Analysis: It’s time to prepare for Omicron disruptions

Good information and planning will ease the pandemic’s impacts on families, schools, businesses and health-care systems.

The following is an excerpt from the Cowichan This Week email newsletter, delivered to inboxes every Thursday. Subscribe for more information and updates like this, as well as a round-up of local news and events. The Discourse also offers weekly newsletters for the Nanaimo region and the West Shore.

Yesterday, my household stocked up on food and prepared to hunker down for another extreme weather event. We were ready because our weather apps and emergency alert apps sent us messages to let us know about the coming dump of snow. 

This morning I’m cozy at home, but I’m reflecting on how badly our pandemic communications systems are failing. Where is the emergency alert to let us know about the severe disruptions to schools, businesses and hospitals that are expected as Omicron cases rise? Island Health’s Twitter feed and website have little to say. 

People can prepare now for Omicron to hit their homes, schools, workplaces and health-care systems. But they need better access to information. As it stands, many are flying blind. And many are learning that the help they need isn’t there only after they need it. 

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Right now, it’s extremely difficult to access testing for COVID-19, even for vulnerable people who really need it. If you do test positive, letting your close contacts know will be up to you. HealthLinkBC, which promises “24/7 health advice you can trust,” isn’t reliably taking calls

Businesses should prepare to have a third of their staff off sick at once, the government said this week. What about hospitals? What happens when a third of doctors and nurses have to self-isolate at the same time?

“Batten down the hatches; we’re in for a ride,” commented Isabel Rimmer, an emergency room doctor at Cowichan District Hospital (CDH), on my column from late December. “At CDH we are battling critical staff shortages daily; now we are seeing our staff coming down with the virus as well which makes shortages even worse. Please use the ER wisely, especially in the months to come.”

The good news is that infection with Omicron will be relatively mild for many people. But you can have a so-called mild case and still get very sick, including the possibility of disabling long-term symptoms. Worse, the people who really need help will struggle to access it, the people who should be able to manage on their own won’t have the tools to do it well, and our health-care system will be pushed even farther beyond the brink. 

My wish for you is that you have time to prepare now for the possibility of needing medical care in the coming weeks, from COVID or from anything. To prepare for school closures, business closures and other disruptions. I hope that you can access rapid tests ahead of time, so you have them on hand when you need them, and that you can learn the benefits and limitations of their use. (The Canadian Shield and Rapid Test and Trace Canada are among the online suppliers that ship within Canada.) 

I hope that you are able to plan for self-isolation, should you need it, and that you have enough support from your community and employers to make it possible. I hope that you are able to manage your risks and exposures to the degree that you would like to, and that you are able to protect your most vulnerable loved ones. I hope that, should you need to notify contacts about exposures, those conversations will be free of judgement and shame. 

This wave of the pandemic is expected to be brief but intense. If there is a time to do what you can to protect yourself, your community and your health-care system, it is right now. 

I wish you well. And if you have a question I might be able to help with, send me an email I will do my best to respond.

Thanks for reading, 

Jacqueline [end]

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