Seven months have passed since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Alberta.
There are many lessons this chapter in the history of civilization will teach us and as we appear to be turning the page towards a second wave of this infectious disease, it is important to reflect on what we know and what we have learned.
In the before times, we knew that scientific and public health experts are the best and most credible sources of information regarding guidance for how to manage complex situations. But with COVID, understanding the importance of and relevance of the advice being provided has taken on a new precedence.
We have seen collectively as this pandemic has progressed that the information available through our public health officials like Dr. Deena Hinshaw has improved. More data, more research – more understanding about this virus and how it operates. Still we do not know enough and Hinshaw and others have been clear when asked questions that sometimes they just do not know the answers we the general public would like to have at this moment.
Patience is a lesson as a result. Along with the difficult task of living with high levels of uncertainty in our lives.
Uncertainty can create serious stress and tension in our lives. For many, on March 12 our daily routines were intact with no sign of changing, our jobs were secure and the futures we mapped out for ourselves visible on the horizon.
As this country, and others, went into a lockdown in order to flatten the curve of the onset of this disease, intense change in our routines and the things we had taken for granted – like the future viability of a local business – were no longer a given.
This has affected every single person's mental health in some way, shape or form. The public health measures taken have made it clear that when we shut things down, even for good reason, there is a negative consequence on our health.
Yet with all the billions of dollars in public spending being tossed around federally and provincially, including a national pharmacare program, no government has stepped up to announce that mental health would be expanded, included in and fully covered by our health care system.
As Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange spoke to the need for children to return to school in September, their mental health was one of the reasons she and Hinshaw cited. It is a factor parents are struggling with as they decide how to continue their child's education this school year.
So if the mental health of school children in Alberta is so critical – we have to ask Minister LaGrange why her government has not stepped up to address that issue more appriopriately given the unprecedented times we live in by funding additional mental health supports in schools this year?
This leads us to another lesson COVID-19 is providng us with – that even in a crisis, even as things are happening so fast that it is hard to keep track, we must as citizens remain engaged and informed on the issues and our elected representatives are going to get things wrong. Billions of dollars in spending, new programs creating on the fly – there will be a flawed delivery on all these aspects of how we deal with COVID-19 and that is OK as long as we acknowledge and try to fix it.
Fixing it includes being able to have a proper debate at the federal level about these programs and the pace at which we are spending money on them. Yes, government officials had to react to dynamic circumstances as best they could, but as we get used to our new reality, we should also get used to providing space for democractic processes like robust parliamentary debate.
We have seen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet respond swiftly to the coronavirus when it was needed. Now we need to scrutinize, debate and refine these processes to ensure they meet the needs of Canadians in a timely and fiscally prudent manner.