We're Sleepwalking into a Slow-Motion Catastrophe of Disability

It seems unconscionable to me to let thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people become chronically disabled every year due to a virus that is more or less preventable with good policy.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted March 29, 2022 in Blog (Last Updated March 29, 2022)

I get that everyone is sick of the pandemic and I'm sick it too but I am extremely worried that we are sleepwalking into a slow-motion catastrophe so I can't stop writing about it. Let's run some numbers:

The population of Canada is 38 million. Let's say each new wave of COVID infects 10% of the population. That means 3.8 million Canadians infected per wave. And given the wholesale abandonment of safety measures, that is likely conservative.

And let's further assume - also conservatively, that we can expect three major waves per year. Heck, it's still March and we're already in the second wave of 2022. That means a total of 11.4 million COVID infections per year.

That's a lot of infections and a lot of illness in any case. But while the vaccines we got at the end of 2020 were miraculous, they do not provide 100% protection from severe illness or long COVID.

What percentage of those (conservatively) 11.4 million annual COVID cases will cause severe illness? What percentage of those (conservatively) 11.4 million annual COVID cases will lead to chronic illness, AKA long COVID, aka newly acquired disability?

Let's stick with our conservative approach and assume that only 1 percent of COVID infections will lead to long-term, chronic, serious disability - the kind of disability that prevents you from being able to work.

Even so, with these conservative numbers, we are talking about 114,000 newly acquired disabilities in 2022. And another 114,000 newly acquired disabilities in 2023. And so on, year after year, ad nauseam as COVID continues to mutate and circulate.

Look, this is just a thought experiment with some reasonable-sounding inputs. Maybe the real number will be half as high. Or it might be twice as high, or five or even ten times as high.

We have never allowed COVID to circulate freely throughout our society before, so we really have no idea what the numbers will be like a year from now. Does that uncertainty comfort you? It shouldn't.

It seems unconscionable to me to let thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people become chronically disabled every year due to a virus that is more or less preventable with good policy.

I mean, are you okay with this? Would you be okay if if was you or your loved one who could no longer work and had to live in chronic pain and illness?

Do you know how disability support works in Canada?

It.

Is.

Abysmal.

In Ontario, once you have used up or sold off all of your assets and savings, you might qualify for $1,169 per month in ODSP to cover your living expenses.

We absolutely need a national disability support standard that people with disabilities can actually live on. If nothing else, the early response to COVID - including CERB - demonstrated that a baseline living income is a human right.

We also need to ask ourselves whether it makes sense to risk massively increasing the number of people with chronic disabilities that make it impossible to work - especially when we know how to prevent it.

Actually, it's not hard at all to decide whether that makes sense.

At a minimum, we can mandate that everyone has to wear N95 or equivalent masks indoors, mandate high-quality air filtration in all indoor settings, reinstate vaccine mandates and redefine "vaccinated" to mean "boosted within the past 6 months".

Yes, we definitely need better vaccines, as I recently argued.

And it is not unreasonable to expect that, sooner or later, we will get those vaccines. They may even exceed our expectations.

But in the meantime, we need better health policy.