Pandemic restrictions must strike 'fine balance'

A doctor, a nurse and a paramedic reflect on the wisdom of loosening COVID-19 restrictions as Ottawa heads from red to orange this weekend.

A doctor, a nurse and a paramedic reflect on loosening COVID-19 restrictions

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng stands outside the Montfort Hospital on Nov. 6, 2020. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawa has left the red zone and entered the orange. Some restrictions remain, but four weeks of modified Stage 2, and the closures and interruptions that came with it, are behind us.

Is it too soon? Are we tempting fate? Or has it come just in time to save restaurants, gyms and our sanity?

Again this week, CBC Ottawa checked in with three people on the front lines of the health crisis, this time asking them to reflect on whether now is the right time to reopen. 

The doctor

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng welcomes the return to Stage 3. The 43-year-old is a palliative and intensive care physician at the Montfort and Ottawa hospitals.

"We can't just live in a bubble and have a life of no risk. Everything we do has consequences," said Kyeremanteng. "That shop owner or restaurant owner that now can't fund their kid's education because they've shut down, that has consequences."

Kyeremanteng remains confident that as long as people wash their hands, wear masks and avoid gatherings, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is lower than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.

Let's be smart about this. The focus in Ottawa doesn't need to be gyms and restaurants.- Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng

"Let's be smart about this. The focus in Ottawa doesn't need to be gyms and restaurants," he said.

"We know areas where it seems to be affecting the population more," said Kyeremanteng, namely long-term care homes and poorer neighbourhoods with multi-generational homes and high-rises.

New cases seem to be declining in Ottawa, but are still higher than they were through August. That's to be expected, Kyeremanteng said.

"We're more indoors. The weather's cooling down. I'm not surprised that numbers are going up. It's just a question [of] to what extent … it's going to impact hospitalizations and ICU admissions." 

On that front, what health professionals have seen so far has been "encouraging," Kyeremanteng said.

"This might be life. We might have to live with this thing for who knows how long."

There are certain risks Renfrew County paramedic Chris Day still won't take, like taking his kids to the grocery store. (Ben Phillion)

The paramedic

"I'm still cautious," said Renfrew County paramedic Chris Day. "My kids still go to school, but I don't take them grocery shopping."

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Friday at Bishop Smith Catholic High School in Pembroke, Ont. As of Friday, there were 10 active cases across Renfrew County.

"Precautions are warranted, reminders are warranted. I would love to be able to say that people will use good judgment and do the right thing all the time, but we all know that people don't," said Day, 44.

It's still something we need to be very concerned about, but we know we can manage this and we can stay on top of it.​​​​​​- Chris Day, Renfrew County paramedic

So how do you balance the risk? "That's the million-dollar question," said Day. "Where is that fine balance? Unfortunately, everything is so fluid that I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution."

Like Kyeremanteng, Day expects to see some COVID-19 cases in the Ottawa Valley. "We're going to have little pop-ups here and there. It's just par for the course … for the level of openness that we're at," he said.

But that fear of a large outbreak after school resumed turns out to have been unfounded.

"Everyone kind of took a breath and realized, OK, it's not as bad as we thought. It's still something we need to be very concerned about, but we know we can manage this and we can stay on top of it," he said.

Chanelle Schryer, left, and fellow Queensway Carleton Hospital nurse Carolyin Inglis, right. (Queensway Carleton Hospital and Foundation)

The nurse

On Wednesday, Queensway Carleton Hospital emergency department nurse Chanelle Schryer arrived in Fort Severn, Ont., for a month-long posting in the northern community, population 552.

The 28-year-old packed warm boots and a new winter coat for her adventure. Also in her luggage, provisions including food she dehydrated herself, such as dried mushrooms, mangoes and strawberries, all in an effort to "try to minimize my interactions outside of the nursing clinic … for the first two weeks."

Schryer also self-isolated in Ottawa before she left. There are no cases of COVID-19 in Fort Severn, and Schryer wants it to stay that way. "I do not want to be the one responsible to bring that up there."

The numbers are coming down, but ultimately that can change within two week.- Chanelle Schryer, Queensway Carleton Hospital nurse

So does Schryer think it's too soon for Ottawa to be released from the red zone?

"That's a tough question," she said. "I do understand the standpoint of many people in our community about getting the economy going."

Her biggest fear is a new surge of COVID-19 not just in young, relatively healthy people who can isolate at home, but in the elderly. She worries about overloaded hospitals and ICUs.

Some of her colleagues feel reopening now is still too big of a risk. "[They say], 'We're not in the clear yet, and we won't be for a long time if we keep opening back up prematurely,'" said Schryer.

"The numbers are coming down, but ultimately that can change within two weeks."

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