us to truly make a difference.  Social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation all come at cost for each Canadians.  Some worry about loneliness while others fear their financial outlook.

It is certainly a challenge.  A pandemic like COVID-19 breeds more than bacteria.  There can be palpable fear that prompts panic buying, but it can also bring out the worst of us.

Our precautionary measures must include those against our worst instincts

Panic and misinformation will enhance the normal feelings of fear and anxiousness that accompany a pandemic.  We are scared of the unknown, we don’t know how long we will live like this, we worry for our loved ones.

I’ve seen memes, videos and pictures of panic buying at grocery stores.  In a way, I understand the motive.  People are scared and any action will help to calm fears, if for a little while.  But a mass consumption of goods will only breed more fear.  Image after image of empty shelves keep driving the masses to the supermarket.

Last week I went to the grocery store for some typical errands.  When I arrived, every single grocery cart was in use and the lines snaked around the store.  I am fortunate enough to work in a position that gives me accurate updates and access to our top medical professionals.  I’ve taken pride in the updates I’ve delivered to the public.  But when I saw people with full grocery carts I called a family member convinced I would starve.

When we panic shop, we forget about people living beyond the poverty line.  Our fears are real but there are people living paycheck to paycheck who can’t afford to go to the grocery store on payday only to find none of the essentials.

While we need to hold ourselves to account, this is a time to keep our policy-makers to account as well.  Our government is working hard to keep us safe and healthy.  They do so with considerable challenges.  But there are real concerns.

Self-isolation will be easier for some but failures of reconciliation and infrastructure have proven a blindspot with a grim cost.  There are First Nations across the country that are still under water boil advisories.  Self-isolation will not work without clean water.  We don’t know what plan the government has to help, other than money set aside for Indigenous communities.  We’d do well to remember the government response to H1N1 in First Nations.  We’d do better to prompt the government to act now.

This can bring out the best of us

 An emotional Patty Hadju asked Canadians to think of ways we can support each other, saying, “Make sure you continue to ask how you can help.”

The willingness to check in, acknowledge our fears and get creative will help us through.

That’s already started.  I’ve seen community Facebook groups come together to plan creative scavenger hunts for neighbourhood kids on St. Patrick’s Day.  Residents posted shamrocks near the front of their houses for children to find on their walks.  Small moments will make self-distancing a little easier, and allow us to connect from afar.

Neighbours are dropping groceries off to senior and immunocompromised residents.  We’re checking in on those who are vulnerable, isolated or lonely.

Nurses are coming out of retirement and health care professionals are putting it all on the line to keep us safe.  All they ask in return is we stay home.

People have donated blood, hooked up their laptops to servers fuelling research and are making donations to their local food banks.

These are our best inclinations in practice.

When I think of the work we are doing as a community to support each other, I can’t help but think of some parting words from the Prime Minister at a recent presser about the supportive action he’s seen across the country.

“It gives me a lot of hope.”

Photo Credit: The Chronicle Herald

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