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This is how time turns in a pandemic: blink once, and summer turns to fall. Blink twice, and months of low numbers and relatively carefree living vanish underneath a surge of new cases and hospitalizations. And now we're truly in it, deep in the thick of it, wrestling with what it means in a way we've never really had to before.

It shouldn't be surprising. We've known all along what COVID-19 can do, and has done; we'd been shown that movie from afar. The way it rips through nursing homes and hospitals, leaving piles of dead in its wake. The way health-care facilities start to groan as the need for care mounts while sick workers stay home.

We'd seen those things all over the world, and we are seeing them now in Manitoba.

The virus is revealing. It finds the places we allowed to grow weak and it pushes, building up pressure with each new case. There were 831 new cases in just one week; there are now 80 people in hospital, with 15 requiring critical care.

That's still within what the system can handle. But if nothing changes? Another blink, and it'll be out of control.

Months into the pandemic the province seemed unprepared to pivot on short notice to handle a surge it could have predicted would be coming. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Months into the pandemic the province seemed unprepared to pivot on short notice to handle a surge it could have predicted would be coming. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

So it made sense when, on Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin adopted an uncommonly stern tone as he talked about personal decisions.

He told us how someone who knew they were positive hosted guests in their own home, leading to many exposures. How someone attended a faith-based gathering, where they likely contracted COVID-19, and then visited a personal care home, triggering an outbreak. How people lied to health-care workers about having been exposed.

Telling these stories marked a notable shift in pandemic communications. It's good that it did. These examples gave Manitobans a clear look at chains of transmission and the decisions that drove them — information that officials here had been relatively tight-lipped on sharing, outside of broad generalizations.

This is the problem with being human: there is always someone ‐ and it's usually someone else ‐ who's doing the wrong things.

Laid out so bluntly — no feeling, just facts — these are shockingly selfish acts. As Roussin was still talking, social media was blowing up with frustration at those unknown individuals who, through their indiscretions, put many in danger. Tension has been rising with the numbers, and it's been hungering for someone to blame.

Well, if one wants to point fingers, there's no shortage of targets. This is the problem with being human: there is always someone — and it's usually someone else — who's doing the wrong things.

Sometimes these are serious lapses in judgment, covered in denial or fear or lack of compassion, as in some of Roussin's examples.

Still, just as often, they're going to be simple mistakes, the kind everyone will make over time. Or, they're going to be behaviours that aren't even mistakes, but are just things we do as part of life.

Risk has to be managed with balance, and even with dedication and diligence, everyone is going to land in a slightly different place.

Community spirit: Sheilah Restall started the Great Winnipeg Bear Hunt in March to give kids something to look for during neighbourhood walks. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Community spirit: Sheilah Restall started the Great Winnipeg Bear Hunt in March to give kids something to look for during neighbourhood walks. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In the end, it comes down to this: there have been 43 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide.

That's a lot of handshakes. A lot of hugs. A lot of workers doing what they must to get by. It is a lot of people doing the wrong things, which in the context of a pathogen we can't see, means just trying to get through their lives.

It's hard, but there has to be space to forgive the trying. Most people are doing the best they can. If they weren't, it would have long ago become a lot worse than this.

Public health officials keep reminding us that we must learn to live with the virus. We're all still feeling out where those boundaries are, and they are always subject to change.

Yet there are some things we can control, or at least push for greater accountability and action, and those are critical bulkheads against COVID-19.

"Government can't protect you from this virus," Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Monday; he's right in one very literal sense, but government can pull the most important strings.

Risk has to be managed with balance, and even with dedication and diligence, everyone is going to land in a slightly different place.

Let's keep demanding more answers about how, seven months after COVID-19 came to Canada and with company Revera already besieged by care home outbreaks across the country, Parkview Place was still so at risk for massive spread that at least 40 per cent of its residents are now infected and 18 of them dead.

And let's keep focused on how, as Winnipeg's caseloads bloomed, contact tracing became overwhelmed and testing facilities were overrun with demand. Why, months into the pandemic, was government still so unprepared to pivot on short notice to handle a surge it surely could have predicted would be coming?

Above all, let's not let ourselves get too frayed by the tension that rises with the numbers.

We are all feeling it now. Everyone is burned out in some way. It's a far cry from those early days of March and April, when everything came screeching to a halt, but there was, through it all, a certain community spirit, a sense we could do it.

It was easier then to believe we are all in it together. Harder, when all these individual mistakes add up to create a situation that is so much deadlier, so much more uncertain, so much more on the brink.

To get us through this part, we will need to practice both focus and forgiveness. On those, we need not lose our way.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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