More than three years into the pandemic, a man from Stephenville is still so concerned about COVID-19 that he's promoting this week, April 3-7, as COVID Awareness Week.
Keith Muise has taken a cautious approach to the virus since the beginning, even moving his family home from Alberta to Newfoundland and Labrador in October 2020, because he felt this province was taking the pandemic more seriously.
Muise, who worked as a school teacher in Alberta for eight years, said he continues to do a lot of reading about COVID's evolution, its effect on people's health, as well as the latest research on matters such as air quality and masking.
He said he feels that the current guidance from public health isn't giving people enough information to be aware of the risks of not masking or not improving indoor air quality.
"Now's the time to just remind as many people as we can that COVID is still around, and it is still dangerous," said Muise.
More information needed
In Newfoundland and Labrador, official updates from public health are posted on a COVID dashboard every two weeks, and they include the number of people who were hospitalized or who have died because of the virus.
But Muise said that doesn't take into account the number of people who suffer from COVID symptoms months or years after their acute illness, and that it also gives no sense of what the long-term impact of COVID might be for any and all who've contracted the virus.
Muise said there's an education gap between what researchers and people with long COVID know about the virus and the average person's understanding of where things stand.
He said he believes public health officials could be doing more to provide information and then let individuals decide how to act on it.
"People think they're safe and the reality is they're not," said Muise. "It's just a false sense of security."
COVID not over
Keeping some awareness of COVID-19 is necessary, according to Rod Russell, a professor of immunology and virology at Memorial University's faculty of medicine. Throughout the pandemic, Russell has been interviewed many times by various news media.
In an interview with CBC this week, he said seniors and immunocompromised people continue to be particularly at risk, even with up-to-date vaccinations, so people need to consider their own individual risk from the virus as well as the risk posed to people around them.
"There's a lot of people out there who still have good reason to be afraid," said Russell.
As a society, he said the "new normal" so far isn't what any of us expected or hoped it would be.
"I think we're trying to find the middle ground between 'COVID is here everywhere' versus 'COVID is over,'" said Russell.
Muise said he understands people's desires for normalcy, and that guides his approach when he encounters backlash or dismissiveness to his efforts to educate others.
He said he realizes that all of us are grieving something we've lost during the pandemic, whether it be a loved one, our own health, or a wedding or graduation that couldn't go ahead.
"I don't take it personally," said Muise. "We all want it to be 2019, 2018 again."
The COVID Awareness Week campaign has included a social media blitz, as well as contact with elected officials and news media.