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Editorial: Respiratory illness

Most people have been so eager to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror that it's become commonplace to act like it never happened in the first place.
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Most people have been so eager to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror that it's become commonplace to act like it never happened in the first place. 

While health and hygiene were at the forefront of most people's minds for over two years starting in March 2020, it's understandable that people would eventually grow weary of the virus' all-encompassing grip on society. Once public health restrictions and vaccine passports were lifted last year, it didn't take long for life to get back to the way it was before the pandemic.

Hand sanitizer and repetitive hand-washing are no longer commonplace, most people stopped social-distancing or self-isolating when they developed cold or flu-like symptoms, and mask-wearing became something only a small minority of people continue to do. 

The shift back to pre-pandemic behaviours meant another spike in illness was virtually inevitable as the weather grew colder this fall and the flu season began. 

Recently, a spike in "respiratory illness" has led to increased rates of absenteeism in schools throughout Alberta, prompting announcements from Alberta Health Services and Alberta's new Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mark Joffe (who replaced Dr. Deena Hinshaw, shortly after Premier Danielle Smith took over the UCP's reins in September). 

Locally, Rocky View Schools reported a 15 per cent absenteeism rate when our journalists requested that information from the public school division earlier this month. RVS didn't cite a reason for the influx of absences, but acknowledged it was a similar increase to those noticed by other school divisions across Alberta. Calgary's and Edmonton's school boards have reported similar percentages of absent kids in recent weeks.

It's likely many of the students missing school these days are sick with COVID-19 and are just no longer getting tested for it, while others have contracted seasonal influenza or other respiratory illnesses. 

Unfortunately, these illnesses are putting Alberta's pediatric hospitals under pressure. As recently reported by CBC, the province's main children's hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton are seeing long wait times with the influx of sick kids. 

Perhaps a shift back to pandemic-induced vigilance when it comes to avoiding illness is in order.