Peanuts and COVID; what do they have in common?

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Full shot of a soccer field and surrounding stadium seats full of fans, with players scattered on the field
Full shot of a soccer field and surrounding stadium seats full of fans, with players scattered on the field mario klassen via unsplash

Life threatening allergies and COVID protocols have a lot more in common than we may think

What personal responsibility do we want other people to legally have for our collective safety?
What happens when 33,000 fans are invited to the largest public gathering in Saskatchewan since 2019?

I’ve carried an Epi-Pen for as long as I can remember. I carried it as a kid and carry it as an adult. I was the kid in school with his picture up in the staff room to remind staff of my life-threatening allergies. It gives a lifesaving amount of epinephrine that can be injected into my thigh to buy me time to get to an emergency room in case of anaphylaxis.

Before the pandemic, when those that could afford it dined out frequently, I regularly researched restaurants that would be willing to accommodate my allergies. Did they have peanuts or seafood on the menu? Could they cook mine separately? Could I be sat far away from the kitchen so any aerosolized fish protein in the air would be unlikely to enter my airway and cause it to close?

I’ve been told my entire life that my health is my own personal responsibility and I agree.

An extended family member’s birthday where they really want fish or peanuts? I don’t have to go. Why should I prevent them from having the party they want? Going to Mosaic Stadium where someone could be eating peanuts right next to me? This is my personal choice and assessment of risk. Getting on an airplane where the announcement is made, but ultimately, I am trusting my fellow passengers to not trigger an asthma attack or something more severe? My personal choice again.

These are not low anxiety decisions, but they do reflect my personal choices. For those of us with allergies ourselves, or for those that know people that have them, none of this is foreign to us. We weigh the risks each time we consume food that is not ours. We have been told since we were kids to simply not put our fingers in our mouths or to touch our faces. Long before it was en vogue due to Covid, we were practicing many of the same health recommendations. We relied on others’ adherence to guidelines, and requests for our safety. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

When the restrictions started for Covid-19 in Saskatchewan in 2020, suddenly everyone was doing the same thing. Is it safe to breathe where I am? Instead of worrying about a co-worker forgetting and cooking fish or eating peanuts, we were worried if a co-worker was asymptomatic and carrying a life-threatening respiratory virus. We were told to wear medical masks to ensure our safety. Suddenly, almost everyone was experiencing the anxiety I have felt my entire life and collectively processing what it means to have personal responsibility but still be extremely reliant on others for their safety.

With the August 6 start to the Saskatchewan Roughriders season almost here, many fans are being asked to weigh the same risks. As I reviewed the new rules for entering the stadium, I was comforted to see that peanuts were no longer allowed. One less thing to worry about when I accidentally brushed my eye or felt myself losing my voice. Did I just cheer and yell “Deeeeeeeeeee-fence,” more than my voice could handle or was I starting to have allergy symptoms? As I continued my review of the rules it became clear that masking was optional and so was vaccination. Hmm. The same anxiety from years past started to bubble to the top.

I knew from my recent conversation with Dr. Alexander Wong, Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases for the University of Saskatchewan on July 27, that COVID-19 variants had mutated. We now understand COVID to be far more of a risk than previous variants of COVID that were the dominant virus in Saskatchewan. Dr. Wong’s advice for individual risk assessment was not a surprise to those who have already followed the consensus scientific and even political advice of getting double vaccinated: wear a mask, be mindful that you can’t physical distance properly in a crowd of 33,000 screaming fans – even outdoors – and consider watching on TV.

Should a young child be able to go to school without fear of coming into contact with peanuts? We have seen many schools ban peanuts in lunches and it has helped calm many anxious parents as they send their child off to school. Are there schools that have reversed course and brought peanuts back? Have they made it the responsibility of the individual family? Absolutely! The debate on this in public health is a complicated one as not all allergies are created equal. On the other hand, people exist on a spectrum of just how much personal sacrifice they are willing to make for others. Some might argue if it’s not that safe the peanut allergy kids could all go eat in a separate classroom or be picked up for lunch. Many of us have seen these arguments and I don’t think either side is wrong. Depending on where you stand you will definitely see one as more right, but personal responsibility and freedom of choice have different levels of priority to different people. We have the freedom to choose what type of environment we want to create for each other.

What are we left to do then when Saskatchewan Public Health has said that personal responsibility to vaccinate is not something they will mandate? When different schools allow peanuts? When some restaurants accommodate food allergies, and some choose not to? Exercise our freedom to choose.

We need to borrow our competitive spirit from 2017 when the new Mosaic Stadium was going head-to-head with the recent stadium in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Back then we competed to see who had the loudest stadium, with the Bombers narrowly winning. Now we have the opportunity to vote with our wallets and our eyeballs on what we ask of our public health departments. In Saskatchewan, we can make the personal choice to watch the game on TV until Public Health supports mandatory vaccination. In Winnipeg, we can see the gameday attendance and compare it to the percentage of filled seats in Regina. This will send loud signals to the CFL, and all the amazing people they employ both on the field and off, to advocate to Public Health for mandatory vaccination at games across every stadium. Show them the fan interest from vaccinated individuals willing to protect their fellow football fan is large. So large, it dwarfs the smaller market of fans that choose to value their own personal autonomy beyond shared sacrifice. Those individuals choosing not to vaccinate can watch on TV or listen on the radio.

Football is the ultimate team sport. It even awards two points for a safety. Show everyone that when “diversity is strength”, and inclusion is of the highest value, a touchdown is only worth celebrating when we recognize our shared sacrifice to get to the end-zone. Anything less is just celebrating a missed field goal for an obligatory, single-pointed, rouge.

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