Round and round the COVID death spiral



What’s that saying?  You know the one, about repeating things over and over expecting a different result?  I think it was about pandemic response?

No matter.  However the saying goes — what am I gonna do, google it? — it’s right where we’re at now.

Here in Montreal, we’ve been in the “red zone” for a month and a half.  Essentially, that’s meant that restaurants are closed for all but takeout, but schools, shops, and offices are still open.  How has that gone?  Well, we plateaued at about 1,000 new cases a day without a giant spike in deaths or hospitalizations, right up until we didn’t.  Now cases are spiking above the 1,300 per day mark with some regularity.  And deaths and hospitalizations are following in turn.

Limbo lock down has, to put a fine point on it, done squat.

Now Premier Francois Legault has begun to muse about about extending the Christmas school break to perhaps a month.

This extended school shutdown — let’s be honest, it’s not a break it’s a shutdown — would not be accompanied by any wider business shutdown.  Meaning it’s also going to create a childcare crisis on top of the endless grind of the pandemic crisis.

But, perhaps it’s something, right?  Heh, no.

According to the Montreal Gazette’s health reporter Aaron Derfel, there are more than 750 workplace COVID outbreaks.  There are only about 450 in schools, by Derfel’s accounting.  You might see in those numbers where the obvious problem is.  There are 50% more outbreaks in the workplace, so obviously we’re going to…shutdown school.  Right, okay.

The conclusion to this is we have leaders here in Quebec — and more generally across the country — who are now deciding to sacrifice us all in the name of keeping the economy open, damn the consequences.

The trouble is, of course, the economy isn’t actually open.  Sure, business is happening, and stores are open.  But nothing is bustling.  Everybody knows on one level or another that there is still a pandemic going on.  Nothing about the openness of things right now is sustainable in any way, our economy just isn’t built to only kinda work.  And yet our leaders continue to muddle toward doom.

At this point, I don’t see how else things go down.  Our provincial leaders, the guys with the real power in all this, have decided to do as close to nothing as they can.  From coast to coast, premiers are putting special emphasis on how individuals need to take responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus.  Hearing Ontario Premier Doug Ford, to pull one example, loudly scold people for getting together in parties has become a cliche part of his daily press conferences. 

But how can we stop the spread as individuals, when so much of this is out of our hands?

If you’re at your job and are infected with the virus, what could your personal responsibility have done to prevent that?  Where you work is open, you have to go to work to survive, there is no other option.

This is the trouble with the myth of individual responsibility.  This is not a discrete series of individual problems.  This is a global pandemic.  It is a collective problem.

Since the end, such as it was, of the first wave, our governments had a chance to set up a system where we could track and trace COVID cases, isolate the people who were infected or exposed to infection, and put in place supports so people are never faced with the choice of having to go to work if they should instead be isolating.

Of course, our governments did none of that.  Our leaders were more interested in picking fights with their ideological enemies — in Quebec, minorities and anglophones; Ontario, teachers and municipalities; Alberta, anyone who isn’t the oil industry — than preparing for a full pandemic winter. 

None of that was done.  And now, faced with massive outbreaks across the country, it’s clear we’ve been failed.  We will continue to fail if our leaders insist on avoiding making tough calls that could result in sharp short-term pain.

Kicking the can down the road is the name of the game.  And the further this particular can gets kicked, the more painful it will be when all that’s left are the toughest choices of all. 

This is going to be a long and difficult winter.

When the spring that comes, remember who it was that made it so difficult.  Remember that it didn’t have to be this way, and the people in control could have done something to prevent it.  But they didn’t.  They refused to, again and again.

We are watching a grand crime play out, and we’re all the victims.  When the time comes, those personally responsible for this crime should be held to their own standards.  To do anything else would only lead us to the same result.

Photo Credit: CBC News


More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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