Truckers converge on Ottawa, radical hangers-on see the parade and fight to get in front so they do stupid things that were, no doubt, far from the vision of those people who conceived of a demonstration. Defacing the statue of the iconic Terry Fox is sacrilege in the eyes of most New Brunswickers. Using swastikas and the symbols of the holocaust really go over the edge with most Canadians.
But then the majority of Canadians would endorse, no doubt, the drive to move more quickly on racial equality but would abhor the violence that was seen worldwide a year ago in many US cities. And in my generation, we all wanted the Viet Nam War to go away and many demonstrated in a variety of ways, notably the Kent State University activity. But the vast majority were demonstrating against war and violence and would have no part of some of the nastiness that mob-psychology brought with it. Strange things happen when self-control is not visible and anger is!
The thing that students of public policy and politics need to be attentive to is how do you measure when the body politic says it has had enough, that government has gone too far? Revolutions spring from seemingly widespread anger and analysts use a technique labelled the Overton Window to explain the mood of the public and how much change the public can handle at any point in time.
The challenge for politicians and public policy people is to fail to recognize the mood; politicians and media like to rely on polls which very often turn out to be quite wrong. In a recent national poll, 180 residents of Atlantic Canada were polled, the majority of whom said they were against liberating the pandemic regulations. Yet another poll on twitter last week showed that of 170 persons polled, the vast majority felt it is time to loosen the regulations. So, who do you believe if you are making the rules?
The prevailing contra theory is: no, just follow the science and not the politics. We have heard that for over two years. But people who are reading, listening, and watching widely known that the real science of epidemiology is based on history and forecasting has been challenging. This virus sprung on the world by surprise and in veiled secrecy by China with conflicting interpretations of “science” from the beginning! So, from the outset, the population has been divided. Even the medical community, trying to give the appearance of unity, has not been totally united and physicians around the world have described treatments that the drug companies and political forces panned.
Yet seemingly every day there is another respected physician or group of physicians who present ideas and insights that others may not find acceptable, and we have seen that recently in New Brunswick. CDC, the once powerful and influential disease control body in the United States, has had its image tarnished in the public discourse as has its leadership. Some of the spokespeople have been labelled as very political which casts the suspicion amongst the masses that maybe the science is not as absolute as we would like to believe.
Throughout those tortuous months when the Covid fight seemed, to the international audience, to be Trump vs Fauci, we Canadians, at least in eastern Canada, seemed safe enough in our bubbles, not too many cases, manageable with one degree of restriction or another. Remember the numbers of social media entries panning the US experience with cases and deaths and we watched that transition as the new President promised to “defeat the virus”! That has not happened, yet in much of the country, life has returned, jobs are being created and filled, churches are finding renewed life, sports arenas are filling with happy, smiling faces as their teams work through the big NCAA tournament.
Omicron is present, people still get sick, people still die but those who aren’t are starting to live. Just as it has been in the aftermath of influenza. Remember that well over 40 years ago, influenza was a large killer! Depending on which strain you got, you got really sick and many, mostly frail elders or people with other health issues, succumbed. Along came the flu vaccine and I recall my first in 1975! And every year since then. Have I gotten the flu? Never. Have I had annual chest or head colds? Absolutely.
But in every year since then, despite the large number of annual deaths from influenza, the push for vaccination carries on and a significant number of healthcare workers annually would refuse to be vaccinated. But staff absenteeism persisted at very high rates and at great expense to hospitals and long-term care workers. But life went on!
I remember a very strong and assertive medical officer of health in Ontario 20 years ago threatening to make the flu vaccine mandatory for long term care workers because it was causing such outbreaks in nursing homes. It did not happen as unions and staff pushed back!
This is what happens when society acknowledges that this virus is here to stay and despite the aspirations of politicians, it cannot be defeated by political action. As stated in March 2020 by the scientists on national media, “it will be bad, it will mutate, it will develop variants.” And so, it has. In the Endemic Phase of an outbreak, we learn to live with what we have and that is a virus variant that is serious but for the vaccinated, largely easily manageable.
Public mood needs to be carefully assessed as does real evidence. The challenge for politicians is that some jurisdictions have lifted restrictions with great results for their area. Recently, for instance, the experience of Denmark was noted in national news as being quite dramatic and successful in public acceptance.
A huge complication with Covid in New Brunswick has been the impact that it has had on the hospitals and long-term care systems. Speaker after speaker, book after book, article after article for nearly 20 years has made the case for overhauling and modernizing those sectors in New Brunswick. Recently, again, the very articulate President of the Nurses Union, Paula Doucet, repeated the cry that has been evident for many years: we need to get serious with our nursing strategy which is more than the simplistic “hire more nurses”, as if that were even possible.
Similarly, in Long Term Care, where there have been some outbreaks and currently quite a few with staff becoming distressed and tired: the elements required for reform and modernization have been evident for years with many of the elements outlined in the Report of the Council on Aging in 2017. But there has been no perceptible change and such change as may have taken place has been at glacial speed.
This is the time that the province assembles its budget for the 2022/23 Fiscal year. This government is fiscally conservative and normally that is a good trait. But with all the lessons of Covid, this is not the year to focus entirely on achieving a year end surplus. On the contrary, fixing what needs to be fixed will, undoubtedly, require investment. Other provinces have already learned that lesson and New Brunswick needs to step up. The risk of not making that investment is that when the next pandemic comes, and it will, our systems will collapse.
Ken McGeorge,BS,DHA,CHE is a retired CEO in major teaching hospitals and long-term-care facilities. He was co-chair of the New Brunswick Council on Aging and is a columnist with Brunswick News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken McGeorge, BS,DHA,CHE is a career health care executive based in Fredericton, NB, Canada.