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I really don’t want to write about this topic. I have heard and read more than enough already, so if you’re reading this, I’m impressed you aren’t as fed up as I am.
But I was at the pharmacy at Shoppers, picking up anti-emetics for chemotherapy, and watched a man get upset with the staff there over Shoppers being out of hand sanitizer. It got a little heated, and eventually he left. When I spoke with staff after, they shared that this was far from the first incident, and not even close to the most aggressive.
People really are freaking out.
Do I think that there’s cause for concern around COVID-19? Well, kind of. Myself, I’m thinking a lot about the inability of the hospitals in Ontario, and in Canada, and globally, to accommodate the sheer numbers of this virus that will be confronting them soon.
I read an article about the number of hospital beds in the United States, and was pretty distressed to learn that it’s only 2.8 beds per 1,000 people. After reading that South Korea and Japan have 12 beds per 1,000 people and China has 4.3, I thought, surely Canada is in good shape—better than the US anyway, was my presumption. Only to discover that Ontario has only 2.2 beds per 1,000 people. When I read that, I admit my stomach did clench. In that area, I don’t think we are prepared.
[Ed.: You can see the steps the Province is taking regarding COVID-19 here.]
However, that is not a problem that hand sanitizer or toilet paper can resolve. In fact, the hoarding of supplies can very well worsen the situation when those who need them the most can’t access them, and when they aren’t being used appropriately in the first place.
For example, why are stores out of hand sani but not hand soap? We know that frequent hand washing is the number one way to prevent transmission of communicable diseases. Relying on hand sani gives us a false sense of security. This is an opportunity for a huge shift in our culture and the way we interact with each other and protect ourselves. We have to be open to it and not let the fear of scarcity or contagion turn us inward and against one another.
Individualist hoarding can offer a sense of relief: “I am doing what I can to protect myself and my family.” It makes us feel like we have some control over a situation that seems to be spiralling out of it. But our community is made up of so many more people than someone’s immediate family, and we all deserve to be kept safe without it coming at the expense of others.
In China, they see the novel coronavirus as something to defeat as a nation. They put measures in place to ensure that the risk of spread is as little as possible. Hospitals have been built in a matter of days. People are respecting quarantine and choosing to self-quarantine if they are unwell. Schools have closed, and workplaces are making accommodations to have people work from home. I’m not saying they have no instances of supply hoarding, but I am suggesting that if we were to confront any pandemic as a planet, we would have the best chances of ending them. China working as a nation is effective; people harassing retail staff for something beyond their control is as selfish as I can picture, and as ineffective.
But what if we decided that this is the opportunity to work together as a planet? What if we listened to the experts and acted on best practices, instead of those whose jobs depend on eliciting fear or panic to get clicks and ad revenue?
Our world has seen global pandemics before: Spanish Flu, H1N1, and HIV (which is still considered a pandemic). We have come out the other side with better understandings of viruses, responses, and prevention. The way we understand best practices now comes from what we did wrong in other pandemics. We are meant to learn from past mistakes, not repeat them.
Wash your hands. Learn to avoid touching your face. Stay home if you’re ill. If you think you have the virus, call the hospital—don’t go there—and self-quarantine. Only wear a mask if YOU are sick. Turn off the grim reaper that television and online news have become, and check in once a day, or don’t. Stop taking out your fear and frustration on people who are not in control of the supply of the items you’ve decided you must have.
If we can’t work together to suppress this illness, I truly wonder how we will be able to confront a climate catastrophe. There is all the evidence readily available that climate change will harm, kill, and displace more people than COVID-19 will affect. If the news and dinner table conversations addressed that the way it has this virus, I’d feel more confident that we’ll actually do something about it. Unfortunately, human beings are so much better at responding to short-term disasters than long-term ones. Thanks, lizard brain.
You know what, though? I would overlook the self-focused shopping lists if people were kind and respectful about it. Whose fault is it that the stores’ shelves are bare? Well, if you’re there for that item, it’s people like you. We are counting on each other to keep each other safe—it’s way more effective than counting just on ourselves. If I only count on me to keep me safe, I’m up against a lot of people. But if I count on all of you, and you can count on me, we have far fewer ‘enemies’.
And hey, look at what we could gain! This could be our chance to come up with a new, fun way to greet each other. I’ve heard of touching feet or elbows in greeting. If there are aliens out there, I bet that’s what they do! This could open our eyes to the hospital bed shortage and we can rally together to keep beds open and available instead of steadily losing them. We could see the vital importance of front-line workers in all fields, exposed to all manner of disease, to make our lives better and easier. And this includes retail staff, who can’t leave their checkouts to wash their hands every time we hand them money. We could practice our distress tolerance and learn what we are in control of (ourselves) and what we are not (pandemics). We could just choose to be determined to be respectful and kind during a frightening time—and this goes for climate change, too. Maybe kindness is a kind of cure.
Maybe this is a practice run for our global response to climate change. Maybe we can actually see this as a challenge to overcome together—as a community, as a planet—and learn from this what we need to know to combat the climate crisis.
Or maybe we just need to get through this without losing faith in humanity altogether. I’m not one to settle, but I’d take that.
Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.
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