A pair of conversations I had over the phone yesterday have me wondering just how effective government messaging and media news reports have been in conveying the seriousness of the situation faced by our society regarding the spread of COVID-19.
After having arrived at the office in the morning, I took a call to our news desk from a woman who said she was a doctor in town. She was calling because she was concerned about the behaviour of "snowbirds" who were coming back from other parts of the world and not quarantining themselves for the recommended 14 days called for by the provincial and federal governments.
She was aware of several instances, she said, in which otherwise well-meaning and kind-hearted people were putting others in danger by showing up at the hospital or a care home after having just returned from their journey.
Though she did not want to go on record with her name unless other local physicians did the same, she felt compelled to call the paper and ask if there was any way to remind people that they may be unknowingly infecting people, including those with suppressed immune systems, or perhaps just not taking the danger seriously and disregarding the directives issued by the health community and government officials.
"I don’t think they’re getting the message," she said.
Not long after, this concern was echoed by another woman — a friend of mine who I’ll call Mabel — who lives in a small community south of Brandon. In my conversation with her, "Mabel" told me she that she and her husband had been forced to self-isolate in their home after having attended a funeral last Saturday.
During the service, she had been sitting between her husband and an older man who had also attended with his wife to pay his respects to the deceased. Near the end of the ceremony, the woman’s husband reached past her to the other man to tap him on the shoulder, as he thought he had recognized him from his old school. That action elicited a jump and a yell, saying "don’t touch me, we just came back last night."
The unknown couple had apparently just come back into the country, and had decided to attend a funeral in a packed church instead of quarantining themselves. And like everyone else at the service, they had also partaken of the food that had been provided. As a result, Mabel — who was furious about the situation — believed it wise that she keep her distance from her co-workers when the work week began, and stay at home until she was sure she was not coming down with an illness.
Mabel has a mother in her 80s, and also has a sister who was struck with pneumonia as a child, meaning that her lungs are not as strong as an average person. Keep in mind that COVID-19 attacks a person’s respiratory system.
If this couple have indeed come back from their holidays with a COVID-19 infection — keep in mind no one knows that at this point — it’s very possible that they spread it around to someone at the funeral. Someone like Mabel or her husband.
Had the man not cringed at being touched and explained why, Mabel would never have known she might be putting other people, like her sister or mother, in danger.
While we know of several people who are doing the right thing and self-quarantining themselves after returning from abroad, clearly the doctor who phoned me yesterday morning is right — too many people are not heeding this directive.
So please, if you are reading this editorial and you have just returned to Manitoba on a plane or via the U.S.-Canada border within the last two weeks, stay at home and make sure you do not become a carrier. And if you think you may have been exposed to someone with the disease, or feel sick and you are concerned whether you have COVID-19, call Health Links toll free at 1-888-315-9257 and speak to a nurse on duty who can give you some direction.
But whatever you do, please do not shrug off the danger you may pose to other people.
» Matt Goerzen, editor