Saturday, September 23, 2023

Collateral consequences

It seems like stress fractures are starting to appear in our society’s fortifications against this global pandemic.
It’s been more than a month since the country shut down and everyone’s lives changed. Even the recluses and hermits among us, who barely left their nests prior to this disaster, have probably felt some kind of negative impact. Those cooped up with their family are probably starting to get on each other’s nerves.
This past week, the provincial government announced that they were looking at different possibilities for re-opening schools. If the government thought that imposing these limits on almost every facet of people’s lives was a difficult decision, scaling back these decrees in a safe and cohesive manner is going to prove much harder.
It’s true that children are (thankfully) much less likely to become seriously ill from exposure to this virus than say, their parents, teachers or bus drivers, but getting kids back to daycares and schools is going to be a logistical nightmare. Ensuring the safety of both staff and students while trying to offer equal academic opportunities to those staying home will prove akin to raking leaves on a windy day. There are bound to be serious issues, but the alternative is defiantly worse.
This past week, the president of Quebec’s association of pediatricians, Dr. Marc Lebel, told the CBC that children, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds, are at risk of becoming additional victims in the fight against COVID. He noted that nearly a quarter million children in this province rely on their school’s breakfast programs, and added that those in abusive situations don’t currently have the social safety net provided by teachers or other school staff. Sadly, for some children, school is an escape from what goes on behind the closed doors and the drawn curtains at home. A representative of the local women’s shelter L’EntourElle told this paper last week that their organization has seen an uptick in calls during the lockdown, a grim statistic that illustrates just some of the unintended results of the response to this crisis.
Even for kids from stable family environments, the lack of socialization can have a seriously negative impact, especially in a rural area where services are already at a minimum. Online interactions can’t replace face to face conversations. If you make attendance voluntary and vow not to penalize those that choose to stay home, the academic year is still pretty much shot.
The schools are just one sector among many that have had to drastically alter their course over the past few weeks. Outside of essential businesses and services, most people are feeling some kind of financial pinch from this, despite the piles of cheap credit flowing from various levels of government. Seniors, already isolated and vulnerable before all of this, will likely need to exercise caution for the foreseeable future, possibly until a vaccine is ready many months from now.
Despite how quickly the travel restrictions placed on this region were announced and implemented, there’s no sign that they will let up soon or be repealed with the same kind of haste. For those that live in a community with all their essential services, it’s not a huge burden, but it certainly is for people living in more isolated areas.
Individually, these issues don’t compare with the possibility of someone perishing from COVID, but the collateral consequences of our government’s response will continue to multiply the longer people’s return to normalcy is postponed. A complex society like ours can’t stop and start on a dime, and re-opening this province without triggering further outbreaks is going to take far more work than it took to shut everything down.

Caleb Nickerson


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