Our province is not in a good way! The weekend statistics make us number one in Canada for the per capita infection rate! The reported new variants have reached 160 with a huge increase in our active number at 195. The deadly Brazilian variant is spreading, particularly on the North Shore. All this with a testing rate so low we should be ashamed. It has caused me to reflect on some pandemic issues and ask: ‘what if?’ both past and future.
What if we had established required standards for our care homes that addressed issues such as crowding and staffing. Staffing was clearly a problem with staff working in multiple facilities and bringing the virus with them. The staffing plan was used by employers, as a way to avoid paying benefits to these already underpaid employees. Standards varied between public and private systems and even within the public systems. We need to learn the value of our elders from our indigenous citizens where elders are revered and respected. We have treated our seniors more like a warehousing issue than a valued citizen group.
What if the Government made a commitment to restructure the elder care program according to the advice of an independent, expert, advisory panel. The panel would address all facets of elder care including, but not limited to, establishing standards for housing and staffing. We need to respect our elders and keep them safe!
What if we had provided funding for education at least above the national average. The pandemic showed many weaknesses in our education system including the dilapidated state of some of our facilities and their ventilation systems. It also demonstrated that we were unable to physically distance in most schools because of classroom density. The present funding formula combined with a total lack of organizational creativity eliminated our ability to provide a critical layer of protection.
What if, going forward, the Government increased the funding levels to schools in a way that demonstrated that the politicians valued K-12 public education and those dedicated people working in the system. A new funding formula might be a good start!
What if the PHO had mandated masks in all schools when schools returned in September? Masks still are not mandated in elementary schools and not required in secondary schools when sitting at a workstation. Statistics show that elementary teachers are getting infected at three times the rate of secondary teachers. Is there any wonder why? The PHO suggests mandating masks would negatively affect the child’s mental health. Hogwash! The child will however be wracked with guilt if he/she feels they were responsible for bringing Covid into the home. The PHO says she consults regularly with colleagues across the country. Does she listen because she must know we have the weakest mask policy in Canada. (She also says she has been in many schools, but no one seems to have seen her!)
What if, with our worsening situation, masks were mandated NOW!
And, what if we established a culture of mask wearing for the future wherein, we established an expectation that any child coming to school with a sniffle wore a mask to protect others. We are all used to wearing masks now so why not use them to our community’s benefit in the future.
What if the communication strategy had held, as its first tenet, to be open and honest with we, the public. What if the strategy demonstrated a commitment to transparency and clarity. CTV News just reported that specialized screening to identify previously undetected variants of Covid-19 uncovered 10 times as many cases as public health officials initially disclosed. We are being lied to!! The Premier lied when he said: ‘children do not transmit the virus.” We are not even told when variants appear in schools. Terms such as ‘outbreaks’ and ‘clusters’ are used differently in different workplaces leading to a total lack of clarity. We do not even provide statistics on a timely basis as requested by our National Health Officer. The Johnson and Johnson Tylenol tampering case in 1982 set the standard for communications in a crisis and the PHO seems to be ignoring the fundamentals of honest and forthright communications that were so successful in this case. Is there any wonder why people are now suspicious of the latest pronouncement on the AstraZeneca product?
What if, in future, the government required its employees to apply the principle of social responsibility to all communications with the public. Honesty and complete transparency must be considered foundational in any future communications strategy.
What if we had developed a robust remote learning program for use in the province during a health emergency? Schools were unable to facilitate physical distancing and were unable to accommodate some students who were severely immuno-compromised. A robust remote learning program could resolve these issues. The technology exists but two factors are missing. The first is the will of our Ministry to take the responsibility for developing a strong on-line learning option. This would require building a significant repository of electronic resources upon which teachers and students could draw.
Secondly, it would require teacher training programs to mandate the graduates to have skills in teaching remotely. A hybrid model was needed across the province, but the government and the universities are not keeping up with the times and it was a clear weakness in this pandemic.
What if we now moved to establish and fund a provincially based remote learning program that would be available to any student that wished to learn in a different way?
What if we had developed a plan based on protecting the most vulnerable essential workers and our elders first and stuck to it. The plan was to do the vaccines based upon age because “science supported this” but now we find the PHO has a ‘make it up as you go plan’. Suddenly, all Whistler-Blackcomb employees are being vaccinated before first responders, front line workers and teachers. These tend to be young people who work outside and are the least vulnerable! The economy has clearly become more important to the Government than our citizens’ health.
What if we prepared for future pandemics (and they are coming) by laying out a sound plan for such areas as lockdown priorities, vaccination priorities and essential service definitions. In any plan we need to get our priorities right which is clearly not what is happening now!
What if we had rid ourselves of the 100-year-old model of governance that we continue to use in school districts? School Boards long ago had their financial power stripped and now they have had their decision-making power removed. They are unwilling to even stand up for their employees who are calling for a mask mandate. They are beyond useless and have become a financial drain to the system. Nova Scotia and Quebec have dispensed with Boards and Manitoba is in the process of doing so. In choosing to restructure, B.C. could put millions of dollars saved back into the classroom.
What if, in future, the governance model followed either the regional health model or became a part of the municipal responsibility. In the former we could have had a much more coordinated approach to the pandemic and if we chose the latter, we would have a greater community commitment to education while reducing redundancy that simply wastes dollars.
What if we had employed thoughtful, creative decision-making from the beginning of this pandemic? When the pandemic struck, we were clearly caught off guard without a plan. Our first reaction of protecting each other by shutting down was successful in containing the spread. However, we then began to do things ad hoc and in a hurry. Education was a good example where the PHO, at the last minute, imposed a cohort model on the system. It eliminated any potential creativity that could have developed safer and better school organization. Here we had a non-educator impose an organizational model that restricted any further creative thought that could have served the system better. We can do better.
What if we used the pandemic as an impetus to review our entire education system. We still use an agrarian calendar, we are way behind in the application of current technology, our teacher training models are archaic, our governance costly and outdated, our curriculum needs updating, and our employees are deserving of much more respect. The educational mandate has expanded exponentially with schools now expected to feed children, care for their mental health, include every disability imaginable, and solve child poverty! We need to examine this expansion and determine what is the true mandate of a school because they cannot continue to be all things to all people and expect to be effective. It has been a long time since we had a Royal Commission into anything. A Royal Commission into education would secure our future so perhaps the time is now.
A lot of what ifs. But we are currently in the unenviable position of handling this pandemic worse than any province in Canada particularly when it comes to schools. The PHO is dug in on issues like the mask mandate while we are being kept in the dark about how bad the variant spread is. The vaccine schedule is illogical with the PHO into ‘spidey’ sense planning. Every day we continue to endanger our teachers and our first responders who are deemed lower on the vaccine priority list than a ski lift operator. The Premier seems to have gone into hiding so he does not bear any responsibility for the abysmal way we treated seniors or for the lack of effectiveness in even getting pandemic pay to those who are owed. We need to not only turn this pandemic around, but also learn from it so we create a better future for each of us. We can only do that if we address the hard ‘what if’ questions now and in the future.
What if we were to do just that?
Doug Player, March 17, 2021.