You can’t legislate stupidity

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I keep wanting to write about the need to start reopening the economy more quickly and lessen restrictions faster in certain parts of the province, but one reality ultimately holds me back every time: the human element.

Take away the me-first attitude of people and we’d already be back in decent shape. Imagine if everyone had behaved as required at the outset. The curve would have been flattened, the spread of the virus greatly reduced, and our stores and restaurants, at least in areas of lower population density, would all be back open again.

But, sadly, too many folks are selfish, and that is exactly why we can’t open one part of the province faster than others.

Otherwise, one could argue it is time for the Ontario government to take off its Greater Toronto Area safety glasses.

Between May 10 and Wednesday morning (May 27), Ontario had seen 3,931 new cases of COVID-19. Of those, about 78 per cent, 3,054, were in the GTA.

That’s more than three out of every four new cases inside 7,124 square kilometres in a province of 1.076 MILLION sq. kms.

The footprint of the GTA, geographically, is about three times the size of Chatham-Kent; with about 56 times the number of people. They are bottled together; unfortunate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with that reality on display at the doorstep of Premier Doug Ford each day, some would ask that he look beyond his front yard and to the rest of the province.

Factor in Ottawa, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton and their respective COVID caseloads with the GTA numbers, and the statistics climb to encompass nearly 91 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 caseload since May 10.

The rest of us are in pretty decent shape in terms of number of COVID cases.

Right now, COVID-19 is mostly an urban issue. For example, in Chatham-Kent, we have just nine active cases of COVID-19, according to today’s CK Public Health numbers, and five of those are isolated to the Greenhill Produce outbreak. Of our 144 cases to date, 100 are linked to Greenhill, and the vast majority of those are migrant workers who live on site.

In the early stages, Ford had every right to look at the province as one large area of COVID-19 concern. Back in early April, the GTA accounted for about 52 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 cases. The virus was much more evenly spread.

Now, it’s clustering in the larger urban areas. Yet reaction to COVID-19 and ongoing restrictions are province-wide.

One could argue that would be akin to dunking a patient in iodine when they have a nasty scrape on their leg and a cut on their elbow.

There are medical experts who say it is unfair to metaphorically dunk the province collectively in that protective iodine, that the stinging pain is unnecessarily put upon parts of the provincial body that are not in need of such treatment.

“To treat the province as one unit doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, said in an interview on CBC Radio. “The number of COVID-positive cases is increasing, but I think the more important question is within the province of Ontario: ‘Where are those cases actually located?'” 

Also on CBC Radio, Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious disease physician at the University Health Network, said the growth in new cases in the province since earlier this month is “primarily a Toronto problem.”

Vaisman said the province needs to take a good look at the data and build its response accordingly, rather than utilizing the current broad-brush approach.

“If all you know is that it’s a lot of cases in Toronto, it doesn’t make much sense that in Kingston they should be shutting down parks,” he told CBC.

Or Chatham-Kent, for that matter, right?

Shouldn’t the province focus more closely on the COVID-19 hot spots, while looking at the possibility of letting other parts of the province open up the economy more quickly?

Revisiting the scrape on the leg and cut on the elbow analogy, the problem with COVID-19 infection is that the scrape and the cut can move; that’s the human element. Call them Covidiots; people who make bad decisions during the pandemic. You know, folks who, for example, congregated at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park this past Saturday. Thousands of Toronto residents gathered in the park, ignoring social distancing rules. Some went so far as to urinate on nearby yards, and even defecate in driveways.

How do you keep such Covidiots bottled up if other nearby parts of the province see a reduction in restrictions?

That is the very difficult question.

There is the likelihood Covidiots will leave their congested cities and seek out areas where restrictions have lessened, perhaps where restaurants and beaches and other green spaces are once again open to the public and allowing clusters of more than just five people.

What if hair stylists were allowed to get back to work here? Would people come from Windsor-Essex to get a haircut? I think you know the answer.

Opening up our economy to a greater extent than nearby regions would leave a tangible risk for people to bring infection with them.

Are there ways around this? Another difficult question. Could restaurants force people to show ID at the door, indicating their place of primary residence, before being granted access? Can we have people posted at beach and park entrances doing the same thing?

Through it all, even though the premier admitted there are COVID-19 hot spots in parts of the province, especially his own GTA, he has so far discarded any thought of easing restrictions in some areas while keeping containment tight in others.

As a nation and a province, we can order businesses, schools, sports activities and more to be closed or suspended, but we seemingly cannot order people to stay inside their own cities of primary residence or respect social-distancing rules.

We can restrict business freedoms for public safety, but it is next to impossible to successfully legislate stupidity.
Because if we could, Covidiots would not even be a term.

So, as usual, as goes the GTA, so goes the rest of the province.

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