Dr. James Heilman

Now is the time to double down on collective efforts, Cranbrook doctor says

Even with Christmas upon us, we must not give in to complacency of pandemic fatigue

With B.C.’s extended COVID-19 restrictions announced on Monday, holiday gatherings and events won’t be possible this year. And as we approach the one year mark of living in a world with COVID-19, pandemic fatigue has set in for many people.

As the Canadian Press reported in early November, tightened restrictions due to rising case numbers are causing some Canadians to abandon the safety precautions they have been taking into consideration for months.

Dr. James Heilman, an Emergency Physician at East Kootenay Regional Hospital (EKRH), says now is the time to double down on our efforts.

“The vaccine is coming soon. Now is the time to double down on our collective efforts,” Heilman said in an email to the Townsman. “Even though only about one to three per cent of people die from this disease, many more are still sick despite months since being affected. We do not know what percentage of people will have permanent problems.”

According to the latest data from the BC Centre for Disease Control, there were 46 cases among East Kootenay residents between November 20th and December 3rd.

“This only includes East Kootenay residents,” Heilman explained. “[This data], for example, does not include people whose main residence is not here. While B.C. has not done horrible, we are also not doing great when it comes to managing this disease. Diseases that spread exponentially have a habit of sneaking up on a population.”

The rising case numbers are cause for concern among health officials and as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlined Monday, the reason for the extension on restrictions until the new year.

The holidays can be a hard time of year for many people, pandemic aside. According to an Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. press release issued Monday, COVID-19 protocols are expected to compound mental health and addiction emergencies during the holiday season.

READ MORE: Paramedics issue ‘triple threat’ warning for holidays

Interior Health recommends taking a look at the same practices they set forth at the beginning of the pandemic to help manage pandemic-related anxiety.

These practices include maintaining a routine, limiting your media intake, staying virtually connected with family and friends, getting fresh air and exercise, taking advantage of downtime, asking for help, and keeping perspective (focusing on doing your part to fight the spread).

READ MORE: Taking care of your mental health during COVID-19

Heilman says that the health care system can only do so much to specifically protect the elderly population and that the lasting effects of the disease are still unknown. Consider that as another reason to stay motivated to slow the spread.

“This disease causes a great deal of sickness and death, especially in older folks. We know that this disease is spread by close contact, especially when this occurs indoors. Our heath system is already under stress from COVID-19, yet patients with strokes and MI still need care,” he said.

Heilman adds that he will not be travelling over the holidays or having friends or family over to visit.

“I’m not willing to put my parent’s lives at risk,” he said.

People have recently taken to social media and to the streets to protest the provincial mask mandate and the restrictions set in place.

Two anti-mask rallies have been held in Cranbrook recently, and Facebook comments show that some people still plan on having gatherings over the holidays.

B.C. residents are subject to a $200 fine if they are actively encouraging other people to attend a gathering or event.

Heilman says things could get a lot worse than they currently are. For example, last week it was reported that Alberta has reached out to the federal government and Canadian Red Cross for help in setting up field hospitals due to their hospital capacity being overwhelmed.

“If we look at other areas of Canada or the world we can see the benefits of social distancing, masks and travel restrictions in places like Australia, Taiwan, eastern Canada and New Zealand,” Heilman said. “We can also see the harms of not taking COVID seriously enough such as Alberta, the UK and the United States. Alberta’s ICU’s are full, their hospitals are running out of oxygen [and] they are trying to set up field hospitals. While the vaccine is coming soon, it’s unlikely to be widely available for some time.”

So, in the meantime, it’s important that everyone continue to do their part and work together. When asked if further closures and restrictions may be coming, specifically with regards to schools, Heilman said they may be required if case numbers continue to rise.

“With respect to further closures of schools it depends on the actions of individuals, governments, and administration,” said Heilman. “Based on current policies and behaviours I fear further school and business closures may be required. Closing school should be the last thing we do, however. There are many actions we can currently take, such as requiring masks in schools and improving ventilation, that will decrease the risk of closures.”

Lastly, Heilman says that if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, 811 is there to support you during the process of testing. Hospitals are there to assist anyone with health issues and masks are required in all medical facilities. Masks are provided upon arrival to the EKRH.

“If you have other health issues, such as chest pain or abdominal pain, it is safe to go to emergency departments across B.C.,” he said. “Please wear a mask.”



corey.bullock@cranbrooktownsman.com

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