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EDITORIAL: COVID-19 still a risk, despite now being an afterthought

EDITORIAL: As large events have returned for the first time in two years, people are embracing the chance to reconnect to entertainment events and explore communities.
July 28, 2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

As large events have returned for the first time in two years, people are embracing the chance to reconnect with entertainment events and explore communities.

In the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country, tourists have returned en masse – especially during the May and July long weekends – to enjoy the outdoors and restaurants and stores that haven’t been devastated by the staffing shortage.

In what has been a long period of on and off public health restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have all but shed the cautiousness of the last two years.

And while a return to a somewhat pre-pandemic normal is cause for a form of celebration, COVID-19 is anything but finished.

The positivity test rate has increased across the province, but particularly in Calgary – which is coming off major events such as Stampede and Calgary Folk Fest.

Though it’s important for Canadians to return to enjoying patios, outdoor festivals and simply not being stuck inside, it remains vital for the country – and the world – to be vigilant for the novel coronavirus.

In Canada, there have been 42,447 COVID-19-related deaths as of July 22 and slightly more than four million confirmed cases.

As of July 25, there are 559 COVID-related hospitalizations and 23 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4,652 Albertans have died from the disease and 590,000 confirmed cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said July 22 that globally COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled in the past five weeks, with BA.4 and BA.5 – the highly contagious Omicron subvariants – being the most likely culprit for infections.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, pled with people to exercise caution. And while he noted waves of COVID-19 will continue as the virus mutates, it doesn’t mean increased hospitalizations need to follow if people rely on public health guidelines and vaccinations.

He emphasized the need for countries to continue to keep pandemic response infrastructure in place and not yet dismantle a system that has been built over the past two years.

Locally, and as of July 18, Banff has had 1,795 confirmed cases, the Municipal District of Bighorn 1,107 and Canmore 1,538.

Alberta’s Wastewater data – cumulative data between the Centre for Health Informatics and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary – showed Banff and Canmore numbers were increasing at the end of June, but slightly declined in recent weeks.

While the uptick of vaccines was slow in Alberta, just under nine million doses have been delivered and 90.6 per cent of the population older than 12 has the first dose and 87.2 per cent above 12 have a second shot.

Both are below the national average, but not nothing to be ashamed of with a high number of people choosing to listen to and accept science.

Mask mandates, however, are long gone and are extremely unlikely to return. Once the genie has been put back in the bottle, it’s tough to have it come out.

When in tight confines – such as indoors and outdoors in crowded spaces – people should still be prioritizing the wearing of masks.

Alberta Health Sciences announced earlier in the month it was rescinding its COVID-19 immunization policy that mandated new hires have at least two vaccine doses. The health agency had already lifted it for staff, which when done by public health sector all but signals anyone who hasn’t can do the same.

Across the country, provincial chief medical officers and the federal Public Health Agency of Canada have largely taken a step back from the public eye. Where the daily or weekly briefings drew significant attention, many either no longer or rarely occur.

The exhaustion that has come from the pandemic has overtaken people, but the seriousness of possible risk should continue to be in the minds of everyone.

It’s clear people are done with COVID-19, despite it not quite being done with us.