Give the gift of life this holiday season – 5 reasons to stay home
The holiday season is here, and while it should be filled with time spent with friends and family, celebrations this year need to change to keep people safe. Not everyone has the privilege to stay home this holiday season. Here are five simple reasons why those who do not live alone – and are not essential workers – should cancel their plans and only socialize within their own household.
1. Anyone could have COVID and spread it.
A lot of COVID-19 transmission occurs through people who do not know they are infected because they are pre-symptomatic, minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic. Viral loads begin to peak just prior to symptom onset, not when you have severe symptoms. Lack of symptoms does not mean you do not have COVID.
With contact tracing collapsed in many regions, potential cases are not being warned of their high-risk exposure. As a result, we are each a risk to each other – all the time. Making matters worse, when you meet indoors, physical distancing is not enough to stop spread. Lastly, superspreader events mean your entire gathering could simultaneously acquire COVID from one person.
2. Anyone can get critically ill.
In the past three weeks in one Ontario intensive care unit, I have been part of teams caring for critically ill patients of all ages including 10 patients in their 20s and 30s with no significant medical comorbidities. These young people should have a combined life expectancy of nearly 500 years. Despite the best possible care, some of them will die.
While there is no doubt that risk is much lower for younger and healthier people, anyone can get critically ill and die from COVID. The risk, however, does increase dramatically with age. The mixing of generations at holiday parties will bring direct contact between those most likely to have an asymptomatic infection (children) and those most likely to die (elderly).
3. Death is not the only negative outcome of COVID.
Research and knowledge continue to evolve on the long-term consequences of COVID. Some patients have drawn-out symptoms affecting their heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. Others suffer from chronic fatigue and shortness of breath. For the so-called COVID “long-haulers,” it is unclear when, if ever, these symptoms will resolve. COVID-19’s path of destruction goes beyond death; it creates severe disability as well.
Even asymptomatic or mild cases can have negative impacts. Each case can contribute to spread in the community, eventually leading to the infection of a higher-risk person who could die.
4. Many front-line healthcare workers are exhausted, the system is buckling, and the worst is yet to come.
Some will say the healthcare system is always stressed and this is no different – they could not be more wrong. Right now, every day is a battle to find space for patients and enough staff to care for them. Patients are being transferred between hospitals constantly due to capacity and staffing constraints.
The healthcare system is supposed to be a balance between acute care, chronic care, elective care to improve quality of life and investigations to catch new diseases early. It is not built for this level of constant high-volume acuity.
As stress on the system increases, important aspects of healthcare get squeezed out by the ever-growing burden of acuity. Curable cancers missed today can be terminal next year when they are eventually picked up. Important surgeries for quality of life will be delayed for years to come. The government could fund a million new beds tomorrow but it would have no impact on this pandemic. We are only staffed to manage the beds we have – there is a limit to what can be done to expand.
5. Vaccines are here.
Vaccines and public health measures will eventually allow us to move past the pandemic so this is not forever. There is light at the end of this long, dark COVID tunnel. By the holiday season of 2021, we can expect to go back to cherished personal interactions and traditions. Unfortunately, vaccines have no impact on the spread of COVID for much of this year. Until enough people are vaccinated, every death deferred will be a life saved.
This holiday season will be extremely difficult for all of us. Many essential workers can’t take time off. Loved ones will be sick or hospitalized with COVID-19. With cases still rising despite current restrictions, holiday social gatherings could lead to explosive growth.
We are all interconnected in the fight against COVID. By staying home for the holidays, we can all help save lives and protect our fragile healthcare system.