Four months ago, Canada was unprepared for the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Canadian soil but managed to flatten the curve. Last week, the head of the World Health Organization warned that flare-ups are inevitable as nations begin lifting lockdown restrictions. What do Canadians need to do to be prepared for a potential resurgence of COVID-19? The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has identified five critical issues that need to be addressed:
- Canadians cannot let their guard down: Canadians have done a good job following public health measures to help flatten the curve, and their adherence to measures is as important as ever. The CMA encourages public health officials to continue to ensure that clear, consistent messaging is provided for Canadians to follow.
- Effective testing and tracing: Access to testing is fundamental to identifying cases quickly, and early contact tracing is needed to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. Proactive strategic testing of essential workers and susceptible populations is particularly important given that some individuals who contract the virus remain asymptomatic. Access to widespread testing and capacity for contact tracing are yet to be sustained.
- Protecting the health and safety of frontline health care workers: The supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) was a glaring example of Canada’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic of this magnitude. Even as domestic production and governments’ efforts ramp up, it remains a challenge to ensure that health care workers have adequate supplies of PPE, and clearer guidance is needed on appropriate use. Also, a rising concern is the health and wellness of frontline health care workers who have been working non-stop for many months under untenable circumstances. Governments need to do more to recognize the unique risks and financial hardships experienced by our frontline health care workers.
- Protecting marginalized and susceptible populations: Some groups have been disproportionately affected by the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis. Canada has failed dramatically to protect these groups, particularly residents of long-term care homes. Marginalized populations have also been adversely affected and will need greater access to health, social services and resources.
- Our ability to manage other health care issues: As a result of the action of the federal and provincial/territorial governments, together with the efforts of Canadians to adhere to public health guidance, our health systems have been able to manage the health needs of Canadians during the pandemic. However, as governments and public health experts consider how to proceed in lifting certain restrictions, we are beginning to comprehend the enormity of the effort and investment required to resume health care services. During the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services, such as surgeries, procedures and consults considered “nonessential,” have been delayed. As health services begin to resume, health systems will be left to grapple with a significant spike in already lengthy waiting times.
“Now is the time to take stock of lessons learned over the past four months so we can avoid a potential second wave. This will depend on our ability to follow public health guidance, implement key measures like contact tracing and testing, and how quickly we respond as a society. The reality is that we need to get used to living with COVID-19 and we have an opportunity today to minimize the impact of a COVID resurgence, including potential loss of life and economic hardship,” says Dr. Sandy Buchman, CMA president.
Other key issues on the horizon: While these issues are top of mind for physicians across the country, other emerging issues such as immunization — vaccines not only for COVID-19, but also for influenza-related illnesses that traditionally surge in the fall — will need planning and resources for rapid and large-scale efforts.