Historians hope to preserve stories about the COVID-19 pandemic as Sask. The death toll rises to 2,000

A man in blue jeans and a hoodie with a mask walks away from the Cornwall Center in Regina, Sask.  (Bryan Eneas/CBC - photo credit)

A man in blue jeans and a hoodie with a mask walks away from the Cornwall Center in Regina, Sask. (Bryan Eneas/CBC – photo credit)

As Saskatchewan has passed three years since COVID-19 was first detected in the province, historians and medical experts are trying to chronicle the stories of those who endured the pandemic and commemorate those who died from the virus.

With nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths, the effort becomes even more important, according to University of Saskatchewan historian Jim Clifford.

Clifford is part of the Remember Rebuild Saskatchewan project, which brings together epidemiology, history and medical science specialists to ensure Saskatchewan’s experience of COVID-19 is preserved for future generations.

“From the start we thought, well, you know, this is probably going to be a very historic moment and we need to get out of our comfort zone – which is studying the past – and actually try to record this history,” Clifford said.

A deadly price

COVID-19 quietly arrived in Saskatchewan.

dr Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, gave a press conference on March 12, 2020, in which he confirmed that a suspected case – a man in his 60s who had traveled from Egypt – had been contained.

While COVID-19 took a different path than other provinces in the first year of the pandemic, with few deaths, the virus eventually took its toll.

Between March 2020 and February 25, 2023, the province has recorded 1,890 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Experts have repeatedly said the real total is likely much higher.

Clifford says the pandemic is one of those rare universal moments that everyone has experienced.

“This is one of the greatest events that Saskatchewan experienced in the early decades of the 20th century [21st] century,” he said.

Like World War II or the Humboldt Broncos crash, people have chosen to commemorate events that connect them. While a global pandemic is a different kind of circumstance, Clifford says it’s worth remembering and commemorating.

That’s why his group’s efforts toward a digital memorial are so important. He wants to ensure that the deceased are not just reduced to an abstract figure.

Alexander Quon/CBC News

Alexander Quon/CBC News

It’s also an attempt to better understand COVID-19 than previous pandemics, which have only been recorded through the lens of the fortunate.

He believes “ordinary people” should have a chance to tell their story.

With the pandemic hitting older generations disproportionately, their efforts to gather information, first-hand accounts and stories must be done quickly.

“A lot of these things are very short-lived and it’s going to be difficult for a group of historians in 20 or 100 years to gather this information if we don’t write it down or record it,” Clifford said.

Older generations affected

The pandemic continues to affect the oldest generations in this province.

Of the 56 deaths so far in 2023, only two have been between the ages of 20 and 59.

That means 96 percent of deaths that year were people over 60.

But it’s rarely discussed — something organizations like the Saskatoon Council on Aging say they’re working to change.

“We heard similar results that older adults felt unappreciated [during the pandemic]. So we really want to change that,” said June Gawdun, the organization’s executive director Saskatoon morning with Leisha Grebinski in a recent interview.

Other experts speaking to CBC News on the third anniversary of the pandemic highlighted how mask use has been highly politicized during the pandemic, despite it being a widely accepted practice in countries across Asia.

HEAR | Before the pandemic, mask use was pretty much non-existent here:

Clifford said the differing views on the pandemic and how it is evolving need to be collated. The decisions made by the government, how they were communicated and how the public reacted to them are also important.

“There are just so many ways to study, to compare and contrast different jurisdictions to try and understand this aspect of public communications, what worked? What were the big mistakes?” said Clifford.

Choosing not to forget

Clifford believes there is a collective desire to get away from COVID-19. He admits there are times when he would rather just focus on the history of 19th-century England – his area of ​​expertise – than talk about COVID-19.

But Clifford says it’s important to resist those urges.

“For those with whom you can speak to us, we’re really trying to make the case that I’m presenting him in this interview that it’s of immense value not only to future historians … but even in the more immediate case that we just do.” don’t know what the future holds,” he said.

Clifford says in the future people need to know how thousands of people have chosen to work together for the greater good.

Cory Herperger/CBC

Cory Herperger/CBC

He pointed to the drive-thru vaccination clinics of early 2021 as an example of where people have made a decision for the greater good by sitting in their vehicles for hours to get a single shot while keeping others safe.

“Whatever the future challenges we face, we kind of know we can come together and pool our resources and do big things that we never thought we would have to do,” Clifford said.


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