Pandemic diary: August

I’ve decided to write up my experiences and thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll focus on Toronto because that’s where I live and on Ontario because medical data is more reliable on this level and some policies come from Ontario. Canada is another superset but there are large regional differences within Canada.

I’m going to start from now, because if I start from the chronological start I will probably never get to a publishable state. This is as of August 28, 2020:

August was calm in Ontario. New confirmed cases and new deaths seem flat, with about 8 confirmed new cases and about 0.1 to 0.2 deaths per day per million people. Testing is flat but appears sufficient with around 1500 to 1750 tests per day per million people having around a 0.5% positive rate. (HowsMyFlattening dashboard seems to be a good place to get useful figures.) There is the tension of “is it coming back”… there are nervous glances at British Columbia, at Alberta, at Germany, at Spain, for examples of second waves or wavelets.

We hope that the relative downtime is used to strengthen and prepare for next wave. But we’re also skeptical and apprehensive, not least because of the experience of wasted relative downtime in February when it should have been clear this will be serious.

But overall we’ve managed so far. Ontario has had less deaths than any of our geographical neighbours except Manitoba. The health system was not overwhelmed, there was no scary triage and no refrigerated trucks supplementing morgues.

But at the same time, that’s not a very high bar. We’ve had many more deaths than comparable regions like British Columbia or New South Wales, less similar regions like Germany or Norway have also clearly done better, and we are very far behind global leaders Taiwan or Vietnam. Initially, Ontario and Toronto were confident that we will be ready, that we’ll be really good because we’ve had the experience of SARS. That turned out to be a completely false confidence. Our PPE stocks were low; our testing was extremely low; our tracing was underfunded and likely underprepared.

There were decisions that in retrospect are clearly wrong, and some that were probably suboptimal. If mandatory masks make sense in July then why didn’t they make sense in April? Maybe the science wasn’t 100% clear, but its use as a precaution – reducing respiratory contact to reduce a respiratory disease – seems extremely obvious, yet Toronto and Ontario didn’t even strongly advocate it let alone mandate it until July.

After a record-hot July, we’ve got a normal-hot August. A lot of people are outside. We’re not really, due to Reasons; though we did go down to the lake a couple of times and I spent some time trying to tend to our garden.

But what is coming? Fingers crossed…