Evan Saugstad: Are we any different than our big city cousins?


I have watched the COVID 19 pandemic unfold, first in China, then as it spread across the world and into Canada. As the numbers of infected keep growing, I cannot stop thinking about when. Not if, but when will it be here?

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Is it already here and by the time this goes to print, it’s presence will be announced in Fort St John or Hudson’s Hope or Pouce Coupe and then become our local reality?

When it does, how will we respond? How will any of B.C.’s northern and rural communities respond?

As I watch our scheduled events, recreation and social service centres, restaurants and bars, barber shops and hair salons close, one after another, I keep thinking, is that enough?

Will all of us do what we are told, do what we should, and eliminate this virus from our lives?

For the most part, what we hear and see from our national media are the problems that our big city cousins are facing with their large populations. The virus keeps spreading, death rates keep climbing, yet some businesses are not closing when asked, large gatherings of people acting as if the virus does not exist, and people congregating with little to no regard to social distancing.

As instances of non-compliance to our Chief Medical Officers’ directions continue, we hear the calls for a complete lockdowns of our cites, our provinces and our country.

But, what about us northerners, us rural people who live different lives than those crammed into our largest cities?

Can we, should we, be exempted from a complete lock-down of everyone not involved in essential services?

If my memory serves me correct, about 80% of Canada’s 37.5 million people live in our largest 20 metropolitan areas, an area of less than 5% of our landbase. Simple math says that the other 7.5 million of us are scattered across the rest of the country’s almost 10 million square kilometres.

B.C. is similar in scale and scope. The vast majority live in Metro Vancouver, southern Vancouver Island, and the central Okanagan. The rest of us live beyond Hope.

So far, Prime Minister Trudeau has resisted the call for a National Emergency and left that to the purview of provinces and those municipalities who can do so within their legislation.

B.C. has declared a Provincial Emergency, but so far, has resisted the call to “lock us up.”

Good call I say, as putting the entire Province, or country under a “do not leave home” policy makes no sense for large areas of our province. But, it may happen and it may make sense in areas were people are not heeding the simplest of advice.

• Practice self isolation if you are sick, if you are coughing, if you are returning to the country from abroad, or if you think you have been exposed to the coronavirus.

• Wash your hands frequently (don’t touch anything you don’t have too), don’t touch your face unless you have washed your hands and stay 2 metres apart from everyone outside of those you live with.

• And, no gatherings for groups larger than 50, (some recommending 10 or even less), and limit your movements to essential travel.

Pretty simple advice to follow when living in our rural communities. We have the space to spread out, to avoid others, and still be able to do many of things we have always enjoyed, if we so wish.

Parts of managing this pandemic at the Federal and Provincial levels make sense, and parts should be managed at the local and regional levels. Other parts need to be managed at the individual or personal level.

We do not all live the same lifestyles, under the same set of circumstance or in the same population densities that it makes sense to all be subject to the same set of rules, exception being those rules deemed as these most simplest solutions.

Karen and I can still go for our daily walk within or outside our community (snowstorms aside), go for a drive, still buy groceries, still go to the bank, pharmacy and hardware store while minding these basic rules/direction/advice.

Rural hunters, fishers, and gatherers can still go out on the land and enjoy the peace and solitude with no fear of contamination, or contamination of others.

Same for our farmers, ranchers, miners, forestry and natural gas workers. Easy for our truck drivers and equipment operators to work safely and prevent the spread of this virus. Factories and mills can still operate safely by implementing a few changes to accommodate this new reality.

Maybe not so easy for those working in camps, banks, stores or health facilities where we tend to get closer than the 2 metres, but it can be done, if everyone follows these same basic rules.

Give everyone space, don’t cough or touch anything you don’t have too and keep your hands to yourself, clean and away from your face.

But what happens if we don’t do our part and are then lumped in with all the rest and told we cannot leave our home or our own property? Will that make things any better?

Well, unfortunately, yes, but only because those out there who do not wish to follow the most basic of rules, will then have to.

In my former life as a mayor, my CAO at the District of Chetwynd so aptly stated; “We are ruled by the tyranny of the minority”, meaning that those who choose to break, flout or ignore common sense and public order, cause the rest of society to live with new rules.

It only takes a few to break these common-sense rules to change how the vast majority of us will be treated.

Sure, a private gym can stay open as no law says they must close, as long as they keep their employees safe from their customers, and their customers safe from their employees and each other, but is that how we should be thinking?

Yes, we can go fishing or hiking in the backcountry, but on the way there and back, should we refrain from stopping in other communities for lunch or a quick visit, simply because we can?

Instead, should we be thinking what if our safeguards break down and we infect others who in turn each infect others before anyone realizes they are transmitting this virus? What then do we do?

Do we wait this long, or just use our own individual common sense that says don’t go to that gym, don’t stop into that other community and don’t leave anything to chance, otherwise we all will have to pay a much larger price than we do today.

And my flat earth viewpoint – it is OK to speak one’s mind, to call out others who aren’t following these basic virus rules, and still feel good about it, no matter how offended they seem to be.

Don’t let the tyranny of the minority rule on this one.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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