André Picard has been
Canada’s keenest interpreter of medical issues since
he began his medical beat at the Globe & Mail in 1987.
He recently wrote a column about the agonizing decisions
each person needs to make as they try and do what’s
right for their families while balancing their own basic
needs, like attending funerals or whether or not kids
should go back to school. iRun editor Ben Kaplan caught
up with the Montreal-based Picard, an avid runner, to
hear his take on the latest news.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Canada’s
current state in the fight against COVID-19?
André Picard: I’m
always cautiously optimistic, I guess. You have to remain
hopeful if you want to keep doing this job, reporting
BK: But in a nutshell?
AP: There are some good signs—but
we have to be vigilant.
BK: Let’s start with
the good signs. What are they?
AP: The numbers are coming
BK: So why do we need to
AP: We’ve seen this
before. The pessimistic side of me knows that we tend
to be impatient and once that happens, the numbers jump
BK: I think everybody wants
this to end. So be specific. What can each of us do to
finish this thing?
AP: The simple old stuff.
BK: Washing hands, distance.
AP: Yeah, it’s really
simple, and wear a mask. Don’t gather in groups,
and limit social contacts. The virus spreads by interactions,
and so the less we interact, the less the virus spreads.
It’s really the boring old stuff, but the problem
is we just get tired of doing it.
BK: Some of it also is that
there’s mixed messages. Like, we came down hard
on politicians that travelled and yet, if we really didn’t
want them to travel, why not make travel illegal?
AP: I do think there’s
been lots of mixed messages which again means that people
have to take personal responsibility, but I know what
you mean. It doesn’t make sense for Air Canada to
have flight sales to the Bahamas while we’re told
to stay home.
BK: So what do we do?
AP: A lot of other countries
have cracked down on travel. Of course it’s necessary
for some goods to travel between countries and maybe it
makes sense for some travel for business, but the travel
for fun part? We shouldn’t be doing it and that
message needs to be much clearer from the government,
with stricter rules.
BK: It’s strange how a lot
of things like whether to have a distanced beer with a
friend, hold a race or take the kids to the park, become
AP: The simple most basic
rule is to limit your contact with others. Don’t
get in your car if you don’t have to. Don’t
go to the Bahamas. Now, if your grandmother dies, do you
have to go to the funeral?
BK: Do you?
AP: Maybe. My father-in-law
did die and I did go to the funeral, but this was in the
summer in Montreal with ten people spread out in masks
in an auditorium when the cases were very low, but these
are tough personal choices. I think rituals are important
but they should be done as safely as possible.
BK: It’s funny to talk
about rituals when we see 18,000 American football fans
in the stadium watching the Green Bay Packers play against
Tom Brady. How can the Americans do that?
IN TOTAL DENIAL. IT’S JUST NUTS.
BK: How can
they justify it?
AP: I watched a Dallas game
with 35,000 people in the stands, and that’s just
crazy, especially since the virus in the US is like three
or four times worse than in Canada.
BK: Part of me is jealous.
I feel like Toronto is the only place in North America
where our kids still aren’t in school and meanwhile,
they’re drinking draft beers at football games in
AP: They’re just giving
the virus a chance to spread. And the US numbers speak
for themselves, how bad they are. Now the school question,
that’s complex and interesting.
BK: Why’s that?
AP: To me, schools should
stay open. We can’t stop life altogether and it’s
not like if the schools are closed, the kids won’t
gather. The big question is how do you best control the
environment? The school question is really about harm
reduction and there’s no perfect approach. Though
I do think they got it right in Quebec.
BK: How so?
AP: The Premier said that
the number one priority is opening the schools and that
everything else is secondary.
BK: And so what did Quebec
AP: The lockdown was much
more strict than the one in Ontario and we applied a curfew,
but the schools are open. The communication was clear
and the politician did what he said he would and the message
was clear—all you could want from a politician.
BK: Can you foreshadow our
next few weeks, next month?
AP: January, February and
March are the single hardest part of the pandemic. But
there’s hope on the horizon with vaccines. There’s
hope. But the vaccines won’t be here this spring
and if the numbers come down, there will be the temptation
to open up too much, and with this new variant, the numbers
could go through the roof.
BK: So we just have to make
it to April?
AP: I think in April, we’ll
start having serious vaccines available, especially in
Eastern Canada. And when the weather warms up again, it’s
easier to go outside.
BK: How freaked out should
we be about this new variant?
AP: We knew this was coming.
We knew there’d be changes and this new variant
seems to spread more quickly, but we don’t really
know the details yet and I think it’s in line with
what we’d expect. I also think social distancing
and masks work well against this new variant, so it all
comes back to what I first said: we need to do the old
BK: I could deal with a curfew,
but I really miss running with my group. When can do that
AP: Running together in a
group, even outside, is best avoided until everyone in
the group has two shots of the vaccine.
AP: It’s just the distance
and the time spent together on a Sunday long run is susceptible
for a spread. 30 seconds when you see someone in a park?
No big deal. But 25 people going on a Sunday long run
together is a bad idea. We’re not all hysterical
now like we were back in March, when there was a fear
of runners, and surfaces. We know it’s safe. But
a lot of time spent with a stranger, even outdoors, is
dangerous. You’re interacting with every person
that they’ve interacted with.
BK: Will we be able to race
again in the fall?
AP: It’s up in the
air. I think by September, maybe we’ll have half
the population vaccinated, but a race with 30,000 people?
That won’t look good. I don’t think it’s
going to happen this year.
BK: On that note of depression,
how’s your own running going?
AP: I plod along—as
BK: Is running still good?
AP: There’s nothing
quite like getting outside and going for a run or a walk.
BK: Thanks for your time,
man. Always a pleasure. Can you tell iRun readers about
your new book?
AP: It’s called Neglected
No More and it’s coming out March 2. It’s
about how to improve home care and treatment for the elderly.
BK: Feels timely.
AP: There’s a lot more
we can do and it’s time for a change.