Lessons from COVID-19: better preparedness

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Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

By now we’re all aware of the ugly numbers that define the effects of the COVID-19 virus on our lives. We practice social distancing. We live with the
restrictions on travel, work, education, entertainment and all else that makes up our daily lives. But what lessons will we learn from this? Will the current

Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

By now we’re all aware of the ugly numbers that define the effects of the COVID-19 virus on our lives. We practice social distancing. We live with the
restrictions on travel, work, education, entertainment and all else that makes up our daily lives. But what lessons will we learn from this? Will the current
emergency be the impetus to make serious adjustments to mitigate future occurrences of potential disasters that strike our communities, country and planet?
For starters, we must acknowledge we were poorly prepared to deal with this, or any, pandemic. We (the nation, decision makers, and citizens) accepted to live with medical and health systems that were strained well before the beginning of crisis – for example, here in MRC Pontiac we have a history of staff shortage at the hospital. Because our politicians wanted to maintain lower tax rates for big corporations, our hospitals are run on a maximum capacity principle with all beds in use at all times. The result is there is no capacity for emergency situations that last for more than three days.
However, hospital bed capacity isn’t the only problem. We’re dealing with shortages in personal protection equipment (PPE), not only for medical staff but also other essential workers. Medical equipment is in
limited supply. Much of our basic medicines come from China and India, but these countries are also facing the effects of the pandemic and are unable or unwilling to provide ingredients required to produce necessary medicines. In summary, our
medical and health system is not able to fully deal with the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis.
The main remedy we do have is quarantine – restricting movement of the entire population. The social and economic costs of this will be felt long after the threat
has passed. The federal and provincial governments have allocated billions of dollars, but this is a short term solution of limited effectiveness. Meanwhile people are unemployed and face economic and social restrictions. Most notably, some essential food and hygiene products are being rationed due to panic hoarding.
 Why weren’t we better prepared? The most significant aspect of this unpreparedness is the lack of attention to our basic health services. It’s easier for a politician to get elected on a promise to reduce corporate taxes and provide loopholes for the rich than to advocate for more monies for our health system. Changes to the just-in-time inventory management ideology that dominates our health system saves money in the short term, but leaves society
vulnerable to unexpected emergencies that will inevitably occur; the past has already brought us influenza, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and others. Further, our antibiotic medicines are becoming less effective as viruses build resistance. And yet, as each pandemic runs its course, we do little to prepare for the next one.
One can hope our political and civic leaders learn from the current catastrophe and pass on to future generations the insights and resources needed to better contain future disruptions.