In yesterday’s briefing Marcella Bernardo asked a excellent question of the PHO. She indicated many parents and educators were asking the same questions directly and on social media platforms like Twitter. In stead of answering the question the PHO said: “I would suggest you maybe not follow Twitter so much”. What was that? Sounded like another individual and his “fake media” attacks on the fifth estate! It was certainly insulting not only to a fine reporter but also to the thousands of Twitter users seeking the data she refuses to divulge. It appears that she has not used Twitter for seven years so perhaps she needs to understand why people use Twitter.
It is a particularly valuable tool in the pandemic because it allows people to connect. Hence, it is excellent for mental health in a time of isolation, something for which the PHO is constantly advocating. It provides an excellent citizens forum for the discussion of ideas on a broad variety of topics including the current pandemic status in this province. It is a useful way to reach a broad audience as demonstrated by her favourite reporter whom she and Mr. Dix talk to every day. It allows a sharing of some superb expertise that exists within its participants. And perhaps most relevant to this situation, it fills a void of critical information that the PHO appears to believe belongs only in her domain. To be completely blunt, the comment made by the PHO was insulting, classless and denigrating apparently used to avoid answering a very good question.
Perhaps it is her military background that is inhibiting her willingness to be concise, direct, and forthright in her answers. I have a son who serves in our military and it is understood that when an order is given it is to be followed and certainly not questioned. Perhaps she believes the declaration of a Provincial emergency gives her the right to be autocratic and not accountable to the citizenry. It appears to be the case with schools where she has silenced all local trusted authorities under pain of penalty. Be the reasons whatever they are, she has adopted an arrogance that is unbecoming of both herself and the position. She is dealing with an educated citizenry particularly in relationship to those who educate our children. They know when things are not as she describes them. For example, when she claims we are aligned in mask policy with the rest of Canada, they know Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all require masks in their classrooms for grades 4 to 12 while New Brunswick requires them at the high Schools. And when she refuses to give data about transmission in schools, they know it is more wide spread when twenty-eight staff at one school are absent and three classes in the same school have been isolated and when three schools have been closed. These frontline workers have a right to question when their own health is at risk.
So, where to from here? I believe the PHO needs to follow her own mantra of “be kind, be calm and be safe”. She was anything but kind in her response at the briefing. The reference to not using Twitter was more like that of a bully who demands obedience than a leader who is seeking to inform. She asks us to be calm when the province is undergoing the worst increase in deaths of any province in Canada, with the exception of Manitoba. We should remain calm when she does the least testing of anywhere in the country and we still have a positivity of 16.4%. How does it instill a sense of calm when we are not given factual information or even worse we are told that an old goats team’s actions are causing havoc in a community but of course we are not allowed to know which community. And lastly, she says be safe! How is that possible when she refuses to listen to parents and teachers who point out how unsafe the workplace is? How is it possible when she will not allow an extended Christmas break to act as a circuit breaker to the more than forty exposures that are happening every day in schools?
What do I expect to see in the next two briefings if the PHO means what she says when she expresses the “be kind, be calm, and be safe” mantra. First, I would expect an apology to the reporter for her insulting statement about Twitter. Unlike the militaristic approach which might interpret an apology as a weakness, the best leaders would understand it to be a sign of strength. Issuing this apology would demonstrate that the PHO is truly following her own request for us all to be kind.
Second, I would expect, in the next briefing, for there to be offered some better information on the actual transmission rate in schools rather than the generalizations given to date. In spite of being asked multiple times, no actual figures have been given on the rate of transmission in schools. This information would go a long way to allowing us to be calm. It is clear from very recent peer reviewed studies that transmission in schools and to the community from schools is a serious problem. Prove to us that is not the case here and a much greater sense of calm will exist. However, withholding this information will only exacerbate the angst.
Thirdly, I would expect to hear, no later than the briefing on Monday, that the Christmas vacation has been extended. This act alone would enable the following:
1) Halting any school exposures until January 11th,
2) Slowing the spread,
3) Helping contact tracers catch up as they are currently 7 to 10 day behind,
4) Providing fourteen days of household isolation so having a small family get together at Christmas would be possible, (it has been 345 days since I hugged my grandchildren!),
5) Giving teachers and school employees a well-earned mental heath break,
6) Ensuring a healthy classroom return in January, and,
7) Allowing any reset that a district would deem necessary.
There are many ways to make up lost instructional time between now and the end of June if that is of concern. Moreover, announcing this in one of the next two briefings would enable parents to make appropriate plans for their children. Above all, this decision would actually enable school employees, children and their household members to follow the third part of the mantra and “be safe”.
Let us watch the next two briefings and see if the PHO can overcome her military training in order to follow her own instructions of being kind, enabling calm and ensuring safety.
Dec 3, 2020.