DOING THE PANDEMIC DIFFERENTLY

February 21, 2021

Dr. J. Gateman

He has a tough job right now, and I wouldn't want to be in his shoes; nothing he does is right; how could we have done it differently? Those are the questions that seem to be coming out of Albertans' mouths, trying to stay positive through these trying times. 

They are trying to stay positive and not lash out. So today, let us take a look at those. 

 

Does the Premier have a tough job? Yes, being in charge of a whole Province is a tough job at any time. The buck stops with you. Anything that goes wrong is going to be your fault. You will never make everyone happy, and for a leader, that can be difficult to handle.

But you know all this when you sign up for the job. Transparency, humility and honesty can help lighten this load but will never make it disappear. 

 

Things we could have done differently for the pandemic are;

  • Protection of the vulnerable

  • Lockdown of senior facilities and staff

  • Clear, concise communication

  • Government pay cuts

  • Tax breaks

  • Sharing of good practices

  • Same rules across the board

  • Rapid testing

  • Open drug availability

 

During a pandemic or any emergency state (think natural disaster, intentional violence, sizable accidents, etc.), the most important thing is clear, concise instructions. I think we can all agree that the 2020 covid pandemic had anything but that.  

 

Mr. Kenney comments that you can't go around making enemies of everyone and playing renegade but, you know what? In a time of emergency/war, you do just that. You protect your people, your property, your economy at all costs. You may not like doing it, but it is necessary because everyone else will be doing the same thing.

 

Comments like, "The general public might become confused if we give them the data." is not only a slap in the face to the general population but shows that the situation is going to be mishandled. If you can not find a way to concisely get across your information and points to the general public, people will create a narrative of their own, and you will quickly lose control and respect.

 

The moment a state of Emergency was going to be declared, the variables that would be the deciding factors of moving forward should have been introduced to the general public. Items like; cases vs hospitalizations, IFR (infection fatality rate), RO (pathogen's basic reproduction number - estimates how many people one contagion can infect), CFR (case fatality rate) should have been explained. Once that vocabulary was picked, stick to it or explain why it was changed and the new targets. Targets, language and paths forward seemed to change daily without explanation or reason. People did not know what they were striding or watching for and began to make up numbers based on what they saw or experienced in their daily lives. The lack of clarity created divisiveness within the province since everyone experiences day-to-day life differently.

Each country, province and organization seemed to be using different wordings and recommendations. So this information would be crucial to keep citizens from panicking.

 

The information released should have been a clear conversation in the method used to estimate how deadly Co-vid was. Global researchers rapidly did a ballpark estimate on the cruise ship outbreaks. Although gathering rapid forecasts is good, it is crucial to explain they will be updated once better data becomes available. In other words, spell out that things will probably change as the new information is brought forward, and sometimes we might get it wrong.

 

Once a pandemic was decided, and we understood that senior homes and assisted living facilities would be hit hard, an unpopular decision should have been made. Those healthcare staff that were currently at work should have stayed there. Our elderly population's protection should have been a top priority until we could determine how this virus was transmitted; contact transmission, droplet transmission, airborne transmission, oral transmission, etc. A lockdown on all personal in the area of the most vulnerable should have occurred. Instead, the government allowed for multiple sites to rotate staff through. Switching of staff is a long-time practice of the government to save dollars on employment. We made healthcare workers stay in trailers in their driveways or figure out ways to separate sections of their house but did not even keep them contained to the same facilities for work. In a pandemic, all general procedures go out the window and saving a buck is not the driving question.

 

Once the droplet transmission was confirmed, it should have been announced with safety guidelines. To this day, I know of people who still wipe off their groceries once they get them home. Household hygiene is excellent, but you've touched them to put them in your cart, touched them to take them out and place them on the belt, had another person handle them to scan/bag them, touched them to take them out of the bag and then wiped them? If this were surface-transmission, that person would be dead. However, it shows the panic that people had and the need to feel safe, even though it was a false sense of security. 

 

Instead of a clear lead from the government, businesses and people independently created practices, rules, and procedures. Alberta Health Service inspectors were to decide whether they met the daily barrage of new regulations.

 

Once you determined how to safely get employees in and out of their place of employment, you would utilize this to get the healthcare facilities back up and running adequately. Staff should still be confined to one location, but using what essential services retail businesses had come up with would have allowed a return to day-surgeries, elective processes and diagnostic appointments in a much more timely fashion.  

 

Then you needed to focus on how to get the most vulnerable (the elderly) the best medicine they could have - loved ones. A 2-week shutdown of visitors was fine, but we should have utilized that time to figure out ways to do it safely. We allow fathers into surgery rooms when C-sections happen; we can figure this out. Instead, we condemned many of the people who made this province what it is to die alone. I would rather die three months, six months, a year earlier than I was supposed to, surrounded by my family and loved ones, than die alone in a sterilized room by myself. There are pictures of loved ones crying in the hallway of hospitals separated by glass from their loved ones watching them die, begging just to hold the hand of their loved one as they pass, yet hospital staff refuse to allow it because the rules say you aren't allowed. Then to add insult to injury, you can not grieve for them with your family unless you are willing to be arrested (gathering number restrictions).

 

We seemed to throw out all the research and knowledge about viruses when co-vid hit. Early on, it was determined that washing hands with hot water and soap was one of the most significant ways to combat the virus yet, we went to hand sanitizer. Now, hand sanitizer is good. It's great for when we physically can not wash our hands but, it doesn't replace hand washing. Hand sanitizer gets rid of all the bacteria on your hands, good and bad. We need the good bacteria to help combat the daily array of things we touch; when we take that away, it leaves us much more vulnerable. But very few stores, in the beginning, allowed for bathroom usage, just hand sanitizer.

 

It quickly became apparent that two weeks was not going to be enough, and shutdowns continued. At that time, some people say, the MLAs should have taken a pay cut. I agree with this statement, but I would have taken it a step further. Every MLA should have been focused on getting the province back up and running as quickly as possible, so if you are going to tell people they cannot make a living, you will forgo your paycheque too. Now before you call me cruel or tell me that couldn't happen, it's just their paycheque they were doing without. They still have their gas cards, staff, and rent allowances; they simply would not receive their paycheque. They would still be better off than most people in this province, and what an incentive to get things back up and going quickly. I find people work more effectively when they have some skin in the game. Remember, every person determining the rules you have to follow during this year-long restriction period has not once forgone their paycheque - that you pay.

 

Yesterday the government announced yet another program to give back to you your dollars, and while everyone clammers to see if they qualify, I wonder why we aren't doing tax breaks instead.

You see, a program to give you money costs taxpayers more. You have to pay government employees to check that you qualify, you pay government employees to issue the cheques, and then you may have to pay tax on those dollars "given" to you. Wouldn't it be easier, cleaner and simpler to issue broad tax relief to everyone? Keep the dollars in their own pockets; after all, they know how to spend it better than the government does. It would save the government expenses in wages and allow more breathing room for employees and business owners. Mark my words, we are going to have a tax crisis come April. Many will discover, all those free dollars weren't entirely free.

 

I'm a big supporter of a flat tax rate, an article on that is coming soon. However, right now would be a great time to have a flat tax rate. Keep the most dollars in the taxpayers' pockets so they can help keep the economy on life-support.  

 

As we progressed into the "pandemic," and many businesses had zero transmission cases. Those businesses should have; number one been applauded, number two looked at for what could be shared with companies struggling with transmission numbers. Sharing good practices is always beneficial. No, they don't all fit, and it can be tedious wading through all the techniques but finding one that works can be a game-changer. Helping businesses survive while keeping Albertans safe could have been a game-changer in this pandemic. But instead, the government flip-flopped, telling companies they won't shut them down, then the following week doing so, telling restaurants they could open and then delaying them with little to no notice.

 

Here again, is where clear and concise communication would have been helpful. But the current government doesn't seem to understand the importance of this. Rules changed without notice or were enforced in some places and not others. There was no level playing field for the last year. Costco parking lot is packed yet; retail businesses are supposed to be operating at 15% capacity. Go on a weekend and tell me what you think. People are supposed to be 6 feet apart, yet long line-ups with only a shopping cart distance between them are the norm. I'm 5'5", and I can not lay down in one of those so, you do the math. I can not have coffee with my mother-in-law, but I can stand 3 feet apart in Costco with 200 strangers. The big businesses seem to be able to do as they wish, while the little guy gets told if you open, we will fine and arrest you. The same rules for everyone would have made these trying times much simpler to navigate and resulted in fewer arguments and less divisiveness.

 

Then came the testing. We tested and tested and tested some more. But those results did not seem to direct restriction changes. We found out "asymptomatic" people made up less than 6% of the cases. In other words, no Typhoid Mary was found. Our YYC pilot program for travellers determined; less than 1.08% of cases were coming in via air travellers. As of yesterday, 49,000+ travellers had participated in the program (it ends Feb 21, 2021). We discovered that children were not transmitters of the virus (i.e., they were not bringing it home to their families or spreading it in stores). And please remember that these numbers are cases, not hospitalizations. We seemed to focus on these numbers rather than the other 93% of cases.

 

With only one testing method, the data we were receiving is continually putting us behind the virus. Taking 3 to 5 days to get test results was giving us information behind the curve. Rapid testing was available but using PCR tests caused a delay in assessing data and using it to move forward. KLM Airlines has put in 4-hour tests for departures from their airports. The USA has a 3-hour NAAT test available to citizens and visitors. Why are we not using these to help people get around, back to work, visit family, etc.? Alberta could have made deals for any of these rapid testing methods and gotten data to help get ahead of the curve but lagged in procuring or delivering these alternatives.

 

We hear reports of successful treatment of Covid cases with various medicines across the globe, but you will find they are not available in Canada when you look into them. These medications have increased the survival rate in the USA by 0.3%. That doesn't sound like much, but it is 86,000+ lives saved. It brings the survival rate from 98.6% up to 98.9%. In India and Latin America, a cheap parasite medication has been shown to decrease covid severity by up to 80%. Why these drugs were not fast-tracked into testing and used as last resort treatments is beyond me. 

 

In a pandemic, everything should be looked at, revisited, and reviewed again. We seem to be putting all our faith in a vaccine with no backup plan nor a plan-B in operation. We are seeing how that is working out for us. While our neighbour to the south is vaccinating one million people a day, we are vaccinating, NONE! We made a deal with China, not our "neighbours to the south," and now we are at the bottom of the list to receive doses, 58th to be exact from today's numbers.

Countries around us, abroad from us and on the other side of the world, will be opening up, getting their lives back, jump-starting their economies, and we will be about 8 to 9 months behind them by my calculations. This puts Canadians at a disadvantage on the global business platform, and many of us starting all over again. With a few tweaks at the beginning, it could have been a very different outcome. It's a sad time for this great province and this great country. I can only hope that we use some of the lessons we learned and speed up the timeline. So we can truly get back to living life.

 

© 02-2021, Dr. J. Gateman