One year ago, Dr. Charles Gardner may not have been a household name, and did not regularly post live stream videos on Facebook. But he was watching the spread of a new coronavirus, and anticipating its arrival to the Simcoe-Muskoka region.
In the last 12 months, Gardner has delivered hundreds of live updates to media and the public as COVID-19 arrived and spread through the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit area.
Reflecting on the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic declaration (March 11), the region’s medical officer of health noted the ripple effects of the coronavirus and the restrictions put in place to control it, and looked forward to a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I think we should stop for a moment and reflect on all that has happened and transpired,” said the doctor during this week’s update. “We’ve lost 190 individuals to date from this disease and more than 6,700 people have been infected. Others have been forced into isolation and quarantine as close contacts.”
Over the last year, masks have become “the norm,” he observed. And virtual health care and counselling have emerged as the more prevalent methods of patient/doctor visits.
“We’ve felt the loss of income and employment and business,” said Gardner. “It’s been extremely hard on many fronts. Not just for those who have contracted COVID-19, but those who have been affected in these other ways.”
Families and friends have resorted to social visits from a distance or remotely, and even though last summer brought the advent of social circles or “bubbles” those are gone too, a victim of the “second wave.”
“All of this has been very hard on our wellbeing, on our mental wellbeing,” said Gardner. “Very much many many impacts on us all.”
His reflection was not all gloomy, the doctor is optimistic for sunnier times – literally and figuratively.
“I’m hopeful for the summer,” said Gardner. “I don’t know what it will be like. But if we’re fortunate and able to immunize well and keep the variants under control, we very much stand the chance of having a good summer.”
Simcoe-Muskoka has had vaccines since December 22, though the supply suffered with a nationwide shortage. Nearly every long-term care and retirement home resident is now fully vaccinated as are many staff working in those settings. The health unit has also started vaccinating the oldest group of seniors in the region, local Indigenous populations, and more health care workers and some first responders.
“We’ve really only reached perhaps four per cent of the population, we’re only just beginning,” said Gardner. “I remain optimistic about the progress we’ll make to the summer.”
In addition to the vaccines, the public health doctor reiterated the messages he’s been delivering for 12 months: concern for what could happen, reminders to individuals to adhere to infection control behaviours, and optimism for better days ahead.
“We have this concern of this potential third wave with the variants of concern, but we also have at our disposal, vaccination and we have the ability, as individuals, to do what we can to reduce the risk of transmission in our lives to ourselves and to our family members and to others,” said Gardner. “We’ve got the tools to be able to proceed and I feel confident that later in the year we’ll be in a much better, safety and happier place. A healthier place.”
In the meantime, the doctor reminded everyone to be kind and carry on.
“This has been hard on us and it can certainly be hard on our feelings about things and each other,” he said. “I recognize that and I would encourage people to be kind to themselves … and be kind to others as well, as we work to bring this under control.”
As of March 10, 2021, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has reported 6,556 cases of COVID-19 in Simcoe County and 244 cases in Muskoka District. More than 6,000 of those cases were reported in the last six months. Of the cases reported, 6,178 are now considered recovered. The health unit has reported 190 deaths linked to the coronavirus.