Community Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Health, marathoner, on COVID-19

    Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Health, marathoner, on COVID-19


    There’s something reassuring that the top Canadian health officials, Dr. Theresa Tam and the Honourable Patty Hajdu, have both run marathons. As runners, we should all feel good that our leaders hail from our community and that our most noble characteristics—determination, discipline, ambition and will—are shared with the health officials steering our country through an unprecedented time. Ben Kaplan, editor of iRun, spoke to Ms. Hajdu on October 21. 

    iRun: You know more than almost anyone else in this country about the novel coronavirus. What’s coming next for Canada and the world? 

    PH: That’s the most common question I get asked. 

    iRun: Please tell me the end—not the end of times but the end of this pandemic—is near. 

    PH: Obviously our scientists and researchers are trying hard to figure out what happens next and there have been some good developments on the vaccine front. Canadian scientists, and scientists around the world, are optimistic that vaccines will become another tool in our toolbelt. 

    iRun: What’s the biggest challenge with combatting COVID-19? 

    PH: We know a lot. But as we learn new things, new things happen.

    iRun: What’s the current state of our world? 

    PH: Canada is doing OK. We had tough times in the spring, but we learned a lot and the lessons we learned are helping us manage this second surge. With regards to hospitalization and death, Canada is doing a better job now in protecting people—especially vulnerable people—who become infected with COVID-19.  

    iRun: Are there any signs that say we’re in better shape now than we were and the future looks bright and rosy? 

    PH: Everyone wants to think that, but there’s still so much we don’t know about the virus. 

    iRun: What causes you concern? 

    PH: We still don’t know the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the effect of people who become infected and the scary thing is that evidence is still emerging, so we just have to be as cautious as possible. I don’t think anyone should take COVID lightly—a lot of people get it and recover just fine, but there’s so much we don’t know. 

    iRun: It sometimes feels like we’re living in the Twilight Zone or an episode of the Leftovers

    PH: It feels like we’ve been living this for forever, but we haven’t really. It’s been under a year and the coronavirus is a new pathogen. Yes, there’s been good signs—hospitalization rates and death rates are going down—but it’s no less of a serious illness.

    iRun: What guidelines are you personally following? 

    PH: Certain things that I’m doing and I know most of us are: wash your hands; stay home when you’re sick; stay six feet apart, especially indoors, and wear a mask when you’re in close quarters. We know that if we’re in a crowded place, there’s an elevated risk of spreading the disease so I always wear a mask. Personally, I’m not comfortable eating inside a restaurant, especially a small restaurant, even if the tables are distanced. 

    iRun: How come? 

    PH: It just doesn’t make me feel comfortable. If I have to socialize, I do so outside. Even a small dinner party with ten people around a table in a condo, if those people are from different parts of the city, that’s a risk I don’t feel comfortable with. People have to assess situations for themselves, but remember that this is an opportunistic virus looking for people coming together.  

    iRun: Who is your hero? 

    PH: Dr. Tam. 

    iRun: Mine, too. 

    PH: I didn’t know her before the outbreak, but she’s an impressive, solid leader and so pragmatic and really almost unflappable. Of course, she worries about Canada. She sees all Canadians as her patients, but she’s so level headed and collaborative. And I think my other heroes are the everyday moms and dads trying to make their way through this pandemic, raise their kids and work from home.

    iRun: Your riding is Thunder Bay and we understand that racism is a global problem that has eroded trust in the system. What are we going to do, as a country, to create an economic and judicial system that it’s fair for everyone, especially Indigenous and Black communities?  

    PH: Reconciliation, in a country marked by colonialism, will always be a process, not a destination. We have to remember the past and in terms of our Indigenous community, it’s about intentional engagement. The systems and structures need to change according to the voices of Indigenous leaders. Child welfare, health legislation—to transform these systems, we need more than cultural awareness, which can amount to cultural tourism. I think we combat racism with a change in leadership from the top down. 

    iRun: It’s now time to pivot to you. Is it true you ran a half marathon in Vancouver in 2001? 

    PH: I did, and I also ran a full marathon in Minneapolis the year after that. I’ve run two marathons and countless 10-milers in Thunder Bay. In Thunder Bay, we have a wonderful 10-mile event and I used to do that every year for a long time now.  

    iRun: Who’s faster, you or Dr. Tam? 

    PH: I earn the Participation Award. Not that I was ever competitive, but there was a time when I ran in a lot of races. It was a new world for me and I enjoyed it and I’ve kept running as a tool to help with my mental and physical health. 

    iRun: Do you run often? 

    PH: Four or five times per week. 

    iRun: Very impressive. 

    PH: I often run in the mornings with my son, which is lovely. Running has been a big part of my life for 15 or 20 years.

    iRun: You think it helps you help us fight the virus? 

    PH: People on my team laugh because I have “running thoughts,” and I get so excited. It’s a way for me to clear my head and refresh myself. Sometimes on a run when I ruminate over those sticky problems we all have, I get a new clarity of thinking: suddenly, an intractable problem gets refreshed. 

    iRun: So perhaps running will help save the world. 

    PH: There’s nothing like it, I will say that. 

    iRun: Last words for runners in this country? 

    PH: Thank you to all the people sacrificing and, as we all know, running can be pretty solitary, but it’s going to be a long winter and now is not the time to give up hope. We all need to double down on helping each other, helping the elderly and perhaps lessen our focus on ourselves. Now is the time to focus on how we can help our community.