Like everyone else, I am pandemic weary, and this will be my last blog on the subject as I need to get back to developing my theory of leadership, something that has been sadly lacking in this province. The past two weeks have been very revealing.
It began with a leaked document that the Assistant PHO insisted was not a leak even though the cover was clearly stamped “NOT FOR PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION”. Mind you this is the same person that on August 20th said: “this virus has told us how it’s behaving and the way it is behaving is not airborne spread”. The document was very revealing.
Clearly the PHO had been withholding data. In fact, it became apparent that we were being lied to about data that existed regarding schools. The data demonstrates that transmission is occurring in schools with most of it seemingly being student to student. Yet for months we have been told such transmission is virtually non-existent and schools are safe! This confirms what every other jurisdiction has been saying, that schools are vectors for the spread of the virus. Even today schools are not safe!!
We also found out that the PHO withheld data about the failures of the so called ‘enhanced surveillance’ strategy that was secretly applied to long term care homes to avoid declaring outbreaks. This strategy led to rapid spread of the virus in these homes, and it is highly likely that it led to unnecessary deaths. It took four months of FOI requests to even extract this information and had it not been for the persistence of reporter Ian Young we would likely still be kept in the dark. I feel like I am in a proletariat state not a democracy.
The Provincial government deserves equal blame here. After all it was the Premier, himself, who stated he kept information secret because he did not want the teachers to become hysterical. He also set the example of lying when he broke his agreement with the Green party to call the pandemic election which itself was a spreader event. These two weeks have demonstrated that we, the public, are being treated by the PHO and Government like the proverbial mushroom. They think it is better to keep us in the dark and feed us bull shit!
As a result, I have one final plea. That plea is to have a full and transparent enquiry into the management of this pandemic which covers but is not limited to each of the following topics:
1) Long Term Care homes.
We let our elder population down. They suffered the most deaths in this pandemic, but we certainly did not have to lose as many as we did. We need to examine our elder care practices from the way homes operate to the way we treat our seniors in those homes, but we must also examine how the PHO managed the pandemic policies in long term care homes. Revelations this week have shown that data was hidden from us on the declaration of outbreaks, and this may well have led to unnecessary deaths. We need to know the facts. I must point out that my 100-year-old father-in law is in a home and I am thankful that that home had full time staff, in house prepared meals and low density. They also locked down immediately and remain so and while we can only communicate by telephone, he is alive! In short, they ignored the PHO’s recommendations and we are thankful.
Our teachers did not deserve the treatment they have received from this Government and PHO. First, they were left in the only workplace without social distancing and a mask mandate. It took enormous public pressure to force a stubborn PHO to finally mandate masks for grades four to twelve. Second, the PHO intervened at the last minute to mandate cohorts which forced an inappropriate timetable on students at the senior grades. The district that created the most creative approach to social distancing was challenged inappropriately by a rookie Education Minister who had no idea of how the system works. Third, school boards went silent and the elected representatives whose mandate it is to protect students turned that role over to a PHO who was more interested in a ‘balanced approach’ than the safety of students. And this week we find out that the PHO has been both lying about the data available and hiding that very data. Finally, the Premier made his infamous declaration that he hid data because he was worried that teachers might become hysterical. Teachers are some of the hardest working and most compassionate people I know. They deserved far better treatment because as much as anybody they have kept the economy afloat. We need an enquiry to examine how schools contributed to the transmission in this pandemic and to create better policies for school operation during a pandemic.
3) Testing and data reporting
These two go hand in hand because if the testing is problematic, the data will not be valid.
We need an enquiry to determine why our testing protocols led to the lowest testing rate in the country. We need to know why people were turned away from testing centers and why students are told not to get tested. We need to know why all but two percent of our rapid tests are expiring in a warehouse when local studies have proven their usefulness. How can we trust today’s low numbers when the amount of testing is our lowest on record?
Similarly, we need an enquiry to examine our data collection and reporting methodologies. As a result of the recent report leak, we have lost trust in the PHO and the Government. We need to know why data was hidden, why we were lied to and even why we were unable to collect and report the data that most other provinces did. Trust in our leaders is essential in a pandemic emergency and that trust has been squandered by our leaders.
4) Vaccine rollout
This seems to be one of the more successful aspects of this pandemic, but questions remain and should be examined by an enquiry. Should the Astra Zeneca vaccine have been deployed and when did we first know about the blood clot issue? Should it have been paused earlier? Is it ethical and wise to alter the interval recommendations of the vaccine manufacturer and should children, whom we have been told do not spread the virus, be vaccinated prior to giving those seniors most at risk their second dose? Should pharmacies have become actively involved earlier? So many questions that need an independent investigation.
5) Decision making by the Government and PHO
Early on the PHO announced that “we need to learn to learn to live with this virus”. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Korea, and Portugal took another route and adopted a Covid zero approach. We need to know for future pandemics if we made the right decision. Within this we owe it to every businessperson to understand why certain industries were targeted while others were not. For example, should we have treated restaurateurs in the manner we did? They were shut down multiple times even though they followed all required protocols. They were given no notice resulting in major food spoilage. Many of these establishments will never reopen. Was this decision appropriate and if so, could it have been done better?
Should a different approach have been taken to travel? Spring Break was a super spreader event in Whistler where the variants exploded. Why was Whistler closed down after Spring Break rather than before? Why was an essential travel declaration made so late in the pandemic? And why did five health regions suddenly become three?
Should we have taken a more regional approach? For example, the Fraser Health region was a hot spot while the Island Health region was not. Would regional approaches to schools or restaurants have made more sense? We need to learn from our experience in this pandemic to inform our decisions in a future pandemic. A full and transparent enquiry will do this.
We also need to ensure that we follow the ongoing cases. How many people are really suffering from long haul symptoms? Are the 20,000 children that have been infected suffering any long-term effects? Would different approaches in schools have reduced the number of children infected?
Was the decision tree appropriate? Local elected officials such as school trustees were effectively cut out of decision making for their local communities. School administrator were in fear of their employment if they communicated directly to the parents and there were reports of teachers being threatened with discipline should they communicate the truth to their parents. Perhaps these leaders could have contributed in a positive way to the reduction of the spread had they been respected and consulted. We need to have answers to how many of these decisions were made and who was involved. We need to look for best practices that could have improved our results.
Perhaps most important of all we need to thoroughly examine the basis upon which we made our decisions. Our PHO was quoted as saying: “what we have done…here in BC… is very much what Sweden did, but without the higher death toll, particularly in elderly people. And the way our society is structured, I think it’s naïve to think that we can shelter people, especially community dwelling elders. I think about my parents, you know there are many things we can do to do our best to protect them, but we also have to have a little bit of sacrifice.” This appalls me.
First, Sweden was a disastrous model. Second both the PHO and Government boasted that we had a low death toll—over 1600 of our citizens and they continue to die every day. Have we become inured to these numbers? Can you imagine how many family members and communities have been forever affected by these deaths? New Zealand did not have to deal with these numbers; they took far more decisive action! Portugal brought the virus to its knees in thirty-three days again by taking decisive action. We have muddled through because of this PHO’s and Governments’ philosophical stance and throughout they have withheld vital information from the public. This is unconscionable and cries out for a thorough enquiry.
Today, I spoke with a former mayor who was amazingly effective and popular before retiring after a lengthy time in the office. He was incredibly frustrated. He was a stalwart supporter of the PHO but declared today: “I am done”. He said the PHO has withheld information; she has continuously given mixed messages; and the Government has failed us. I hear this over and over from upstanding, positive citizens. Some of it is just pandemic fatigue but more often it is genuine and informed concern. We must give credit to reporters like Marcella Bernardo and Penny Daflous for finally asking the tough questions unlike others who appear to be shills for the Government and PHO. They have begun to reveal the hidden truths that many others have been raising on social media. We need to dig deeper, and an enquiry can do that.
Finally, we need to remember that the Sars enquiry highlighted the importance of applying the Precautionary Principle when dealing with a pandemic. BC, in so many cases, has ignore the findings of that commission and it has cost lives! We must not let those lives be lost in vain. We must create an independent, transparent enquiry to examine every aspect of how this province dealt with the pandemic. I believe we could have done much better. I think our frontline workers, our teachers, our medical personnel, and our first responders all deserved better. I believe our citizens needed to be served better by this Government and PHO.
My final plea is that we establish an expert panel and launch an enquiry to determine the good, the bad and the ugly of our handling of this pandemic. In the meantime, I pray for a new normal soon.
Doug Player, May 18, 2021.