Remember Nov 13, 2020 when Jason Kenney said “Covid is starting to win and we cannot let that happen…This two-week push is, I believe our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures.”
Just for context that same day Dr Rosenblum, an Edmonton ER doc, said the healthcare system was within 10 days to 14 days of collapse.
Fast forward to Sunday Nov 22 (10 days into Dr Rosenblum’s pre-collapse period). Our covid stats are through the roof. We recorded 1,584 new cases, 319 are in in hospital and 60 of these are in intensive care. This is a new record.
Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary are running at 120-percent capacity (hospitals are not factories, running over capacity is not a good thing). Alberta’s contact tracers are overwhelmed, 88% of cases have no known source of exposure, 73% of the 70 ICU beds earmarked for youth covid patients are in use and our $925,000 contact tracing app tracked 19 (that’s right, 19) cases.
Albertans are looking to Mr Kenney for leadership. But he’s missing in action.
Is anyone in charge?
Given Mr Kenney’s disappearing act Albertans are turning to other cabinet ministers for answers.
On Friday the Associate Minister of Health, Juan Luan said if the number of cases doesn’t plateau cabinet will likely receive a recommendation from Dr Hinshaw to impose more restrictive measures. He said, “Our criteria is measured against our hospital capacity to handle ICUs and hospitalizations so we’re waiting to see where that threshold will be pushed to our limit and then gradually reduce more activities that way.”
What? We will wait to see if we push the limit (which is what exactly?) and then gradually reduce activities (no circuit-breakers) in the hope that we catch up to the spike?
No, wait, scratch that.
Mr Luan just issued a retraction saying he was “incorrect in suggesting anyone is waiting until we’re pushed to the limit” and added, just so we’re clear, that he had no business speaking to the covid issue because he’s not involved “in any decision making around introducing new restrictions or hospital capacity,”
If a cabinet minister and associate minister of health is not involved in decision making around covid restrictions or hospital capacity, then who is?
Well, we all know it’s not Dr Hinshaw. She made it crystal clear she only provides recommendations to Mr Kenney that he chooses to follow or not, depending on, well, whatever.
We also know it’s not the Health Minister Mr Shandro, who declared war on doctors and front-line healthcare workers in the middle of the pandemic, but is of no help whatsoever when it comes to covid-related issues. Case in point, last week Rachel Notley asked him to provide the projected covid case number and R value for Dec 1. He told her to look at the modelling information Mr Kenney had provided last April.
The April model? The one Mr Kenney said projected covid to peak in May? The one that no one bothered to update since?
Well, what about the R value for covid for Dec 1? Mr Shandro ducked the question, sorry folks.
So if Alberta’s covid strategy is not in the hands of the chief medical officer, the health minister and the associate health minister it must be in the hands of the premier himself.
All eyes turn to Mr Kenney. Sorry, he’s still missing in action. (Albertans are so concerned about his nonappearance that #KenneyIsMissing is trending Canada-wide).
Perhaps Mr Kenney disappeared because he has no strategy.
If so, he could ask the epidemiologists, clinicians and public health officials for assistance or maybe he could consider what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in other jurisdictions. He could impose a “circuit-breaker” lockdown of eight, six, four, or two weeks or if that’s a bridge too far, he could start small by making masking mandatory and by replacing his failed contact tracing app with the federal contact tracing app.
Or he could do nothing at all because Albertans are people of destiny, stalwart souls, who would rather die than harm the economy.
Message from the economists
Mr Kenney lives in an ideological world made up of black and white choices. His default position is: whatever it is, it better be good for the economy.
This black and white decision-making model led Mr Kenney to present Albertans with a false dichotomy, a choice of protecting the economy or protecting people against the virus, when in fact his government can and should do both.
Economists like Aidan Hollis say the real question is not: how do we balance economic impact against excess deaths, but rather: when should politicians act to minimize deaths and morbidity and to protect the economy. The right time to act is before covid overwhelms our hospitals, politicians must get ahead of the curve and impose restrictions now when they’re in a better position to reduce harm to the economy and reduce the number of excess deaths. Economist Trevor Tombe agrees. He says, “There can be no sustained economic recovery without controlling the virus. Period.”
False dichotomies and logical fallacies
While we’re on the topic of illogical arguments, let’s consider two ridiculous arguments offered in support of Mr Kenney’s refusal to take decisive action:
- The number of covid deaths (451) pales in comparison to the total deaths in 2018-19 (26,037). By this logic we should stop donating to the Heart and Stroke fund because in 2018 there were only 371 deaths from congestive heart failure and we can skip Movember because there were only 398 prostate cancer deaths. Covid, unlike heart disease or prostate cancer, is a highly infectious disease, the focus on the number of covid deaths arises from a concern about the impact of deaths and illnesses that increase exponentially.
- The risk of death is small and if our $20 billion healthcare system can’t handle the surge without shutting down shops and restaurants, the fault lies with the healthcare system, not the premier. This misses the point that the purpose of the shutdown is to stop the exponential spread of this highly infectious disease (that’s what “flatten the curve” means) because failure to do so will create a tsunami that will overwhelm the healthcare system causing needless deaths as well as shutting down the economy because people who are afraid of dying or are at home taking care of the sick and dying are not out shopping.
Mr Kenney has jammed Albertans between a rock and a hard place.
He won’t fund the additional resources required to protect our healthcare workers, teachers and long-term care workers. He won’t provide additional financial support to Albertans working in essential services or unable to work because they’re ill or caring for someone who is ill (Finance Minister Toews blithely tells such Albertans to access federal programs because it’s their equalization money).
Notwithstanding Mr Kenney’s promise to give Albertans a “hand up” in hard times, he won’t give them a hand up when they need it most.
Fine, Albertans aren’t idiots. They’ll remember who was in charge when the second and third wave hit and Mr Kenney will pay the political price because to paraphrase economist Aidan Hollis, no one is going to worry that the government acted too aggressively to protect its population, but they won’t look kindly on a government that let its citizens die.