Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday October 8, 2020
Ontario’s conflicting public health messages are dangerous
If Premier Doug Ford’s objective is to sow confusion and uncertainty about Thanksgiving and this pandemic, this week he is succeeding spectacularly.
On Tuesday, Ford spoke at a COVID-19 news briefing, and sounded positively muddled.
“Please, this is very simple,” he said. “There’s rules and there’s guidelines. The rules are very clear. Ten indoors, 25 outdoors. I would really, really discourage people from having 25 people, even if it’s outdoors. Stick within 10 people. And folks, we went through so much together. And we can get through this.”
Clear as mud? Now add to the mix that public health authorities, including Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe and Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa are urging people to celebrate Thanksgiving only with members of their immediate household.
Here’s de Villa: “Please do not hold a big Thanksgiving dinner. Please limit your Thanksgiving dinner to the people you live with. I would far rather that we change Thanksgiving one time for safety sake then look back at Thanksgiving 2020 with enormous regret.”
Now back to Ford: “Thanksgiving is going to make or break it. Just please hang in there. You know, I have a big family and I told Karla (Ford’s wife), and she knows this, we can have no more than 10. Simple as that.”
These conflicting messages are a lot of things, but simple they are not.
For the record, the official advice at this point is to mark Thanksgiving only with people in your immediate household. Anyone outside that should connect virtually, not in person. Ford has now revised his position and agrees with that.
Aside from anything else, these duelling positions point out an alarming and widening gulf between what public health experts think should be happening and what the government is willing to do. Toronto’s de Villa wants indoor dining and bars in that city shut down for 28 days, but Ford says the data doesn’t warrant doing that.
The Ontario Hospital Association is warning that the health system could quickly become overwhelmed by the second wave. Anthony Dale, the association’s CEO says: “There is enormous growing risk. To keep hospitals functioning like they are now, rolling on all cylinders, we need to stop the community spread of COVID-19. Much more effective public health measures are needed.”
It is fair to note that the government needs to worry about the entire picture, not just the public health aspect. The economic and social impact of even localized lockdowns, like what de Villa is proposing for Toronto and others are suggesting for all hot spots, would be huge. Many businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, have said they cannot survive another lockdown.
But consider this: Ford also said this week that Ontario is flattening the curve. Numerous health experts disagree. University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman says: “There is no indication we are flattening the curve, and indeed hospitalizations are up sharply over the past two weeks, as the premier should know.”
If the government is acting on advice that suggests we are flattening the curve, but more and more health experts say that is not the case, there is a real danger that Ford’s reluctance to do more could be contrary to the public interest. The results of that disconnect could be tragic. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)