In the vintage Sesame Street segment (from sometime in the ’80s judging by the questionable wardrobe choices) Big Bird is reminded via a musical montage about the importance of washing his hands before he eats.
It’s a lesson still taught to preschoolers that we all should be brushing up on amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives, according to the World Health Organization.
So far there are no confirmed cases in the Yukon but odds are it’s not a question of if the virus is going to arrive in the Yukon, but when.
The next question is going to be how will Yukoners respond when the virus does inevitable get here?
Yukoners have a responsibility to remain calm, listen to the advice of the professionals and avoid giving into fear.
Fear is a complex emotion. For Yukoners, and others across the world, the fear of COVID-19 has manifested itself in an interesting form — toilet paper.
In Whitehorse, all the major stores have seen the stuff fly off the shelves. People have turned to Facebook to beg for a spare roll while new orders are hopefully making their way up the highway.
It’s hard to understand how toilet paper has become the talisman for people afraid of this looming respiratory virus and not, say, canned goods, or other rations that might be helpful if you were forced to quarantine for a couple of weeks. (For the views of one psychology professor, click here).
Nobody needs that much toilet paper, people. Let’s cut the crap, so to speak.
The majority of people who catch the virus will be fine. Yukon’s chief medical officer of health describes it as falling somewhere between severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the flu. The best advice continues to be to wash your hands.
That doesn’t mean that healthy, fit, people who are likely to survive an infection have the right to be dangerous.
People online (even in our own comment sections) are showing an infuriating level of indifference when they claim that the world is overreacting or joke about ignoring isolation requests.
While those people might survive an infection, their ego and disregard for others could put the lives around them at risk. The elderly or people with various pre-existing conditions are most in danger. They have no idea whether the person standing next to them on the bus has chosen today to be a smug jerk.
Laughing at other people’s risk doesn’t make you smart, it makes you reckless. We have a responsibility at minimum to slow the spread of the virus to help the medical system keep up.
Yukon’s deputy premier Ranj Pillai is taking the right steps by isolating himself after he came home from a mining conference where someone has since tested positive for the virus.
Other ministers here have shown less clear thinking. Health Minister Pauline Frost refused to answer questions about Pillai’s absence from the legislative assembly even as the government was preparing a press release to go out hours later.
Frost also appeared to contradict the acting chief medical officer by saying that all Yukoners who attended the same conference as Pillai were being told to self-quarantine for three days and get themselves tested.
Earlier that day, Dr. Catherine Elliott put out a statement saying only those displaying symptoms needed to be concerned about isolation and everyone else could go about their day-to-day activities.
It’s important that the minister be on the same page as the people handing out the medical information. There’s already enough places to be tricked by misinformation. It shouldn’t be coming from our officials.
Lies are rampant online. There are the laughable falsehoods like reports that the French government was forced to debunk a rumour that cocaine can kill the virus.
There are also the racist, cruel ones like the claim that the disease was caused by eating bats.
If you’ve got your tinfoil hat ready, there are those who claim it is a government conspiracy or a lie concocted by journalists to sell newspapers.
Get information from reliable sources. The World Health Organization has plenty of online resources. So does the Yukon government and the chief medical officer of health’s website.
Along with taking Big Bird’s advice about washing our hands, let’s make sure that when the virus does arrive we remember what else we were taught by Sesame Street as kids: be kind.
A moment of self-indulgence, if you don’t mind: After nearly nine years in journalism in the territory, including the last few at the helm of this incredible newspaper, today is my last edition of the Yukon News.
I am eternally grateful to this territory for welcoming me, even if readers still periodically huff and tell me to “go back to Ontario.” (I’m not going back, by the way, I’m heading to Alberta.)
Please continue to support community newspapers. As the major media outlets shrink, there are fewer eyes keeping watch on decision makers outside of urban centres.
In a place like the Yukon where territorial and municipal governments openly fight against transparency, and hire armies of staff whose sole purpose is to tell the “right” as opposed to the complete story, it’s in everyone’s best interest that the Yukon has a strong press contingent.
I am so proud of the work that this team of reporters does to keep the community informed and those in power honest.
Thank you for all your support.