Summer’s end is always bittersweet. Labour Day isn’t really end of summer. Astronomically speaking, that would be the fall equinox that occurs this year on September 22 here in the northern hemisphere. But it has always felt that way to me. Here in Ontario, the weather is still pleasant enough. But our sun is lower in the sky, the daylight is changing, and faint ripples of colour are beginning in appear in all the green around us. Each of us begins to feel the tug of responsibilities as we head back to school, back to work, and back to reality. September has always seemed like a more serious month and our last long weekend provides us a last bit of recreation before autumn’s gravity.

The summer of 2021 was definitely a lot sweeter than last year. Sweet because most of us, hopefully all of us, got to experience some true normal after a long campaign of adapting to our normal. Vaccines provided us with greater freedom, mobility and confidence. Things that were sorely missed. I took the opportunity to visit four B&M offices in Quebec and Atlantic Canada during late July and early August. It was the first time I have travelled to an office outside of Ontario in 18 months. It felt delightful to see and be seen. To be out in the B&M world, meeting and visiting face to face with so many people, new and old. We had a lot of nice things to eat and drink along the way and I will be forever grateful for the hospitality that I received in Montreal, St. John’s, Dartmouth and Moncton. What a wonderful and welcoming respite from my pandemic routines

We are again facing a sharp bitterness as we head into the fall defined by the cruel realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of a fourth wave of infection and illness driven by Delta, the latest variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Case counts are rising rapidly again across North America, particularly in places where vaccine uptake is lower. All this at a time when children across the continent are headed back to school.

I realize that keeping abreast of COVID-19 has become a time-consuming and demoralizing endeavor. This topic dominates conversation in our social lives, work settings and at family dining tables. Unfortunately, the virus is an evolving and enduring hazard and so I believe it is critical for each of us to regularly refresh our own personal understanding of what we have learned about COVID-19 since this all began. It is also our duty as guardians of the wellbeing of ourselves and others. Staying aware and continuously reassessing the hazards in our current environment are cornerstones of our health and safety discipline. Complacency is a hardened and insidious adversary. Deciding we know enough or assuming nothing has changed is both foolish and unacceptable.

Please continue to visit blackandmcdonaldhealth.com and other reputable sources to seek the freshest facts. Our FAQ’s in particular are an excellent source of information. Much of the current content is derived from your questions during regional town halls with our medical advisor Dr Levine that were held this past spring and early summer. My CEO updates are there too. But you can skip them, I am sick of me too.

The Delta variant, a mutation of the original SARS-CoV2 virus first isolated and identified in India in December 2020, is the predominant strain of the coronavirus in our midst today. This variant is now driving the fourth wave of infections across the globe. Of the 789 new cases recorded here yesterday in the province of Ontario., Delta is attributed to 99.6 %. Almost all of them. The numbers are similar in all other areas of the United States and Canada.

Delta is very bad news. It is the most transmissible variant yet, roughly twice as contagious as the original COVID strain that began in Wuhan, China and as much as 60 percent more contagious than the Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant, which sprung up in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2020. A study published in the journal Nature found that the viral load in people infected with Delta, a measure of the density of viral particles in the body, is roughly 1,000 times higher than in people infected from previous versions of the coronavirus.

The higher rate of transmission is an exponential threat. A person infected by the original virus would be the source of 40,000 cases after an unfettered progression of 10 sequential “rounds” of transmission. A person with Delta would generated a pyramid of 524,000 cases, thirteen times the size. This presents a disastrous scenario for the population of people without immunity from vaccines and prior infection.

We now know the virus is transmitted mainly through the exchange of infected air and considerably less frequently via infected surfaces. A sick person exhales and infected respiratory droplets that fill the nearby air. The smallest particles of breath known as aerosols can hang in the air for minutes and, in some cases, hours in a poorly ventilated indoor space. A sobering but useful analogy is to think of the way cigarette smoke hangs about in a room. Aerosol particles of SARS-CoV2 are roughly the same size as the particles found in exhaled smoke. This virus can literally linger in the air around us. This is why masks and distancing remain essential, even for the vaccinated. Even outside when in close quarters with others.

This fourth or Delta wave has quickly become a tragedy for the unprotected. Numerous regions across North America are experiencing explosive growth in new cases and hospitalizations that rival or exceed any previous wave of this pandemic. At the same time, the vaccines are clearly performing as advertised, offering significant protection from infection, serious illness and death. The Ontario numbers are representative of the current wave experienced across our continent: an 85.5% reduction in infections amongst the fully vaccinated, a 95.8% reduction in hospitalization and a 97.7% reduction in death. (source: https://covid19-sciencetable.ca/ontario-dashboard/).

Vaccines do not offer impenetrable immunity and Delta will continue to “break through”. But the result for the vaccinated will rarely be hospitalization or death. On the other hand, being unvaccinated is becoming more dangerous by the day. We are experiencing the advance of a significantly more contagious coronavirus variant at the same time that public endorsement and compliance of restrictions and health protections are waning. Our society is becoming more open and people are behaving freer and looser with masking and distancing protocols. I am extremely worried for anyone choosing to live without the protection of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Our troubling times are sadly far from over but we have come so far. We have so much more knowledge and understanding than we did in the beginning. We have highly effective vaccines. Please take advantage of all these things. Arm yourself with information about the evolving understanding of all things coronavirus and make good choices in your daily lives to protect yourselves and those around you.