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Ontario Tech acknowledges the lands and people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.

We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.

This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.

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COVID-19: Ontario Tech epidemiologist looks back and looks ahead

Questions and answers with Faculty of Health Sciences researcher Dr. Emma Bartfay

Epidemiologist Dr. Emma Bartfay is a Professor with Ontario Tech University's Faculty of Health Sciences.
Epidemiologist Dr. Emma Bartfay is a Professor with Ontario Tech University's Faculty of Health Sciences.

Ontario Tech University epidemiologist Dr. Emma Bartfay continues to monitor local, national and global developments with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Faculty of Health Sciences researcher offers her take on the latest developments:

Over the past several months, Canada has generally done better than many other countries in the fight against COVID-19. What has Canada been doing well in terms of its response??

Canada’s statistics, whether we’re looking at the number of cases or the number of COVID-19-related deaths, compare quite favorably against many other countries. Yes, we were in panic mode initially when we thought COVID cases would overwhelm the health-care system. Thankfully, that didn’t really happen. But I don’t think it was all luck. A big part of it was because we as Canadians worked together.

I think Canadians as a whole are compliant. Most of us kept our distance when we were asked to do so. We stayed home when asked to stay in our household bubble. Another good example is wearing masks in indoor public places. You see a lot of people put it on just before they enter a store. And as soon as they come out, they take off the mask. So, we may not like wearing masks, but we do it for the good of society.

We moved to Stage 3 reopening in Ontario a number of weeks ago, and so far we haven’t seen a huge spike in COVID-19. This is definitely a good sign.

How should we move forward from here?

We certainly need to remain vigilant and continue to practise public-health measures that have perhaps now become second nature. Despite the downward trend in cases over the summer, it is likely there will be a rise in cases when schools reopen in September. COVID-19 is transmitted person-to-person. When people congregate, it increases the likelihood of transmission. Lots of teachers, parents and students are anxious right now. But I really think that we need to assess the risk objectively and rationally.

What are we anxious about? Is it about being infected with COVID-19? The numbers show us that about 90 per cent of confirmed cases recovered in Ontario and in Canada.

Are we anxious about serious health consequences or dying from COVID-19? Unless you have certain underlying health issues, the risk of dying is quite low for the vast majority of people. The risk of dying from cigarette smoking is much higher. Yet, we don’t stop people from smoking. We are also at a much higher risk of serious injury or death from motor vehicle accidents. We still get in cars, and put our children in cars. I have witnessed people riding bikes on the road with a mask on. But they were not wearing a bicycle helmet!

It is completely understandable, though, that people are nervous about bringing home the virus, infecting elderly loved ones and causing them harm. No one wants to be responsible for making Grandma or Grandpa sick. But there have to be better ways to protect older populations than shutting down all of society and putting everyone’s life on hold.

Are you saying that there will be a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall?

Second waves are fairly common with pandemics. But what constitutes a ‘wave’ is very subjective. As I said before, an increase in the number of COVID cases when kids go back to school in September is very likely. And so, I think regardless of the number of actual cases, some people will call it a second wave. On top of that, flu and cold season is just a couple of months away, and kids get sick all the time due to exposure at schools. Because the symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to those of influenza and the common cold, we really don’t know whether that fever or those coughs are related to COVID-19, seasonal flu or a cold. As a result, it will prompt more people to get tested for COVID-19. And of course, the more you test, the more cases you will find.

But again, I don’t think we should be too alarmed, even if there is a slight increase in the number of cases. From what we know about COVID-19, cases in children tend to be mild. And for the vast majority of us recover without any major health issues. 

Another thing we can do is to put in place a good detection system. I am not saying we ask teachers to do the testing, which I don’t think is fair to the teachers as they are not trained to do so. However, as soon as we suspect a student may be infected, this student is required to stay home and not go to school. Because students are put in a defined cohort, contact tracing can easily be done. The risk of a massive outbreak is greatly reduced.

I am not against wearing masks at school. But we must make sure that students, especially the younger ones, fully understand the reason behind the practice without scaring them unnecessarily. Kids will more likely to listen if they are treated as equals. “Do it because I said so” will not do. We also need to teach children how to wear a mask properly (e.g. cover your nose and month; do not remove the mask when speaking; do not adjust it unnecessarily, etc.).

What would you say to someone about protecting themselves?

Nothing has changed in terms of protecting yourself. Keep your distance, stay away from crowed places, wash your hands frequently, practise sneeze hygiene, and certainly don’t go anywhere if you are sick. And get your flu shot.


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Ontario Tech University