Seven surgeons recently left their practices in Yellowknife. Some retired, one had a baby and others just moved. In the meantime, our COVID numbers are soaring. The number of beds in the ICU increased to six from four. Schools closed. Two shelters for the vulnerable population shut down last week due to staff illness which lead to a worker shortage — the outbreak among the homeless is our worst nightmare come true. We knew that once it hit the street population, it would be too easy for it to spread like wildfire everywhere else.
As a doctor friend said on the weekend, though people working in the health care always expected the current situation, too few preparations were made and now “we are overwhelmed.”
The health care system, he added, is at a breaking point.
Fortunately, locum doctors are making up for the shortfall and GNWT staff have volunteered to work at isolation centers and wherever needed. Helping out in a crisis is the northern way. But as the Minister admitted herself, we stand on the edge. How we manage our individual behaviors coupled with a quick government response will determine what happens next.
Will we break the fall or continue the rapid descent?
As of Tuesday, the case count in the territories exceeded 170 active cases with 117 in Yellowknife. Sadly, we have had one COVID death of an Elder following the hand games that should never have been. A ball was dropped and now the entire territory is paying for it. The Elder who passed away was not vaccinated but fortunately, his words of farewell encouraged everyone to get that done. Thanks to him, the vaccination rate shot up from the 11 per cent where it had rested since the vaccine came North.
The only bright spot in any of this is that because so many in the territories have been double or even triple vaccinated, COVID the symptoms they experience would be more flu like should they become ill. We must keep at it.
In the meantime, Alberta has said it will treat people from the NWT the same as locals should Northerners need specialized care. But we are no strangers to flip flops in Alberta policy decisions and know they are having trouble taking care of their own. Further, pressure from Albertans themselves dealing with an overburdened health care system also about to implode may further impede service to out of province users. Knowing this, it is contingent on us to be vigilant in our own self care practices.
Aside from a failure to get vaccinated, the most discouraging phenomenon about this phase of the pandemic is the public backlash against health care professionals. Protests, assaults, verbal abuse — it is unfathomable and a sickly change from the support they received and needed a year ago.
The pandemic is not their fault. Policy is not their fault. They did not institute restrictions. And it is likely that when many of them signed up they did not sign on to work in COVID or a pandemic of any kind. They signed on to help period. When people attack health care providers, they are attacking the very foundations of goodness itself. If they have a beef, they need to take it to their politicians; not the people who continue to work long hours putting themselves at risk to contain the beast. Small wonder they are leaving the profession in droves.
COVID is not over though there is probably not one among who wishes otherwise. Our need to be vigilant about getting vaccinated, washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing and saying no to public gatherings is just as important now as it was 18 months ago. We are all exhausted; we all want to gather; we all want to hug others but our priority must continue to be to keep each other safe.
If anything is going to save us now — it is our own attitude. That, in the end, will determine how we pull through. As the Austrian holocaust survivor Victor Frankl once said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
How bout we mask up, stay calm and carry on. We’ve got this — let’s show COVID we’ve got this.