Public-health measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will likely have a permanent impact on the economic, social and cultural landscape even after the vaccine rollout is complete and Ontario has achieved “herd immunity.”
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health, offered that bleak assessment during the meeting of the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health on May 4.
Permanent measures for the future, Nesathurai said, include a requirement to wear face masks when shopping and changes to indoor dining in congregate settings.
Nesathurai based his calculation on the fact that humanity has had no prior experience with COVID-19.
As such – even in a post-vaccination environment – Nesathurai said ongoing vulnerability to the virus as small as five per cent of the population would be enough to overwhelm and collapse health-care resources in even advanced societies such as our own.
“I think there will always be some background of people who will be susceptible to any communicable disease,” Nesathurai told the board, which met by teleconference.
“Will we see variants of COVID-19 that are not vaccine-sensitive? I think that’s quite a possibility. It’s like the flu – we have to re-vaccinate people every year. That’s something to think about.
“Will there still be people who get COVID-19 even when you have a high level of vaccination? Yes. Will people develop new variants of COVID-19 that are perhaps not vaccine-sensitive? I think that’s probably a ‘yes.’ Will we continue to have to make public-health measures like wearing masks when you go to the grocery store? I think that’s probably likely to be ‘yes.’
“Will we enjoy going to a restaurant the same way we did before COVID-19? I’m not sure. Dining is a risky event. Will that be a change in our culture? I think that’ll be a likely change in how we view going out and interacting with other people. That’s the stuff I see in a post-COVID era.”
A second spring of COVID measures related to migrant workers and large agricultural enterprises has already wrought permanent changes to the way these farmers do business, Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus told the board. Columbus predicted agricultural output in Norfolk and Haldimand has been permanently impaired due to the coronavirus.
“The mental anguish farmers are going through is even worse than last year,” Columbus said. “There’s going to be irreparable damage to the fruit- and vegetable-growing industry. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they just can’t cope with it. Their wives – who are mostly looking after human-resource issues – are just having a very, very difficult time. They need some help mentally too.”
Nesathurai reminded Columbus and the board of health that these sentiments are not restricted to agriculture but are general throughout the community.
“It’s clear COVID-19 has affected every single person, every single family, every business, every institution, every school, every health district, and across the province,” Nesathurai said.
“We recognize there is anguish among people who own agricultural enterprises. There is also anguish among people who get sick and anguish among health-care workers who have to face COVID-19 cases on a regular basis. We’re all in this struggle together and are trying to keep our families, our businesses and our institutions functioning.
“It’s clearly a multi-faceted problem we face as a society and as a culture.”
The legislation that brought the new Norfolk and new Haldimand counties into being in 2001 designated Norfolk council as the counties’ board of health due to the municipality’s larger population.