By most standards, Canadians can be considered reasonably healthy people. We are known for being nice and looking after one another in a crisis, but Canadians are not without their weaknesses. We sometimes give into basic desires that reduce our overall health and life expectancy. The leading causes of death in Canada are cancer and heart attacks (even with COVID-19 in the mix). The overconsumption of unhealthy food, alcohol, and cigarettes are major factors in these deaths. On principle, the government should never tell anyone how they should conduct their personal life. However, that does not mean that the government has no role in promoting good public health and advising or legislating new rules when the need arises.
Public Health in a Pandemic:
While the government would never ban drinking or smoking (again, at least), they can put in place limits on how much you can buy, how much a store can sell, and the overall strength of the product. It is then up to individuals to make the choice about how they consume. The problem with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that these personal choices now affect all of us; our individual choices can now have deadly consequences for entire communities.
Wearing a mask and physically distancing from others have both been proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While many of us sometimes engage in risky behaviour, we generally follow the guidance of our “Bonnie Henry” and do what is best for Canada. There is, however, a segment of society that views any public guidelines to be Orwellian. These people are not usually public health experts, but they have a real impact on our public health system when they rally against public health policies.
This season, Canada is at risk of the double whammy; the flu hitting us hard and COVID-19 surging again. The plea of every medical professional is for people to follow basic advice: stay at home, physically distance, wear a mask, and avoid crowded indoor areas. Students are greatly impacted by these guidelines. Financially we are feeling crushed by extreme debt to pay for school, surviving on minimal incomes, and not quite having attained the education needed to provide us with economic stability. Many young people feel they are being asked to carry a large part of the current burden. COVID-19 burnout is real, and it has led to many young people pushing against or ignoring the COVID-19 guidelines. Most of us can understand the desire to go to a party, dance, drink and have a good time, but we need to stay strong.
What Do We Do?
So, how do we get people to follow guidelines for COVID-19 when we haven’t been successful in having them make healthy choices in other areas? Without heavy handed rules what will compel people to adjust their behaviour for the wellbeing of themselves and others? Other nations have reduced the harmful use of alcohol and smoking through directed media campaigns. While the campaigns have produced the desired result, even this indirect attack on vices has made the governments unpopular, so Canadian leaders may shy from following suit. The government is spending a massive amount of money fighting COVID-19. The health care costs, and effects of our ongoing vices have not halted during the pandemic. The government is moving toward other plans for national dental and pharma-care but with the current economic challenges, they can’t do it all. We have choice and we also have responsibility. The onus is on us to take better care of ourselves, to listen to experts, and to not spread lies.
Many families, especially older Canadians, are placing their hopes on Christmas this year for the first family gathering in months, but a spike in cases of COVID-19 will shatter those dreams. We are likely to see an increase in winter anyway because more people are gathering indoors. Remember, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to get case numbers as low as possible before then, so everyone can enjoy the holidays (I want my potato latkes!). To give ourselves the best chance of getting there in one piece we must make good choices, set good examples, and think of others.
Don’t get Blamed:
If people flaunt the rules, they put themselves and their communities at risk, and increase the severity of the crisis that we’re facing. Young people have already been blamed, and to an extent scapegoated, for an increase in cases. By resisting our urge for unbridled fun, we protect ourselves from blame. Factually, getting sick means you have to isolate, and if you have to work to make ends meet you could be putting yourself in a financial hole as well as putting your health at risk. Look after your vulnerable friends. Consider the many young musicians, performers, bartenders, and others whose livelihoods are shuttered. The only way we get our friends back to work and our bars and nightclubs reopened is by following the rules, not being the problem, and reducing cases. These non-actions will allow us to return to a semblance of normal life.
Here is our chance to get creative and find ways to have fun that don’t burden our healthcare system unnecessarily. Now is a time, no matter your age, to look out for others and to voluntarily choose the best course. To choose wisely now so that when we can be all together again, no one is missing. Are we up for the challenge?
Jonah van Driesum is the senior editor of Link, and co-host of our the MicroLink podcast!