Keep your distance, save some lives 

  • Photo by Sisoje/Getty Images

Yes, it is hard to physically distance ourselves from people.

We are social beings and we are used to being able to hug each other, pal around in groups, go to the movies or dinner, or take off together to enjoy the outdoors.

But right now, we have to keep our distance from others—an action that could literally save lives by its very execution.

Last weekend, most of us were shocked to see hordes of people out enjoying the weather in our parks with no regard for physical distancing.

Could these thousands of people not understand the message shared by our capable and calm provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, or our Health Minister Adrian Dix, or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or the hundreds of scientists chiming in on this issue?

I think they did hear it, but selectively.

They heard 'Go outside in the fresh air in groups of less than 50' and didn't hear the two-metre rule or anything else.

While, yes, of course, some of the fault lies with the people themselves, some of it also lies with the message.

If B.C., indeed if Canada, wants to "flatten the curve" of infection, the message needed to be far more robust. In fact, I would have made some of the harrowing videos coming out of Italy and Spain a must-watch for B.C.ers.

How about the news story this week of the discovery of elderly patients in a Spanish care home abandoned and struggling to survive alongside the dead bodies of other seniors dead from COVID-19?

Keep that image in your mind when you feel like disregarding the physical-distancing practice.

Let's be clear about what is happening here. It is understood that COVID-19 is going to infect most of us, but what we don't want to happen is for the number of patients with infections that require hospital care to outpace the healthcare facilities we have in place. This might be impossible—in fact it seems totally unrealistic given the number of ICU beds in Canada.

According to sister publication Business in Vancouver, Canada has a total of less than 4,000 intensive-care-unit beds and about 6,000 respirators in our hospitals. At Vancouver General Hospital, for instance, there are 27 beds. St. Paul's has 19. Royal Columbian in New Westminster has 16, and the entire Fraser Health Authority has 80 for a population of 1.9 million.

Let's say to be conservative that one third of us contracts the virus and 10 per cent of those need hospitalization—that means that more than 1 million people will need to be admitted to a hospital and half of those will need a respirator.

Keep that image in your mind when you feel like disregarding the physical-distancing practice.

Canada does have a National Emergency Strategic Stockpile with equipment including ventilators, medicine and social-service supplies, such as beds and blankets, though officials won't disclose the stats on this.

But it is obviously not enough if the PM is asking for, and funding, car manufacturing plants and others to re-tool to produce medical equipment.

In an open letter to Dr. Henry on March 20, some doctors at Royal Columbian Hospital said they feared B.C. is on the same trajectory as Italy, which at press time had 6,820 deaths (69,176 confirmed cases)—one third of all deaths worldwide.

"We need to act now to prevent a catastrophic number of preventable deaths," the letter stated. "At our current rate of spread, our hospitals will be overwhelmed within a few weeks without drastic action."

Keep that image in your mind when you feel like disregarding the physical distancing practice.


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