Yukonomist: Don’t be that person

Back in the Yukon’s early days, visitors were often astonished at how community-minded all the rugged individualists were. Theft was rare, cabins were left unlocked with gold pokes on the table, and food caches lay untouched along major trails. Miners carried mail for each other, lent boats and helped each other build cabins.

At Forty Mile, before the gold rush, there was even a custom that if a prospector hadn’t found any gold that summer he could work another miner’s claim until he had made enough money to pay for next year’s outfit.

The reason for this was that everyone knew that, sooner or later, they would need help from other people too.

Which brings us to 2020 and COVID-19. Those old attitudes have faded. We are so prosperous that it is all too easy to slip into a solipsistic personal bubble focused on our own home, Netflix watch list and the latest consumer goods or experiences we want. Government provides so much. Even things like organizing the neighbourhood parents to shovel the rink across the street so the city can flood it the next morning can prompt modern shovelers to remark on how it feels like an old-school civic duty.

You may have seen those recent images of large numbers of people partying in Miami or Fort Lauderdale, openly dismissing the advice of local public health officials. Or, closer to home, large numbers of Vancouverites hanging out together on the beach last weekend.

Here in the Yukon you can still run into people who scoff about COVID-19. Others skip the website of the Yukon chief medical officer of health and take advice from the underbelly of the internet, where conspiracy theories flourish like a virion in a bowl of restaurant mints. Some even take pride in doing the opposite of whatever authority figures like the chief medical officer of health have to say.

Which we can tolerate, most of the time. I don’t mind if you don’t visit your doctor, but take all those weird supplements recommended by the internet. Maybe you park in the “Tourist Only” parking spots downtown because free parking is your human right and the government shouldn’t boss you around. Or perhaps you burn garbage in your wood stove since the chief medical officer of health’s air quality report was a lot of scientific malarkey and the Yukon has lots of fresh air.

COVID-19 changes all this. What you might think of as your rugged individualism is now potentially harmful to other Yukoners.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that makes its living by getting passed from Person A to Persons B and C, who then pass it on to several other letters until the entire alphabet is infected.

The math behind this propagation is intellectually fascinating. But the grim reality is that if too many people get infected too soon, it will overwhelm the health system and cause unnecessary deaths.

Which is where you come in, even if you think of yourself as a rugged individualist. Unless you really are a rugged individualist living alone in a cabin (and don’t read this column until you come into town for your annual supply trip), you are one of those letters in the alphabet. Will you get the virus? Will you pass it on to others? If so, how many?

All this hand-washing, social distancing and self-isolation is not just about keeping you safe from the virus. It is about how many people you accidentally infect if you get it.

The fancy mathematical disease models don’t like it when half the population self-isolates and the other half parties like it’s 2019. Nor do they like it even when most of the population self-isolates, but a few rugged individualists flout the recommendations and keep shaking hands, sneezing on door knobs and organizing parties.

In fact, previous epidemics have been marked by the emergence of so-called “super-spreaders.” The Guardian describes it as the “20/80 rule — that a small core group of about one in five people transmit infections to far more people than the majority do.”

You really don’t want to be that person.

Even if you are young and feel invincible, do you want to be the person that is responsible for infecting a highly-vulnerable person like your great aunt, the senior citizen down the street, or the friend of a friend whom you didn’t know had lung issues?

By the way, the myth that COVID-19 isn’t really a problem for young people is out there too. While they may face lower risks, the disease statistics in China and Italy already make it clear they are not immune. The head of the World Health Organization put it this way last week: “I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”

Like it or not, when we all live together, we all have a duty to listen to public health officials and take their advice seriously.

From an abundance of caution, you should self-isolate as much as you can even if you haven’t been abroad. That means working from home if you are able, staying at home the rest of the time, and avoiding contact with other people as much as possible. Now is the time to catch up on your skiing, read some great books and spend time with your co-isolating family. And as for keeping transmission within your family to a minimum in the unwelcome event one of you gets infected, keep washing your hands at home, clean commonly-touched surfaces regularly and avoid sharing items such as hand towels.

For more detailed advice, go to Yukon.ca.

We don’t know how bad this is going to be, but you don’t want to be that person who flouted the rules.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.

CoronavirusYukonomist

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21. Elected officials in the Yukon, including all 19 members of the legislature, are backing the right of Mi’kmaq fishers on the East Coast to launch a moderate livelihood fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)
Yukon legislature passes motion to support Mi’kmaw fishery

“It’s not easy, but it’s also necessary for us to have these very difficult conversations”

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Most Read