Ask the Pharmacist

Q. Many of us could not wait to be done with 2020 and begin a new year with a fresh outlook. However, I feel like I am living in the movie Groundhog Day. It feels like I keep reliving the same day over and over again. Why does the second wave seem to be worse than the first?

A. Well, who would have thought that nearly 10 months into this pandemic we would be in the throes of another lockdown amidst a second wave? Some, in fact, predicted this and thus encouraged politicians to act early to reduce the toll on the hospitals and healthcare system. Despite this, many of us still held onto hope that after a somewhat blissful summer of outdoor activities and patios which helped us feel “normal” that we would not be needing to close up shops once again. After all, most of us have complied with the mandated mask wearing indoors and observed the 2m social distancing rule. Yet, the second wave is here and it is worse than the first wave we saw in the spring for many reasons.

The main one is unfortunately obvious. Once the cooler temperatures arrived in the fall, more people ventured indoors to dine within restaurants and cafes, students were sent back to the classrooms and, indoor activities such as hockey and curling resumed. Though it was great for our mental health to get back to socializing and to enjoy a semblance of routine, the decreased social distancing these activities demand and the shared air meant that the second wave was almost inevitable.

For those that may not know what a second wave means, it is basically another rise of infections after the first rise of infections appears to have diminished. During this “lull”, the virus had not been eradicated but case numbers had dropped to such an extent that many felt they could expand their activities and increase social gatherings. On top of that, quarantine fatigue set in and we began letting our guard down and perhaps not being as strict as we needed to be when it comes to hand-washing or mask wearing when with others.

As mentioned in previous articles, this is a ‘novel coronavirus’ and, thus, we are constantly being updated with new or changing information. For instance, it was initially believed that large droplets of the virus on surfaces were the cause of contamination. That meant that you needed to touch a surface that had the virus on it, then touch your face or eat without hand-washing. Now, it is believed that just sharing the space with others, particularly in an indoor setting with less ventilation, increases our exposure to the virus. Because of this, many experts claim that the lockdown occurred too late and allowed for too many gatherings in the weeks prior, causing the caseloads to rise higher than what we are able to contend with.

The partial lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec have not proven to be entirely effective. In Ontario, people from the “grey” zones were able to travel to other areas easily. In Quebec, though the restaurants have been closed to indoor dining since October 1st, the stores and malls were allowed to remain open for many to share their germs with strangers. Both provinces continued to see a significant rise in cases despite their initial partial measures leaving us in another lockdown and debating the merits of even more stringent restrictions.

Some people have questioned whether the number of increased cases is just a result of testing more rather than as a result of the second wave being worse. However higher volume testing is not just a recent phenomenon.

During the summer, when the caseload was low, the restrictions on testing were lifted and pretty much anyone could be tested. When the schools opened up in September and a negative Covid-19 test was required for anyone and their siblings who experienced any symptom, mild or not, a very high number of tests were being performed daily. The cases did not seem to rise significantly at that time but rather a few weeks later indicating that this is all much more than increased vigilance.

The number of cases in Ontario surpassed 2000 for the first time in October (to think we were shocked at those numbers when we are nearing 4000 new cases daily as of Jan 10th). The number of sick people, hospitalizations and sadly, deaths, have also been on the rise so we cannot blame the increase in testing for these unfortunate events.

Below is a graph from showing the number of tests performed against the number of positive results since the beginning of the pandemic.

One of the reasons that people have become lax on their own personal pandemic protocols might be due to misunderstanding. Some people enjoy keeping up to date with news, including the coronavirus, through social media and perhaps have been misled. Hopefully, we can all agree that NOT everything you read on Facebook, for example, is true.

Some of the misinformation that is spreading are:

· This virus is not any worse than the seasonal flu.
· This virus will just go away on its own soon.
· This virus is being spread as a bioweapon.
· The vaccine will be a method for the government to control us.

Such fables have led to fear, anxiety and confusion among many people and leaving them unsure as to whom or what to believe. When in doubt, look at the source of the information. Perhaps look towards articles from leading experts that are researching this disease to keep you updated rather than your well-intentioned neighbour or the current President of the United States.

To reduce your own risk, as has been suggested since the beginning;

· practice hand hygiene; Are you still washing your hands for 20 seconds?
· try to maintain a 2m distance with others,
· When indoors, open a window for fresh air
· Look to wear a 3 ply mask

Remember, we are all in this together.

For more information on this or any other topic, contact your pharmacist.