Kenney’s “Best Summer Ever” lasted just two-and-a-half days into September when forced-masking and restrictions reappeared into the lives of Albertans. While the summer of 2021 was markedly better than the summer of 2020, it may have been a bit of a stretch to say it was the “Best Summer Ever” by any means. But such is the nature of political sloganeering.
We are now well into the fourth wave of COVID-19. People are beginning to ask themselves how many waves we may have to endure before if and when this waking pandemic nightmare ends. Spoiler: there will be more.
The impact of government restrictions upon the spread of COVID-19 has been negligible at best. The curves of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in states and provinces with heavy government restrictions look little different than those with light restrictions. Australia has finally admitted that their COVID-zero approach is unreasonable after a year and a half of virtually imprisoning their population. It is becoming accepted that we simply can’t hide from COVID-19 nor legislate it away.
Still, people keep demanding that their governments do something – anything – to stop the spread. Premier Jason Kenney’s latest round of restrictions and regulations are modeled more to appear to be doing something than to actually have any real impact. He could no longer afford to lay low while opposition NDP and activist doctors worked to lay every death by COVID-19 at his feet.
While the numbers do indicate that vaccination does reduce hospitalization and deaths for people, it has not managed to reduce the spread of infections nearly as much as hoped. The number of people fully vaccinated is stubbornly stuck at around 70% and it is doubtful that Kenney’s bizarre attempted bribe with $100 gift cards will change that much. It is clear that he is becoming desperate.
Now that we are 18 months into this pandemic and into our fourth wave, what people should be asking is ‘why our health care system remains so fragile’. Every time we near 500 hospitalizations or 100 ICU cases we are warned that our system is on the verge of total collapse. In a province of 4.6 million people with 161 hospitals, we would expect that we would be able to withstand the periodic pressures of a few hundred additional people to treat.
We have dramatically increased health care funding since the pandemic began, beyond its already massive levels. In December of 2020, COVID-19 hospitalizations were at nearly the exact same levels as they are today. The UCP government at the time was speaking of setting up field hospitals to increase capacity. Beds and ventilators were purchased. Why on earth are we still as vulnerable to infection surges today as we were then? Will we learn from any of these surges or will we keep simply hoping that each one of them will be our last one?
When Premier Kenney and Dr. Hinshaw grandly announced that we were open for summer last June, they also said that the opening would be permanent. They told us that COVID-19 was endemic and that we would have to learn to live with the disease rather than try to eliminate it. In accepting that COVID-19 would always be with us, shouldn’t that have meant that we would change our health care system in order to accommodate the surges that we knew would be coming? Aside from being exhausted and more deeply indebted, we don’t appear to be any better equipped to deal with COVID-19 today than we were nearly a year ago.
Why have we not moved to provide elective medical services in outside facilities so that they won’t be as badly impacted when there are COVID-19 outbreaks in acute care facilities? Why haven’t we been able to set up specialized COVID-19 treatment wards where staff and patients can be better quarantined without as much impact on the rest of the hospital? I understand that these things can’t be done overnight, but it doesn’t look like we have even started on such moves. If we are going to accept life with COVID-19 being endemic, we will need to change our medical practices in order to do so.
The government will move in whatever direction that the public pushes it hardest. While masks likely won’t do a anything thing to reduce infections, they will provide a visible sign that the government has mandated something.
I attended an anti-mask protest in front of city hall in Calgary last week. It was perhaps 100 people at best, and many of them were fringe characters. It was not an indication of a groundswell of public opposition to government restrictions or forced-masking, unfortunately. The rally wasn’t the sort of thing that will make the government sit up and take notice.
Pressure for the government to impose restrictions is strong and well organized. Unions and partisan doctors dominate the news while citizens continue to demand that the state do something, even if they aren’t exactly sure what. While the masks are annoying and early bar closures will drive young folks into attending crowded house parties, at least we haven’t shut down the hospitality industry or large gatherings yet. Small consolation.
If we are going to learn to live with COVID-19, we will actually need to change some things within our health care system in order to do so. When the 5th or 6th wave hit, the government needs to be able to confidently point to how we are treating the cases as effectively as possible while the rest of the world keeps on rolling. Right now, Kenney’s worst nightmare is a vision of people literally dying because hospitals have become overwhelmed.
More forced-masking mandates or bribes for vaccines won’t prevent that risk of hospital collapse. We need to change our health care system. That is something that politicians have shied away from in Canada since the days of Tommy Douglas.
Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show