BY IAN PATTISON

This is an updated version of a column that appeared Aug. 1.

Two weeks into the Phase 3 of the reopening of Thunder Bay, there are now four active coronavirus cases in the district. That’s crept up from one, but it’s still a number we can live with. A more telling picture could emerge over the next week. By then, two weeks will have passed since masks were made mandatory in enclosed public spaces. That one-week interval in which more social interaction was allowed without masks represents the most dangerous period in our emergence from isolation.

Thunder Bay and the surrounding district have done exceedingly well in following the rules around protection from COVID-19. Our positive test results are just 0.3 per cent versus 1.8 per cent for the province as a whole.

Virus fatigue has coincided with the onset of a glorious summer. People are anxious for others’ company and the controlled reopening of restaurants, bars and gyms has brought a sense of relief -- especially among younger residents -- along with some carelessness.

The highest incidence of confirmed cases is among those aged 40-49, led by females. This group is followed closely and almost equally by those 20-29 and 50-59. The lowest case numbers are among those 70-79 and 80+ which shows that long-term care homes in the city have escaped the pattern of extreme outbreaks seen in homes in parts of southern Ontario.

Stage 3 reopening should not coincide with a relaxation of the rules. The novel coronavirus is stealthy. We’ve been very good at taking care of ourselves and our fellow passengers on this mad train ride. Let’s not get off just yet.

Businesses are supposed to encourage you to wear a mask upon entry, not bar you, but it’s just common sense and courtesy to wear one in the company of others and to maintain distance, cough and sneeze carefully, and keep our hands clean and sanitized.

There is no great mystery in the fact the United States has by far the highest death toll in the world -- 150,000 -- followed by Brazil and the U.K. All three countries were lackadaisical about preparations for and reactions to the onset of the pandemic and then reopened their economies much too soon after it took hold.

Reality finally dawned on the American White House this week as President Donald Trump, COVID-19’s enabler-in-chief, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a mask and acknowledged that wearing them might not be a bad idea after all. But only if you want to.

Trump, however, is incapable of staying on message. He and son Junior (along with Madonna) endorsed the advice of a quack physician who promotes hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Dr. Stella Immanuel’s rant from the Supreme Court steps Monday went viral.

Immanuel has said that world leaders are secretly lizards who are dressed up in human suits. Her spiritual beliefs include demon sex, alien DNA in medicine, conspiracy theories, and anti-LGBTQ+ views. She attributes medical conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids and cysts to “spirit husbands,” demons that have sex with women while they sleep.

When social media companies spiked her videos, she threatened the wrath of God on anyone who might roadblock “her monetization of insanity,” as Toronto Star columnist Vinay Menon put it.

“Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers with (sic) start crashing till you do,” Immanuel tweeted. “You are not bigger that (sic) God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book (sic) will be down in Jesus name.”

Facebook is still up.

For the record, here is the latest advice from the World Health Organization: “Current data shows that this drug does not reduce deaths among hospitalized COVID-19 patients (as Immanuel insisted) nor help people with mild or moderate disease. The use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine is accepted as generally safe for patients with malaria and autoimmune diseases, but its use where not indicated and without medical supervision can cause serious side effects and should be avoided.”

Trump is increasingly helpless in the face of the incontrovertible spread of COVID-19 that he enabled with a purposefully weak response. So he is turning increasingly desperate. On Thursday he suggested the Nov. 3 presidential election be delayed “until people can properly, securely and safely vote.” Safely because of COVID, properly and securely because mail-in voting will result in “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in U.S. history.”

Trump has said ballots would be stolen out of mailboxes, that universal access to mail-in voting would boost Democrats and prevent Republicans from winning future elections, and that foreign countries would print and send in millions of mail-in ballots.

Elections officials, including Republicans, have debunked it all. Ominously, though, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the justice department, headed by Trump lieutenant William Barr, will make the final decision on delaying the election, the date of which is enshrined in the constitution.

Here in Ontario we are fortunate to have a premier who, despite his contradictory policies on overall health care funding, takes the virus seriously. We will see how things go after he authorized the last few, highest-rate communities, to reopen this week. Toronto and Peel have both seen steady declines in new daily cases over the past week. The earlier, accepted threshold was two weeks of steady decline.

"What we see in other jurisdictions … is that with reopening, we see more cases, and more spread of the virus . . . ," said Dr. Janet DeMille, Thunder Bay medical officer of health this week.

DeMille was bluntly clear -- the public health order requiring people to wear masks in enclosed public spaces will likely remain in place for months. "It's very easy for this virus to get ahead of us, where it's harder to recover once we have broader spread."

The mask rule is crucial as medical authorities prepare for a second wave of coronavirus. There has never been a pandemic of respiratory disease that had a single wave. Ongoing transmission can last for up to two years, authorities say. It happens because not enough people were infected in the first wave to generate sufficient levels of immunity in the population at large.

A study by Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force estimated that less than one per cent of Canadians have had the virus. That’s a good thing and a bad one. Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing while the race for a vaccine continues to show promise.

- - -

Just a note on Justin Trudeau. His appearance before the Commons finance committee to answer questions about his government’s ties to the WE Charity proved one thing: the prime minister made a mistake. This was no high political crime. Instead, it was an error in judgment -- his third, mind you, but not the bombshell that the opposition was desperate to explode.

Over the course of 90 minutes Thursday, Trudeau effectively explained that he didn’t award a $500-million student jobs program to friends in the WE Charity. Instead, aware of his and his family’s ties to WE -- and this is where he should have recused himself -- he “pushed back” against the public service recommendation that WE handle the program so that its sole suitability was confirmed. It was, they said, and so this “scandal” is no more, at least as far as Trudeau is concerned. The extent of Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his family’s involvement with WE is still evolving as are the complex and lucrative inner workings of the Kielburger brothers’ labyrinth of WE organizations that reach around the world.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs. 

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