The sun is shinning. The weather is warm. The birds are singing. Summer is in full swing now in southern Alberta, and people are taking full advantage of it as they indulge in staycations and get in a bit of relaxation and sun.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is not taking any vacations this summer. In fact, one might say it’s working overtime.
Between July 15-21, 870 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Alberta. Of those cases, 251 were aged 20-29 years old, and 106 in those under 19. As of last Thursday morning, Alberta had 1,251 active cases. To compare, on April 18, when the lockdown was underway, it was reported that the province had 1,162 active cases of COVID-19. Active cases peaked on April 30 with 2,994 cases, at which point it began declining.
We celebrated. We gave ourselves metaphorical pats on the back and told ourselves good job, we did it. We slowly went back to our places of work and businesses opened up, albeit with a lot more hand sanitizer, a heavy focus on cleaning and at limited capacity. We began going back to our daily lives, and life was almost normal again.
However, the pandemic is still going on. And the old version of normal will likely never exist again.
Maybe it was easier to abide by social distancing while the weather was yucky and many of us were still wearing sweaters. After all, with the weather being so nice, you can’t help but want to go and and do something, and spend time with people you’ve haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with in months. Because let’s face it, while we love our families and roommates, we have to admit that they can also be annoying and two months stuck inside the same place can make you sick of their company. You need to get out and see other people, get fresh air, do something different.
But with the rise in temperature came the rise in cases as well. We are all guilty at shaking our heads in disbelief at the U.S., whose cases have skyrocketed as they reopened too early and not enforced social distancing. But similar images could be found at Alberta beaches earlier this month, as people crowded them to get a taste of sun, sand and surf. While authorities worked to enforce social distancing afterwards, the lesson remained; it can happen here.
The Alberta government wants students back in classrooms this fall. As parents, teachers and students can all attest, it is hard to do schoolwork at home, and putting kids back in classrooms will help parents get back to work. Schools would be implementing a number of public health measures, including frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing, which could mean staggering start times for classes, recesses and lunches. Additional public health measures for school may follow, and school boards will see increases in funding to support the return and for capital maintenance and renewal projects. However, as of press deadline, masks will be optional and there are no limits on classroom sizes.
How can we put kids back in a classroom environment, when cases are surging again at levels we haven’t seen since April? There is still much we don’t know about the coronavirus, and all it takes is one asymptomatic person to cause an outbreak.
Maybe part of the increase in new cases is from people getting tested, as testing is now available to everyone, regardless of them exhibiting symptoms or not. Maybe people are being more careful about reporting symptoms. Maybe people are being more diligent when they come in close contact with a stranger.
But regardless, the recent increase is still worrying. Nobody wants to go back inside for another two months.
Wash your hands. Social distance. Don’t host that party. While we are social creatures, sustaining from that hug with grandma, as horrible as it sounds, is better than attending her funeral two weeks from now.
There will be times when it’s impossible to stay six feet away from somebody, such as on public transit. And not everybody has access to face masks — whether they be made made or store-brought — so don’t shame them for not wearing one. Keep in mind that there is a bit of a run of face masks, and while the province does encourage people to wear them in public, as of press deadline they haven’t been made mandatory. At the same time, don’t be the jerk who flashes those face mask exemption cards — we all know they’re fake, and all it does is make you look insensitive and entitled.
Don’t be that jerk that buys up all the supplies either. While a lot of people right now probably have a lifetime supply of toilet paper, it creates issues for people who actually need those products.
We can beat COVID-19, but we need to be smart about it. We are going to be living with COVID-19 for a while, and we have to accept that normal won’t be normal anymore. By this time next year, the new normal would probably be mindfulness of personal bubbles and deep cleaning.