COLUMN: If you had cancer, would you stop chemotherapy as soon as a doctor said it was working?

The success of social distancing shows its necessity to stop COVID-19, not the reverse

Look, it’s fine to ask questions about when we can and should start to ease some of the restrictions that have upended life as we know it.

But it takes a special kind of ignorance to think that the fact our crematoriums are not running full out is evidence that all of this was pointless in the first place. That’s the argument some are making. And the better we fare, the more people will say this was all an over-reaction.

I was going to call this idiotic but I erased that word from the paragraph above this because some people genuinely just don’t think about the things they encounter online. They don’t need to get into the coronavirus weeds because their job doesn’t involve spending hours upon hours talking about, reading about, and writing about COVID-19. If I sound bitter, it’s because I very much am.

Maybe you are one of those able to think about other things. So let’s spell it out here, with the simplest possible analogy, why the various restrictions we’re currently living in are necessary and shouldn’t be lifted just because thousands aren’t dying.

Imagine that you have cancer. You have an illness that has been shown to kill many people. It doesn’t kill everyone, but it kills a lot.

Now, you have a doctor, and that doctor prescribes an ongoing dose of chemotherapy pills. Your doctor tells you that you caught your cancer early and the pills have a good chance to stop your disease from killing you.

So you take the pills. They make you feel awful. But, after a month, you go through tests and scans to see what is happening. Your doctor calls you into her office and tells you that the cancer is receding. The pills are working. If this continues, you will survive, return to work and be happy for years to come. Just keep taking those pills for awhile longer, your doctor tells you. They’ll make you feel awful, but they are saving your life.

This is where we are right now.

RELATED: COVID-19 deaths in Canada top 1,000, even as health officials say new cases are slowing

Fortunately, most people realize that they should keep taking the pills because the cancer isn’t gone, and it will return if we pretend we are cured.

But there are some people who, having been told the cancer has retreated, are suggesting that the cancer wasn’t actually very dangerous in the first place. That maybe the pills are no longer necessary. Some are suggesting the pills weren’t needed in the first place.

In our metaphor, these people would be enthusiastically trading their chemotherapy pills for cigarettes at the first sign of good news.

Now, the vast majority of our public officials are competent critical thinkers. They show no sign of wanting to buck the advice of our doctors and public health experts.

But the problem is that social media is rife with people – these are often politically aligned Americans – who post ill-considered and logic-insulting memes suggesting that all of this has been vastly overblown. Some of these bad actors said fears were overblown in February, proclaimed the media to have under-reported the danger in March, and have now reverted to their previous idiocies.

This despite massive numbers of deaths in Europe and the United States because authorities acted too slowly.

The danger is not that our politicians will heed these people’s memes, but that our neighbours, our friends, our co-workers and bosses will do so and begin to buck public health orders that are necessary to save thousands of lives.

British Columbia – and British Columbians – have done well to flatten the curve and preserve the lives of many of our elders. That has taken sacrifice and pain. I know it’s hard. My family has seen its income cut by close to 70 per cent – although government supports will help. My car just broke down, although where am I really going to go?

But our success is not evidence that our sacrifices were unnecessary; it’s evidence that they are working and we are winning.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
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