By Laura Keil, Publisher/Editor

I got to do a deep-dive into the history of public health in Canada this past week while doing research for our COVID Q&A question. It was eye-opening to read about the long history of attempts at containing outbreaks using strategies like quarantines, vaccinations, proof of vaccinations and rules re: gatherings and visiting the ill. Luckily we have a much finer tuned understanding of what causes illnesses and how viruses spread nowadays, and global cooperation means we can inform one another more quickly.

While many of the strategies sound familiar, the book I used for most of my research (“This is Public Health: A Canadian History” by Christopher Rutty, PhD and Sue Sullivan) reported that many of the early strategies Canada and municipalities tried were ineffective, either due to being implemented too late, or not followed vigorously enough, or acted on without knowing enough about how the illness infected people. As time went on, though, public health responses, and science as a whole, gave us more answers and helped us to refine our responses.

It’s clear that proper water treatment, both of drinking water and of sewage, has made a huge difference in the prevalence of many illnesses. Vaccinations are the other big cause of saved lives.

It’s interesting to see that during this pandemic we have been able to mitigate the rise in cases via communal action. Yes, there are still “waves” of COVID-19, but public health measures have made a marked difference in the trajectory of spread. Of course it has required everyone to make sacrifices, some more than others.

As with many historical deep dives it makes me feel incredibly lucky to live during the time that I do. I’m sure future generations will say the same, but I’m sure glad I don’t need to worry about smallpox, polio and measles anymore and that vaccines today are as safe and effective as they are.