Here are some facts. On Feb. 15, Premier Doug Ford said the world was done with COVID-19 and it was time to move on from restrictions. On March 9, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said that as of March 21, the province was dropping most mask mandates. This, of course, followed the announcement that as of March 14, mandatory vaccine policies will end.
Here are some other facts. As of March 7, Health Sciences North had 72 patients in hospital with COVID-19, with three in the ICU. One person has died this week so far, the 112th person to die locally and the seventh to die in the past two weeks. Nearly half of all COVID deaths in the Public Health Sudbury & Districts jurisdiction have occurred in the past two months.
Here are still other facts. Every major hospital in Northern Ontario continues to treat COVID-19 patients on a regular basis. Every major hospital in the North continues to admit patients for COVID-19 and patients at every major hospital continue to need the services of Intensive Care Units. In every health unit jurisdiction in Northern Ontario people continue to die on a regular basis.
Coronavirus disease is not done with us, regardless of what a politician might say.
So what does it mean that Ontario is joining other provinces and countries in dropping pandemic restrictions? Can life finally, as political leaders have been promising for months, return to “normal”?
The fact of the matter is the end of COVID-19 mandates is not an end to COVID-19. To this day, people continue to be sickened, debilitated and killed by it. The still-evolving novel coronavirus remains utterly unpredictable. You could be asymptomatic or you could be on a ventilator; you could recover in days or you could develop long COVID and be disabled by it for weeks, months or possibly years. It could be little more than a cold or it could kill you.
None of us know how a COVID infection will affect us individually. This does not change because we are no longer required to wear masks.
Seemingly regardless of the fact that the pandemic is clearly not over, the government is telling us its role in minimizing the impact of COVID-19 is mostly at an end. The decision, while popular in certain circles, is not without critics. From health-care professionals to teachers’ unions, people who work with vulnerable populations say it is too soon to drop masks.
It does not appear the expiration of the Reopening Ontario Act, from which the government’s right to impose a mask mandate flows, forces hospitals, long-term care facilities or congregate care settings to stop mask mandates or prevents them from imposing their own. The same applies to business owners, who are well within their right to require customers to wear a mask to enter their establishment, should they desire.
We hope — and expect — mandates will remain in place where it makes sense.
The province’s decision to drop mask mandates means the fight to minimize COVID’s societal harm becomes solely a personal responsibility. Of course, we have all had that personal responsibility since the beginning, but government dictates helped ensure the rebellious and the reluctant mostly complied.
The wilfully ignorant will continue to deny the efficacy of masks, lockdowns and vaccines, and even the reality of COVID-19 itself, but their opinions should be ignored and discounted because they are neither valid nor based in objective reality.
We should not suffer bad ideas out of some misguided notion of respecting everyone’s point of view. Wrong is simply wrong.
The unfortunate truth is many will see the government pronouncement this week as a signal that all precautions can be thrown to the wind. That is just not true.
We cannot abandon all the hard-fought lessons we have learned over the past two years in a vain attempt to return to a pre-COVID existence — there is no path back there.
Each and every one of us still has a personal responsibility to ourselves, to our loved ones and to our neighbours to keep each other safe by continuing to wear masks, to wash our hands and to keep our distance in public as much as possible.
That is part of the social contract that binds us together as a society.
And as to those promises that “life can return to normal,” we say this: Not only is COVID-19 not over, it is not the last pandemic we will face in a world where rapid transit to any corner of the globe transports deadly viruses as well as it transports people.
The definition of normal has changed. Just because the government is washing its hands of responsibility does not mean we should, too.
Sudbury.com's editorial opinion is determined by an editorial board made up of senior staff.