Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday November 5, 2020
Doug Ford sold on new rating system, health experts not so much
Ontario’s new five-stage rating system for moving regions into and out of various pandemic restrictions is good news, according to many businesses. But it’s bad news according to some health authorities.
Perhaps both these things are true and the new system is good for businesses hanging on by their fingernails, and bad for others who think health outcomes are the only things that matters.
The government is wrestling furiously with finding the right balance between efforts to flatten the curve and ways to help struggling businesses stay alive. It’s possible there is no perfect balance, and no satisfying everyone.
According to some voices from the business sector, the colour-coded stage (green/good, yellow/less good, orange/worrisome, red/partial lockdown) approach, which also comes with specific measures that accompany each stage, will make stability and predictability possible, something that has not been the case so far. So if things are getting bad and the metrics look like they are moving in the wrong direction, businesses and individuals can step up their response before their region moves to the next stage. Or failing that they can foresee what might be coming rather than being in the dark.
But on the public health side, there are issues. For one thing, the ceiling has been raised. For example, to take steps like closing restaurants, gyms and bars, the region would need to have a positivity of 10 per cent (100 cases per 100,000 people per week). And other factors, such as the health system and local public health authorities at risk of being overwhelmed, would have to be at play as well.
But that rate of infection has only happened a couple of times since the pandemic began. Since testing was ramped up in late spring no region has come close to 10 per cent. Doesn’t this suggest that those sorts of closures wouldn’t happen even under the worst case scenario? Has the government taken lockdowns off the table entirely in favour of protecting the battered economy?
Some health experts seem to think so. Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, put it this way in an interview with Torstar’s Bruce Arthur: “It’s like public health is treading water, and the premier is pushing their heads down. It’s government that makes the decisions on public health, and not public health.”
Epidemiologist Dr. Nitin Mohan told Arthur: “They’re relying on people to understand their own risk threshold, and that’s not working well, and what you’re saying now, we’re going to open up, and the perception is things are safe. Essentially, you’re inviting a disaster.”
Dr. Andrew Morris, professor of infectious diseases at University of Toronto was more pointed. “This is going to be very ugly. We’re following the European approach here. The very first question that should be asked is in the presence of ongoing growth, how can you in any way justify loosening measures? That makes absolutely zero sense. The one thing you shouldn’t do when you’ve got a losing strategy is take on a worse strategy. Which is what they’re going to do.”
These are troubling statements. You don’t expect every health expert to be on exactly the same page, but when credible experts are this far removed from government policy, it sounds like there is a central disconnect.
Yet we are assured the government is making policy decisions based on public health input from its own advisers. How can the experts advising the government and those quoted in the media and elsewhere be so far apart? Or is the government’s approach being driven by business instead of public health? (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)