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‘Unprecedented times,’ all over again

Jody Vance: It may feel like it, but this isn’t the first pandemic. History and science say BC is very much following an expected course.
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A group of women wear masks to help guard them against the Spanish flu. Courtesy University of Waterloo.

You can feel the increased tension, frazzled nerves, and fear of the unknown.

If you’re like me, you might find some solace by knowing that from the perspective of scientists, we are textbook.

We are very much on a predictable pandemic timeline.

Let this sink in. We are the epitome of history repeating itself.

It started with shock. Willing to do anything we needed to in the name of protecting our loved ones and our community. Not knowing the foe we faced, it felt like we were all in on flattening the curve. It seemed to work.

Fast forward a few months, and conversation tuned towards getting to a new normal. BC grappled with lost jobs, businesses shut down, and a crisis of poverty and social wellbeing.

When we started to open up, some took it as a green light to get back to do whatever they wanted.

All over the planet, young people are exercising their illusion of invincibility, leaving parents and vulnerable loved ones at growing risk. Leaders struggle to find ways to dial back behaviours that spark spikes and see our curve inch ever northward.

Public health officials went from placed on pedestals (and merchandise) to being questioned and challenged.

We’ve kept our hospitals mostly empty, and crucially, the death toll remains comparatively low. Still, there are naysayers who suggest (in error) that the virus isn’t as bad as feared, our response too extreme. Imagine having this stance after looking south of the border to see what happens when the response is fragmented.

What’s going on? My go-to scientist (and friend) germ scientist Jason Tetro explains that we are exactly where every pandemic veteran would pin us.

The Pandemic Timeline is real.

People of all ages have hit the “over it, not doing this anymore” point in the Pandemic Timeline. This window is predictable, and scary. It’s where anger can take over, where the voice of experts recedes into the fog. This is where civil unrest truly begins to grow.

Where it goes from there depends on whether those who reject the ABC’s of prevention learn the hard way. Short outcome: many preventable cases and a higher death rate.

Watch the Facebook comments during Provincial Health Officer briefings; it’s shocking. The story this tells is one of anger, frustration, and fear. The top comment on the most recent stream? “Fraud.”

Each time scientists the likes of Dr. Henry deliver updates, I imagine what’s ticking through their minds, knowing exactly where we are and what’s to come.

Think back to the first few initial public communiques — they would say “in the next few days or weeks.” Then, when the public’s panic level adjusted, it became “in next few weeks or months.” Now, you will notice it’s the “next few months or YEARS.” (Not a typo.)

We will get through this, but it could go on for years…and years. That’s beyond our control. But what those years are like, especially for children and the most vulnerable, is very much up to us.

The message of keeping community spread low to increase our quality of life is not getting through. Conspiracy theorists are gaining traction, naysayers of science are getting louder — sadly predictable. The call to action is for us to break the historic truths of the timeline, to use what we’ve learned to get back in control of COVID-19.

Yes, The Middle this week is a challenge to seek out the facts in every inflammatory story about COVID-19. To not bite on conspiracies. To focus on the situation here, not elsewhere. To help guide those who are lashing out in fear without facts.

To remain kind, calm, and safe.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.


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