By Dr. Brent Roussin (@roussin_brent)
COVID-19 has dramatically affected all of our lives over the past 18 months, and it will continue to be a part of our lives for years to come. How we live with COVID-19 will need to change over time.
It has always been a goal of public health to have the least restrictive orders necessary, for the least amount of time. Up until recently, one of the only tools to reduce the effects of this virus were public health restrictions. While effective and necessary at the time, these restrictions have significant effects on other aspects of our health and the economy.
We need to learn to live with this virus. We have never been helpless in this pandemic, and our best defense against the transmission of this virus has always been the actions of Manitobans. The shifting from public health restrictions to recommendations does not change this at all. Staying home when ill, washing your hands, practicing physical distancing and wearing a mask are all fundamentals that are still there for Manitobans. And now, we add the most important fundamental of all — vaccination.
Vaccines have allowed us to alter our approach to COVID. Vaccines have started us on our path to a post-pandemic Manitoba. We have seen our case numbers and test positivity dropping as has the strain on the health care system. All of this has allowed us to proceed with our 4-3-2 One Great Summer Reopening Path.
On Aug. 7, Manitoba will take its first step toward using public health recommendations rather than restrictions. For some this move could not have come soon enough, while for others this may seem like a large leap. However, we must ask ourselves, if we cannot begin to ease restrictions with low daily case counts and with more than 80 per cent of eligible Manitobans having at least one vaccination, and more than 70 per cent fully immunized, when can we ever?
Like so many changes in our lives, masks have become second nature to most of us. Masks will continue to play a role in protecting us from the transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses as we move forward. This will take the form of recommendations rather than orders.
Masks will still be required in health care settings, as well as many other settings that include vulnerable groups. Many places of business will choose to continue to require masks for patrons and employees. And, it is always your choice to wear a mask to protect yourself regardless of any public health order. Many Manitobans, including me, will choose to continue wearing masks in indoor public places.
Of course, public health orders can change based on new data and new information. If the public health situation changes, hospitalizations increase or more people don’t get vaccinated, we can always revisit the restrictions that are in place, including restrictions on masks.
A great majority of Manitobans have done their part by being fully vaccinated. We have consistently reached our targets early but we are not done yet. To minimize the impacts of a fourth wave, we need as many eligible Manitobans to be fully vaccinated as possible. Vaccine not only protects the individual but also the people around them – especially those that cannot receive the vaccine.
We have all missed out on so much during the past year and a half. Our children have not had the benefit of a normal school year for too long. This week we announced our plans to return our kids to as normal of a school year as possible. I am confident that this plan will succeed if Manitobans continue to practice the fundamentals and get vaccinated to keep community transmission down.
For those Manitobans who are excited about the easing of the restrictions, I want you to remember that a fourth wave, driven by the delta variant, is on its way. Please proceed with caution, practice the fundamentals and ensure you get vaccinated as soon as possible. If required, we will not hesitate to recommend new public health orders and restrictions to protect our health care system.
For those Manitobans who are apprehensive about the easing of restrictions, I want you to remember that we are not helpless against this virus. We have learned ways to live with this virus through the fundamentals, and we now have the majority of Manitobans vaccinated. Public health will continue with case and contact management, including isolation requirements where necessary. We are not standing down.
To Manitobans, I say thank you. Thank you for following public health recommendations and restrictions. Thank you for following the fundamentals. And most of all, thank you for rolling up your sleeves and getting vaccinated. Together, we will continue to learn how to live with this virus as we move towards a post-pandemic Manitoba.
Dr. Brent Roussin is Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.