By Stewart Grant
On Friday afternoon, the results of recent COVID-19 modelling were presented publicly by Dr. Peter Donnelly, the President and CEO of Public Health Ontario.
The numbers were significant. Firstly, Donnelly warned that the pandemic could last 18 months to two years in duration. In short, life is not returning to normal anytime soon. As Donnelly said, “this is unprecedented”, and that to find anything like this in history, we must look back at least 100 hundred years, to the Spanish Flu.
Donnelly outlined different projections of the COVID-19 death toll within Ontario, which showed vastly different outcomes for the province depending on the level of social distancing measures adopted. Based on the current path we are on, the estimated range of fatalities in Ontario from COVID-19 is between 3,000 and 15,000.
To help provide perspective and understanding of large numbers, often it is helpful to break them down into smaller subtotals. So, what does this latest projection mean for St. Marys?
On strictly a pro-rata basis, an Ontario death toll of 3,000 to 15,000 (out of a population of 14.6 million) would equate to up to eight deaths in St. Marys (population 7,500). However, this pro-rata math is NOT the way to assess the danger that we face.
While Ontario’s large population allows for statisticians to balance out fluctuations that may occur regionally, St. Marys’ small population implies a much larger range of possibilities. For example, consider Bobcaygeon (population 3,500), where 22 people have died so far (as of April 4) following an outbreak at the Pinecrest Nursing Home. Or consider that 143 cases of COVID-19 can be linked to a single mid-March funeral at Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s, Nfld.
Even areas of similarly large populations can show huge differences. Two nearby U.S. states have vastly different experiences so far. As of April 5, Michigan (population 10 million) has 14,225 cases already and 540 deaths, numbers which are roughly five times as high as Ohio (population 11.7 million).
When we look back on this pandemic, perhaps two years from now, where will St. Marys appear on the curve? With the recent passing of Stonetown Foodland owner Craig MacDonald, COVID-19 has already touched us in a very personal way. Craig was a friend to so many of us, whether you knew him from the grocery store, from his service in the Kinsmen Club, or simply as a good neighbour.
The passing of Craig, one citizen of St. Marys, was both painful and shocking. Seeing the COVID-19 statistics grow on the television screen is one thing, but seeing someone that we know die from this virus makes it truly hit home. We need to do everything that we can to keep everyone safe.
At the end of this, we might have one fatality from COVID-19, or we might have dozens. Our actions now, and in the future, will shape our results. Please, listen carefully to the social distancing and ‘stay home’ guidelines that are set out by public health officials, and make good decisions to keep you, your family, and your community safe.