The COVID-19 pandemic: Why all the fuss?

The most recent COVID-19 projections show that about 16,000 Canadians could die from COVID-19 by the end of 2020. Since this estimate is lower than what was anticipated earlier this year (thanks to everyone doing their part and following public health recommendations), you might be wondering why there continues to be so much concern regarding COVID-19. Afterall, people die from many other illnesses each day and those aren’t constantly talked about.

The Marathon Family Health Team (MFHT) and the North of Superior Healthcare Group (NOSH) would like to shed some light on this topic and explain why we are all encouraged to continue to stay vigilant throughout the pandemic.

First, viruses like COVID-19 are classified as infectious diseases. As you are likely aware, this means that COVID-19 can be spread to others. So, yes, there are other diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, that have higher annual death rates compared to COVID-19, but these diseases cannot be passed on from one person to another and they aren’t as easily preventable.  

That’s one reason why COVID-19 is such a big deal. Infectious diseases have the potential of spreading to a large percentage of the population in a short amount of time. This reflects what we are currently seeing in some parts of Ontario. This quick spike in cases can easily overwhelm a community and its healthcare system. For example, research shows that, on average, each person with COVID-19 will infect two to three additional people. Therefore, just one positive case of COVID-19 in a community could lead to a spike in cases if public health recommendations are not followed.

The impact of this may be a little difficult to understand so, here is an example of what this could look like locally:

For the purpose of this example, we will use a five-day incubation period and we will say that each person with COVID-19 infects two additional people. The reason why a five-day incubation period is being used is because, on average, most people begin to see symptoms of COVID-19 five to six days after becoming infected (this is known as the incubation period). During this time, people who are infected may come into contact with others since they don’t yet have symptoms and are not in self-isolation.

Let’s say that one person in our community becomes infected with COVID-19. This person would spread it to two others within their five-day incubation period and then those two people would each spread it to two others, and so on. After only three months, this would mean that nearly everyone (about 4000 people) in our communities would become infected with COVID-19.

This is an example of what could happen if we do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus in our communities and why we are all encouraged to do our best to “flatten the curve” by following public health recommendations. From a medical standpoint, this is why “flattening the curve” and preventing the spread of COVID-19 is so important:

At this time, the Marathon Family Health Team has just under 4500 active patient charts (this includes residents of Marathon, Biigtigong Nishaabeg and Netmazaaggamig Nishnaabeg). If 30% to 70% of our local population would become infected with COVID-19, which reflects early COVID-19 predictions, this would add up to 1,350 to 3,150 cases of COVID-19 in our communities.

It’s important to remember that, even if COVID-19 is not killing as many people as previously expected, the number of daily cases in our province are rising at an alarming rate and this can lead to serious consequences in our communities. Not only would it put a strain on the healthcare providers working at the Marathon COVID-19 Assessment Centre, where each infected person would go to be assessed and tested for COVID-19, it would also be a burden on the staff and healthcare providers who work at the hospital.

Here’s why: It is estimated that 8% of those infected with COVID-19 would need hospitalization (e.g. intensive care or ventilation support). In our local hospital, there are only 10 acute care beds. So, if 30% to 70% of our population would become infected with COVID-19, this would mean that between 108 to 252 people would require a hospital bed. This would be extremely overwhelming for patients, their families and everyone working in healthcare.

In addition, having COVID-19 in our communities could lead to healthcare providers becoming infected as well. Living in a small community with limited medical professionals and resources, our healthcare system can’t afford to have physicians, nurses or other healthcare workers off sick throughout this pandemic. We need all hands on deck to be able to continue providing our patients with quality care.

Luckily, by following public health guidelines, our community has been successful in preventing the spread COVID-19. Your efforts are not only helping to “flatten the curve”, they are also helping to save lives and reduce the burden of COVID-19 on our healthcare system. MFHT and NOSH are very grateful for your support and consistency over the last few months.

As the pandemic drags on, following COVID-19 public health guidelines can feel more and more draining. This feeling of mental and physical tiredness caused by COVID-19 is known as COVID fatigue. We understand that you’re tired and that you may be tempted to let your guard down, but we hope that knowing you are making a difference will inspire you to keep going.

As we move through the second wave of the pandemic and see a rise in cases in our region, we urge you to continue following appropriate prevention measures in order to keep COVID-19 out of our communities. We thank you for continuing to do your best. COVID fatigue is real, but we can’t give up!