On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
That means it’s now been a full year of you hearing about trying times, public health measures, cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
From the start of the pandemic, our lives have changed in ways we never expected.
When store shelves began to empty in the first months, one of the first lessons we learned was that in a time of crisis, some of the things we need can quickly disappear.
“There was a sudden surge in demand,” explained Saibal Ray, a professor of supply chain management at McGill University. “Companies were not able to handle it, basically.”
As the virus gripped Montreal and cities around the world, people started panic buying items like toilet paper, food and hand sanitizer, among others.
Ray explained that many of the items we assume will be available to us whenever we want rely on complex global supply chains to arrive in our hands. He said these intricate networks generally work well, but they could not keep up with transport shutdowns, coupled with skyrocketing demand.
“The supply chains are relatively stable. We should not try not to hoard things. That will only exacerbate the problem rather than reduce the problem,” he said.
However, getting people to act in the interest of the collective good can be difficult — a lesson an ICU doctor learned from the pandemic.
“If people had followed the recommendations from the from the authorities, we would probably not have been hit so hard,” said Dr. Michel de Marchie, an intensive care physician at the Jewish General Hospital.
“So, clearly, the message didn’t pass.”
He compared people not following public health rules to people not acting to address climate change.
“We know what we have to do, but what do we do? The (COVID-19) pandemic was a good illustration of the problem that we have,” he said.
His realization leads to another pandemic lesson: a clear message is important.
Whether it was first telling people not to wear masks then telling them to wear them, or flip-flopping on allowing Christmas gatherings, experts say the Legault government’s mixed messages undermined the public’s trust.
“One of the biggest problems, especially here in Quebec, has been the inconsistent messaging,” said Dr. Simon Bacon, a professor of behavioural medicine at Concordia University.
“We’ve seen that the more you distrust the government, the less likely you are to keep going with the behaviors that you’ve been engaging in.”
The province also learned a harsh lesson about the way Quebec seniors are treated.
“The system doesn’t work. It’s not just broken, it needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” said Peter Wheeland, whose parents both spent time at the Herron residence in 2020. The West Island seniors’ home was one of the worst hit by COVID-19 in the country.
“What the pandemic has really brought forward is the vulnerability and their fragility and the limits of that system,” said Patrick Martin-Menard, a medical malpractice lawyer.
Seventy-five per cent of Quebec’s more than 10,000 COVID-19 deaths happened in seniors’ homes.
“We have to think about how do we create a system where seniors are treated with dignity, where they live in the community as long as possible before we start putting them in institutions,” said Wheeland.
“It was really several months of an all out collapse of that system, as things were completely out of control,” said Martin-Menard
The situation in long-term care homes also taught us a lesson about the fragility of Quebec’s health-care system.
On multiple occasions, Legault explained that there were far fewer nurses at work than needed, and those who were on the job were exhausted. He publicly pleaded with health-care workers on sick leave to return to work.
“Nurses that had decided that they would want to work part-time were suddenly being forced to work full-time. I think that it’s important that we take a good look at the working conditions,” said Lucie Tremblay, the director of nursing at the Montreal Centre-West Health Authority (CIUSSS).
She said she learned how resilient and agile health-care workers can be, as many were forced to deploy to seniors’ homes or other institutions that were desperate for staff.
De Marchie said the pandemic also showed him how vital empathy toward others is to get through a crisis.
“The pandemic has shown me … I need to show even more empathy than I ever had,” he said, explaining that many of his patients could not have any friends or family members by their sides.
“I really feel for the families who had to suffer so much. I think that it will stay with me.”
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