It’s an old axiom: if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Nowhere, it would appear, is this truer than when it comes to battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
As our Geralyn Wichers reports for the front-page story in our Nov. 26 issue of the Co-operator, Manitoba processors who had plans in place to combat infections in their workforce haven’t escaped entirely unscathed — but at least so far they’ve been able to prevent the disasters seen elsewhere.
While other meat plants have seen hundreds fall ill, with transmissions running rampant inside the plant, they’ve kept infections to double digits and — at least so far — there’s no evidence of transmission within the facility.
Would that our provincial government had taken a page from industry in this case.
There’s a theory being floated that COVID is a conspiracy.
I won’t go too far down the rabbit hole, but suffice to say the claim is that it’s a hoax to rob us of our rights as free citizens. Their handy moniker for it is ‘plandemic.’
If anything, governments have suffered generally from a lack of planning and an overly optimistic outlook. Manitoba’s error is that it mistook good fortune for good management in the early phases of this.
However, governments are in a tough spot on this one. Mixed messages aside, it’s pretty clear to anyone, with the exception of the conspiracy theorists, that our best strategy for survival until vaccines become available is to limit our exposure to other humans.
Governments have tried to inform and encourage the public to heed that advice. But we won’t. So governments make some rules and then people protest and look for ways around those rules. If the rule says we can have five people over, then people’s minds shift to who they’re going to invite, not whether they should put social gatherings on hold for their own safety and the safety of others.
Viruses don’t respect any social, economic or geographic boundaries, once they get into a population and begin to circulate unchecked.
Manitoba’s own numbers can certainly attest to that. It was only about three months ago the province was straining to pat itself on the back after two weeks of no new cases. At one point there was just a single active case in the province.
But hundreds of new cases are being reported each day, and the province is quickly running out of capacity to manage it.
Rural Manitobans have the benefit of more space in which to social distance, but they may also find it harder to access the medical services they need whether they have COVID-19 or any other type of medical emergency.
Manitoba has a limited number of ICU beds. During the province’s regular COVID update on Nov. 13, Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health, spelled out the uncomfortable math.
The province has a total of 93 intensive care unit beds. As of that morning, 85 of the beds were filled, with 34 occupied by COVID-19 patients. Since then the numbers have only got worse. As of Nov. 19 there were 43 COVID-19 patients filling ICU beds, a number only kept down by the steadily growing number of COVID-19 deaths, which were 198 that day.
While there is some room to increase ICU capacity by delaying elective surgeries, the province is already talking about the nightmare scenario of using hockey rinks as ICU wards and freezer trucks as makeshift morgues.
That’s a risk for every Manitoban, no matter how effectively they can isolate themselves out on the farm. In fact, farmers should be one of the most concerned groups in the province.
Farming is a risky business, and there are too many serious injuries that result from it. Aerial ambulances and city trauma wards can save a critically injured farmer when they’re available, but that availability is becoming an increasingly uncertain prospect.
While the absence of field work will limit the risk, there’s always an element of danger in farm work, regardless the season. Now more than ever farm safety should be top of mind.
And then there’s the other less avoidable risks. A heart attack or stroke will come when it comes, and if there’s no available medical resources, the outcome can get very bleak quite quickly.
A large part of the problem appears to be an utter lack of foresight on the part of our provincial government, in particular when it staged its very own George W. Bush-style ‘mission accomplished moment’ and shut down its pandemic planning structure.
That meant the provincial bureaucracy was less able to plan as a unified unit, and created situations where the left hand and right hand were unaware of each other’s actions.
All Manitobans should expect their provincial government to do better than this, for the good of all citizens, rural and urban alike. However, it must also be said that all Manitobans simply need to do better.