COVID-19 has been the talk of 2020, and most of us are tired of it. The virus and the way to protect ourselves remain unchanged, but the situation has changed from early 2020. Canadians are facing a surge in cases as winter and flu season are rolling in. On the other hand, the vaccines appear to be just around the corner. We discuss the changing risk factors and how different factors can weigh into your decision-making process.
A lot has been written about COVID-19 and how to stay safe. COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets and the smaller aerosols released through sneezing, coughing, or even breathing. Touching contaminated surfaces, and later touching the mouth, nose, or eyes, is also a potential transmission vector.1 The remedy remains the same. We need to isolate as much as possible. Staying socially distant and wearing a mask when proximity to others is unavoidable lowers transmission rates. The science has been clear, but at the time of writing, the case count for Canadians is near 485,000, and more than 13,000 Canadians have died of COVID-19.2 The numbers tell the tale; staying safe is simple but not easy.
Many businesses have been negatively affected by COVID-19, and its effects are not distributed evenly or fairly. Humans are social animals, and isolating ourselves from others is not the norm, and COVID-19 has had many adverse downstream effects such as increased stress, anxiety, depression, and even domestic violence.3 As people have unique risk and health profiles, financial circumstances, and social and psychological needs, people will behave in different ways. Some people will make wildly irrational or irresponsible decisions, and these stories hit the news, but most people weigh the risks and rewards and act accordingly.
COVID Risk is a Moving Target
While the information about COVID-19 has remained relatively stable, the situation on the ground has changed considerably. March 2020 was when COVID-19 started to hit Canada hard. The problem today is very different from where we were when COVID-19 first hit Canada.
|March 2020||December 2020|
|High Uncertainty and Fear||Less fear and uncertainty|
|High death rates||Lower death rates|
|A low base rate of infection||High base rate|
Winter is here, and this means shorter days, colder temperatures, and less sunlight. People are spending more of their time indoors. As the conditions change, it would be rational to reevaluate the risk/reward calculus. Individuals make decisions about risk and reward. Many people have decided which activities are worth it or necessary, but risk and reward aren’t fixed. In particular, the risk has increased as the base rate of infection rises. As an example, Christmas Dinner with a small number of people would generally be considered a relatively low-risk activity if the infection rate isn’t widespread. In the context of infection rates in the United States today, however, the risk is substantial.
More people are infected today than ever in Canada, meaning that engaging in the same activity is much riskier, given the higher base rate. Many respiratory viruses like influenza and other coronaviruses are seasonal, proliferating in the winter months, and dropping off in the summer.4 Lower exposure to UV light may also be an influencing factor.5 The cold weather drives more people indoors, an environment in which infection rates are higher. As winter is also flu season, it raises the concern of coinfection. Experts are still studying the potential effects that the flu virus may have on COVID-19.6
There’s a lot to be concerned about, but there is some good news as well. Pfizer’s vaccines have been approved, and Moderna’s vaccine approval is likely to follow shortly. Canada is expected to fall behind countries with vaccine production capacity like the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, but it is expected to arrive by spring 2021.7 Canada has secured a large number of vaccines per capita to ensure that vaccines will cover the entire population as smoothly as possible.8