There is reason to hope, but let’s remain vigilant against COVID-19

As we approach a new year that is looking ever more like the light at the end of a dark tunnel, New Brunswickers should be proud of the work they have done navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

We experienced some significant setbacks recently, but our province has fared remarkably well compared to most jurisdictions around the world, thanks to the strong leadership of Public Health and government, unwavering dedication of health-care professionals, and hard work of New Brunswickers.

It’s not been without tremendous sacrifice. Eight New Brunswickers lost their lives due to COVID-19. Individuals have been isolated, families separated. Businesses have struggled. Children are enduring a radically different school year complete with masks and separation from many of their peers.

The pandemic has challenged us, and it is not finished challenging us. The frustration and angst that New Brunswickers are feeling is understandable as we all long for a normal holiday season. We are 10 months into the COVID-19 experience that has altered our personal, professional, and social lives.

Physicians, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses also feel this frustration. We feel a deep sense of responsibility to our patients, clients, and residents and the temporary shutdown of many health services in the spring further delayed an already challenging backlog of surgeries. We had to work quickly to secure personal protective equipment and adapt to providing care virtually. We continue to work with limited resources further strained by COVID-19 while watching with everyone else as the second wave of the pandemic ravages populations and health-care systems across North America.

We cannot lose hope.

Recent weeks have brought us the positive news that several promising vaccines are on the horizon for 2021. Health Canada has approved one vaccine, and as we write this a small number of doses were being planned for administration in New Brunswick. Assuming the next steps go smoothly, millions of Canadians — including tens of thousands of New Brunswickers — could receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021.

Many “ifs” and variables remain, but this news brings us hope that 2021 will allow life to begin to return a little closer to normal. We hope this provides you a little light as well.

But now is not the time to become complacent. We have managed relatively well through the pandemic to date because of our collective and individual adherence to Public Health guidance. Recent outbreaks have been tied to large social gatherings. Public Health determined that a single event held at two venues over one evening resulted in 60 direct and indirect confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Saint John region. This is a lesson for all of us at how easily this virus can be transmitted. We must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.

The guidance set by Public Health and government has evolved just as the science and our understanding of COVID-19 has evolved over the past 10 months. This can be confusing and frustrating at times. As we move through this pandemic, we must remain kind — to each other and to ourselves. It’s become cliché, perhaps, but it’s true that we are all in this together. The pandemic is affecting each one of us. We will get through this, but we will weather the storm better if we simply practise kindness, patience, and empathy.

Life will be different for a while yet, but we have reason to hope.

We are fast approaching a most unusual holiday season where we won’t be able to have the typical large family and friend gatherings, staff parties, and other social events. But we can stay connected and celebrate the holidays in other ways. Let’s make the most of it through virtual gatherings and other safe connections.

Please, continue following Public Health guidance, including maintaining a small social bubble, practising physical distancing, wearing a mask in public, and washing your hands regularly. Protect your families and friends and help ensure our health system doesn’t become more strained so that we can care for those who need it most.

Let us all do our part for a better tomorrow. On behalf of the province’s physicians, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses, happy holidays.

Dr. Jeff Steeves is an ophthalmologist in Rothesay and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society. Paula Doucet is a registered nurse and president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union. Maureen Wallace is a registered nurse and president of the Nurses Association of New Brunswick.