By Ian Pattison

Three things stand out on the Thunder Bay District Health Unit’s COVID-19 data page.

First, of course, is that cases of the virus in and around the city rose by eight Sunday alone for a total of 120 with five deaths and four now in hospital.

Next to note is that, whereas until recently most cases were typically among those aged 20-49, there is now considerable infection across all age groups from 20 to 80.

Finally, we see that roughly a quarter of all cases since March have no known exposure. While public health has been able to confirm that 283 cases were acquired through close contact and outbreaks at care homes, the source of 66 cases remains unknown.

Twelve of the 15 new cases reported Friday were in the city’s Southbridge Roseview long-term care home where 67 cases involving residents and staff remained active on Sunday. Given the speed and severity with which the coronavirus is known to decimate seniors’ homes, families are asking questions and are not yet getting answers.

The online rumour mill is grinding out theories galore, most of them tying Roseview staff or residents’ family members to the local pickleball community, source of an earlier outbreak, and

trips to Winnipeg for sporting events. Allegedly, staff or family members didn’t isolate themselves properly before entering the home.

Transparency is essential in a public crisis of any kind. Rumours can sap public confidence and hurt innocent people. Roseview officials are said to be close to determining what happened and we need to be able to trust that they and the health unit will be forthcoming with definitive answers.

Growth of the virus has caused public health to raise the area’s response level to Orange, further restricting public movements, though still leaving a lot of leeway. There are two levels left and maybe we ought to be in the red zone instead, despite what a chart says.

Carelessness among a relative few citizens has got us to this point and careless people continue to flout warnings from government officials that have finally taken on the emotional urgency required to pierce the dangerous wall of complacency.

Moving from Yellow to Orange means no change in how many people can gather at public events and a restriction to 50 people at bars and restaurants. That’s still a lot in a pandemic. Screening is required of those entering stores, personal care establishments and the casino. There are other changes, none of them particularly onerous given the severity of what we’re facing.

If we moved to Red now, indoor public events and social gatherings would be limited to five people. Only 10 people would be allowed in bars and restaurants. (This is a good point to remind readers that many restaurant owners are barely hanging on. Most deliver and offer curbside pickup of phone orders. Most businesses sell gift cards for future use. Please consider the opportunity to support local eateries with your distanced patronage and give gift cards to local businesses for Christmas instead of yet another gizmo purchased online.)

If we don’t move to Red now, chances seem good that we’ll be into a lockdown before too long given how fast the virus is moving.

Playing catch-up hasn’t kept us safe. COVID is spreading at a rate that is alarming locally and positively terrifying in some other jurisdictions. This is a losing proposition unless public officials get proactive -- get ahead of the game.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, news is finally seeping out about when we can expect vaccines that the whole world is anxiously awaiting. Health Canada approval of two vaccines is expected soon with rollout of the first 3 million doses -- and decisions on who gets them -- soon after that.

Soon isn’t good enough for opposition leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford -- people one writer called “political rhetoricians” who demand to know exactly what vaccine will be in their hands exactly where and when.

How does one answer a question without precedent? This is all brand new -- rushing vaccines through research and production at rates we’ve never seen before. If Canada is guilty of anything it is in not ordering vaccines as soon as some other countries. But partisan sniping isn’t helping and is leading some people to place unrealistic expectations on public health officials working their butts off for us.

Do we really want to dispense with the approvals process such that we get a vaccine that many won’t trust? We’ve already got enough anti-vaxxers spewing conspiracy theories around the flu shot, supplies of which are themselves distressingly low. We need to be able to trust the COVID vaccines that are coming down the pipe as fast as humanly possible.

A recent Ipsos-Global News poll suggested that 71 per cent of Canadians already feel nervous about a vaccine being created and approved so quickly. A similar number said they are concerned about long-term side-effects. So when the federal government tells us that it is important to await Health Canada’s rigorous but expedited approval process, we need to respect that judgment.

O'Toole and Ford have claimed that Canada will be "near the back of the line” to receive vaccines. The truth is we are somewhere in the middle and the first vaccines are expected to start arriving early in the New Year.

This week's Léger poll suggests that while 37 per cent of Canadians are worried we might not get the vaccine at the same time as the United States and the United Kingdom — where the vaccines are produced — 48 per cent said they are "not that concerned" and feel "a few months won't make much of a difference."

Most Canadians are reasonable people. But they won’t stand much longer for those who ignore the rules and those who set them too cautiously.

Let’s all sit tight. Stay home unless absolutely necessary and then be exceedingly careful. Keep your distance, wear a proper mask properly and clean your hands carefully and often.

That’s advice we’ve heard over and over again but which some people have not taken seriously. Those people are directly responsible for placing us in a situation where many are worried sick, local entrepreneurs are hanging on by their fingernails and seniors are dying.

Time to get serious, and get the vaccine shot when it’s available.

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