COVID-19 Ontario: Is There An Exit Strategy?

Everyone who wants to be vaccinated in Ontario is now vaccinated, in terms of those aged 12 and up. Sure, there are a handful of stragglers, but by and large if you really want the vaccine and you live in Ontario, you have gotten it. Twice. Now what?

So what is the end game? Should we still worry about the spread of COVID-19?

Daily cases in Ontario jumped from between 300-600 from mid-October through late November, to 3124 on December 17. The seven-day rolling average is 1914 as of that date (was 348 on October 31).

But what is the long-term plan? Is it to keep society masked and apart for another year? Two? A decade? Forever? Hopefully we’re not waiting for 95% fully vaxxed, because that ain’t happening. In Ontario, 80.4% of everyone over the age of five is fully vaccinated – with an additional 5.2% having one dose so far. Of the other 14.6% of the population (about 2,000,000), probably 10% of them are probably not going to get the vaccine. Other than the children aged 5-11 – we’re done. So is the long-term strategy to keep masking and hiding in our homes, and close businesses every time there is a spike and/or a new variant? Or do we open up?

If the plan is to open up at some point, the positive cases are going to spike. Hospitalizations will spike and the ICU cases will spike. Do it in 10 years, or do it in two years, or do it tomorrow – the result will be the same. There will be a spike. How much more equipped will be in a decade to handle this, versus – say – in two months? If the government hasn’t invested $100M into putting up two dozen buildings across the province that specialize in ICU COVID treatments capable of handling another 2000 ICU cases, it’s obviously not in the plans at all (Why? Well, that’s another article for another day. Sure seems dumb though).

So the tools that we right now have are it.

We have the know-how. The death rate today is much lower than it was when this pandemic blindsided us nearly two years ago. And citizens have the education. Right or wrong, the citizens are now entrenched in whatever ‘education’ they have on the matter. Bottom line is, they have had the opportunity to learn everything they want to by this point and are acting accordingly.

All we (Ontario…and Canada both) lack is ICU space and hospital workers. This isn’t going to change. Capacity today is capacity next week, which is capacity next year.

Those who chose not to get the vaccine have made their decision. They stand the highest chance of being hospitalized and at this point know the risks. Hospital workers deserve to clock out at the end of their shift. So let them. If a few unvaccinated patients need further attention – it may not be available because we don’t want to overwork the healthcare staff. Healthcare workers need to take care of their mental health. But the unvaxxed knew this going in. We can only hold their hand and urge them to vaccinate for so long before we just have to let go.

Speaking of mental health, as we cross the 21-month threshold of the pandemic in Canada, are we really going to close schools, businesses and sports again? Over a (by most accounts) moderately weaker, but far more contagious variant that is now swirling around a mostly-vaccinated environment versus a year ago when we weren’t vaccinated? The fact of the matter is – COVID-19 is (or will be) the ‘new’ modern-day flu. Replacing the ‘regular’ flu we prepare for each year. And yes, that means the death rate will be higher. But we accepted the death rate of the ‘regular’ flu and treated it as best we could. Now we need to accept the (vastly higher – perhaps as much as triple) death rate of this modern-day version.

“Ontario Reports 3104 New Cases”

“26 NHL Players Have Now Tested Positive on Five Different Teams”

“Erie Otters Temporarily Suspend Operations Amid COVID-19 Spike”

Should these headlines be causing the same panic and anxiety as they did a year ago? Of course not. So why are we reacting the same way? Why is the media reporting it this way? Why aren’t we tracking (and announcing) hospitalization rates of the unvaccinated? Why aren’t we tracking symptomatic vs. asymptomatic? Why are we expected to react with fear over Omicron the same way we were over Delta or the original COVID strain? For all we know, 2000 new cases is 50 with symptoms. Or maybe it’s 1900 with symptoms! We don’t know? But that’s a huge gap – too big to expect the same reaction don’t you think? When Doug Ford gets up there for his daily press update, can he not share the percentage of symptomatic positive tests? If he doesn’t have people tracking this, shouldn’t he?

About 94% of residents over the age of 60 are fully vaccinated. Our most vulnerable are protected (unless they choose not to be). There needs to be a breaking point where the number of highest-risk citizens are low enough that the majority of the population’s mental health and financial state matter more.

Don’t get me wrong. I was the first guy on board with masking up, social distancing, province-wide shutdowns and vaccines. As a stem-cell transplant recipient I had my second dose of Pfizer early (late April) and I got my third ‘booster’ dose just last week. My wife and daughter are double-vaxxed, and my 10-year-old daughter got her first dose. My family has done everything to protect ourselves – as have 80+% of Ontario. The rest of the province have also made their decision, they just decided to protect themselves in a different way. But now it’s time to open up.

Let new cases spike to 10,000 or even 15,000 per day. Let hospitalization numbers hit 1000 or even 150 (currently below 400). Let ICU numbers hit 500 (currently below 150).

Start preparing for that, instead of preparing for the next lockdown and masking strategy. The answer cannot be years and years of running scared. We have the vaccine. The vaccine has been distributed. The vaccine is readily available. Now open up.

Here’s how you do it:

First of all, start listening to statisticians as much as you listen to healthcare experts and scientists. The data analysts can better interpret the trends.

Second (and geez, I don’t know why this hasn’t been done already) – prepare more ICU space. I get that it’s easier said than done, but I’m not talking about adding 500 over night. I’m saying – add a couple dozen beds over the next two months. There is going to be a spike that will last a month or two after you open up. And begin work on retrofitting unused buildings – I know the analysis has been done on where the best locations are at. Get started! Bottom line is that we should already have been preparing for the inevitable spike.

Thirdly, start collecting better data. Asymptomatic positive tests versus symptomatic. Vaccinated in the hospital versus unvaxxed (this is collected, but not really charted or reported in mainstream media). Let the people know/judge the seriousness of each new variant based on this data. I mean…we track positivity rates for goodness sake! (The most ludicrous statistic out there – I mean, I can go and get a test right now and it would knock that overall rate down because I would test negative. It tells us nothing! But I digress…)

Fourth, announce the widespread opening and set a firm date a couple of months in advance. Warn of what will happen: a huge spike in positive cases, a jump in hospitalization and ICU rates primarily among the unvaccinated. Encourage the holdouts to get vaccinated because in two months time they will be at serious risk. Give them the two months to revisit their decision to not get the vaccine. After that, it (the consequence) really is on them. You can’t babysit the citizens. This also gives already-vaccinated people time to get the booster dose.

And finally – open up in two months. No capacity limits. Voluntary masking. Back to normalcy. Omicron will run rampant and many will get sick. But are we protected with the vaccine or not? If so, this will just be an extreme version of flu season. And you can expect a spike like this every year as COVID variants take over from flu variants as the thing that society deals with each winter. The only other option is to mask and lockdown indefinitely. Years. Is that the strategy?

The point is – this has to happen sometime. Take a poll. Ask if people want lockdowns and masks for another three years or if they want to just let this more contagious form of COVID to run loose. Ask them if they want two more years of that. Or one. The anti-vaxxers never wanted this stuff to begin with. But now the number of pro-vaxxers who feel we are ready to open up is growing. They see the cases rising and it is no longer concerning them. This endless cycle of opening up a little bit when cases drop and then closing down when cases rise no longer seems to be necessary.

What is the end game, Doug Ford? Do we even have an exit strategy? If so, would you mind sharing?

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