COVID-19 — panic, then neglect and harm

In March 2022, The Tyee published Crawford Killian’s We Are Dangerously Relaxed about COVID, The author has been an astute observer of health issues around the world for years. In The Tyee, he wrote:

Despite soaring case counts, people in many countries seem to have made a separate peace with COVID, silently accepting the harm it continues to inflict…

We’ve dropped a number of public health restrictions, notably the mask mandate. In effect, Dr. Bonnie Henry and the NDP provincial government have left it up to us to mask and distance ourselves.

But only if we’re in the mood.

Killian mentions the panic-neglect cycle described by The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, a science journalist who holds numerous prestigious awards.

All epidemics trigger the same dispiriting cycle. First, panic: As new pathogens emerge, governments throw money, resources, and attention at the threat. Then, neglect: Once the danger dwindles, budgets shrink and memories fade. The world ends up where it started, forced to confront each new disease unprepared and therefore primed for panic. This Sisphyean sequence occurred in the United States after HIV, anthrax, SARS, Ebola, and Zika. It occurred in Republican administrations and Democratic ones. It occurs despite decades of warnings from public-health experts. It has been as inevitable as the passing of day into night.

Even so, it’s not meant to happen this quickly. When I first wrote about the panic-neglect cycle five years ago, I assumed that it would operate on a timescale of years, and that neglect would set in only after the crisis was over. The coronavirus pandemic has destroyed both assumptions. 

In mid-March 2020, with fewer than seven residents dead from COVID-19, the province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency. At the same time, the federal and provincial governments funded $4 an hour extra pandemic pay to frontline health and social service. The 16-week program ended near the beginning of July. BC lifted its emergency order in June 2021 when 1,740 had died.

Since then, at least 2,400 more people have died from the virus.

March 10 2021, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry announced that mask mandates in schools were ending. Georgia Straight’s Charlie Smith reported:

That very same day, a massive U.S. study revealed that schools with mandatory masking experienced 72 percent fewer cases of in-school transmission of the COVID-19 virus…

Yet in B.C., the NDP government is abandoning mandatory masking in schools after spring break. This decision came just as the highly contagious BA.2—the so-called “stealth” Omicron subvariant—is spreading in many countries.

BC Government’s COVID panic began in March 2020, but was turning to neglect in the following year. It can be argued that neglect shifted to overtly harmful management of the pandemic.

From a Charlie Smith piece published in 2021, Professors from Oxford and University of Colorado describe Ministry of Health’s analysis of COVID-19 as “misguided”

“It is unbelievable that they still say that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent spread, or that it is better than masks,” Jimenez declared to the Straight. “We have known for a long time that transmission of COVID-19 through surfaces is difficult, and there are zero cases of surface transmission demonstrated to date.”

Harvard University’s School of Public Health reported in August 2022 that improving indoor air quality could dramatically reduce COVID-19 transmission and lessen other respiratory diseases, resulting in greater worker and student productivity and improved energy efficiency. Associate professor of exposure assessment science Joseph Allen said:

There’s so much magic that can happen when we pursue a healthy buildings strategy that goes so far beyond COVID.

Days ago, Scientific American magazine reported:

SARS-CoV-2 isn’t the only virus that spreads through the air indoors. Influenza and other respiratory viruses also spread this way. Studies have also shown that poor ventilation leads to cognitive impairment and “sick building syndrome.”

So did the BC government — which announced subsidies to natural gas producers exceeded $1.5 billion in FY 2022 — commit major dollars to making schools safer for children?

Not exactly.

In March, Education Minister Whiteside announced a $48.4 million allocation to upgrade HVAC systems at 90 schools throughout the province. That covers about one in eighteen BC schools.

At the end of 1941, Winston Churchill spoke to Canada’s Parliament. He said that very early in WW2, France’s future Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain said Britain would “have its neck wrung like a chicken” within three weeks. Churchill declared to Canadian MPs and Senators:

Some chicken! Some neck!

In the war against COVID-19, too bad today’s leadership in Canada is more interested in surrendering than fighting to end the pandemic. Had those people governed Britain in 1940, the chicken’s neck would have wrung.

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Categories: Health

3 replies »

  1. And the Press Gallery and Big media personalities hardly ever asked tough questions of the Health officials and other government leaders. The airheadscwere to busy goo gooing and gaa gaaing over them. I hever thought I would witness so many wimpy people from the Press Gallery and TV News personalities , Radio people, Columnists and Commentators from big media. Its so prevalent nowadays.


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