Halloween was effectively cancelled here in Toronto this past weekend. The trick-or-treating was deemed imprudent given the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases. There were still pumpkins and decorations and some kids prowling round in costumes during the daytime but the excitement was noticeably absent when the sun set. It all made sense, of course. Limit gatherings and the potential interactions, preserve the bubbles. Yet I could not helping feeling sad about another celebration of family and community scuttled by this pandemic.

What began as a unique outbreak emergency has now unfolded into endlessly-looping crisis that repeats similar cycles of news and the same patterns of daily disruption. What was once so uncertain has given way to a more concrete reality. For now and for the foreseeable future, our lives are materially changed. COVID-19 is laying thousands low with illness. It has complicated nearly every daily activity and brought others to an abrupt halt. It has restricted us, hampered us, and annoyed us. It has reduced our choices and isolated us. The consequences- anxiety, loneliness, confusion, the loss of experience and opportunity – are being so widely experienced. Regrettably, the burden is not getting lighter.

Over the past three weeks, COVID-19 has continued to percolate upwards in our midst, driving up active case counts, hospitalizations and deaths in many of our communities. Not unlike last spring, I am finding it challenging not to become consumed by all the bad news and the worry and pessimism that come with it. Governments across Europe are reinstating lockdowns. The United States recorded nearly 100,000 new cases in a single day last week. The provinces of Alberta and Manitoba appear to be experiencing uncontrolled escalation of the pandemic. New infections are skyrocketing globally as if people have simply given up trying to contain the virus.

In spite of best efforts, we too are trending in the wrong direction of late. I know firsthand how carefully and seriously B&Mers consider and respond to the COVID-19 threat. But people are still getting sick. We experienced 6 new cases during October, 5 of which remain active. This brings our total COVID-19 infections to-date to 24. We had 5 in September after only 1 in August. With the community spread on the rise again, we have once again increased remote work and rotations to reduce occupancy in our offices. We would all prefer to be together but it simply isn’t sensible for now.

As I have mentioned before, experts continue to evolve and improve our understanding of how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infection, is transmitted. This helps validate and emphasize the measures that we are individually and collectively taking to control the spread. With every week, scientists bring the picture into sharper focus now with more case data and study observations from North America as well as early COVID-19 hotspots in Asia and Europe.

Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurs primarily through sustained close contact. Certainly there are rarer more distant spreading events, but study after study shows that close contacts have an order of magnitude higher chances of becoming infected. Not surprisingly, household transmission is much higher than non-household transmission. A study published Friday by the CDC that examined household cases in Tennessee and Wisconsin over intensive 7 day-periods from April to September illustrated a number of important conclusions about COVID-19:

  • Kids and adults are similarly likely to transmit the virus.
  • The index patient (the first ill person) infected other members of the household 53% of the time, a much higher rate of transmission than previous studies have concluded.
  • Secondary infections occurred rapidly, with approximately 75% of infections identified within 5 days of the index patient’s illness onset.
  • Fewer than one half of household members with confirmed infections reported symptoms at the time infection was first detected, and many reported no symptoms throughout 7 days of follow-up, underscoring the potential for transmission from asymptomatic secondary contacts and the importance of quarantine.

This study is based upon a mere sliver of data but it does support and emphasize many widely believed characteristics about this pandemic:

  • Anyone can get it and anyone can infect someone else. If someone in your family bubble or household becomes infected, look out.
  • Severity remains unpredictable. Older people are indisputably more vulnerable to serious illness, and even death, as a result of COVID-19 infection but there is no way of knowing what will happen if you get sick.
  • Asymptomatic infections are a hidden and potent driver of this pandemic. Some people get COVID-19 and never even feel unwell. These people can unknowingly spread the virus to many others, including the most vulnerable.
  • This virus spreads like wildfire amongst those in sustained close contact and therefore creates the potential for devastating exponential growth.

What does this mean to each of us? Be careful even in your own home. Keep your hands and high touch surfaces clean. If you realize you have had a close contact with an infected person, you need to isolate immediately. Get tested provided you are a few days clear of that original exposure (it takes time for the virus to sufficiently manifest itself in your body before showing a positive). Stay at home and, where feasible, stay away from others in your family. Everyone in your household should wear a mask if you are home isolating.

What does this mean to our communities? Public health begins with responsible individual behaviour but our governments and authorities need to step up with more abundant testing and better tracing to help isolate the sick and control the spread.

What does this mean for B&M? We need to minimize close contact, maintain distances, and ensure everyone masks in confined or crowded spaces. There are not any big surprises here. Just more confirmation that COVID-19 is a formidable and menacing enemy. We already know this.

Over the next week, we will close the books on our 2020 financial year which ended officially on October 31. Our 2020 was a success in spite of all that went wrong in the world around us. Our financial health is intact and we are entering our new year with a full head of steam. We have returned to pre-pandemic levels of staffing and workhours. We now have a larger backlog of work than we did on November 1 last year. We accomplished all this with excellent safety performance on our worksites.

I am grateful for your ongoing efforts. You have done such an admirable job protecting yourselves and our company since the beginning of this mess. You not only restored our business, you made it stronger. In spite of my mounting concerns about the ongoing effect of this pandemic, I feel confident that we are prepared.

I continue to feel so fortunate that I have my B&M universe in which to find strength and positive energy. We have not given up. We are not cutting corners in the workplace. We are as cautious and committed to continuing. Eight months in, there is simply no excuse for not knowing the rules and no rationalization for not following them. We know this pandemic isn’t someone else’s problem, it is our problem.

So the plan for our 2021 is stick with what is working. To protect our beehive. To follow the new pandemic rules and our established B&M practises, to look after one another, and to lead our customers and our communities through this ongoing crisis.

Onward we go, heads high and masks on.