Eduvation Blog

Hooligans & Hypocrites

Good morning! 

Today I’m (virtually) at SAIT in Calgary, for what I’m sure will be a dynamic discussion about the post-pandemic future.

In this issue, I continue my effort to play catch-up with the news from the past month, and we turn to something that is about to become news again: Christmas. (Well, the whole holiday season really, from Hannukah through New Year’s Eve.)

Epiphany marked the 12th day of Christmas on Jan 6, but there’s an even bigger milestone still ahead…

 

27 Days of Christmas

Regular readers doubtless remember the “Month-Long Mortality Lag” I included in COVID101, my pandemic primer in 5 graphs. In Canada, we saw the Thanksgiving turkeys come home to roost with rising infections by Oct 23, and hospitals starting to overflow in November.

COVID cases typically take 4 weeks to run their course.

With an average of ~27 days from COVID19 infection to fatality report, we’re going to see a crest of unwanted “Christmas presents” around about Jan 21, and many unhappy returns from NYE celebrations on or about Jan 27.

When epidemiologists warned of an impending crisis, this is what they meant. Ontario is estimating daily COVID19 deaths will double to 100 in the next 6 weeks. As we saw yesterday, governments around the world tried to relax pandemic restrictions over the holidays, thinking that people would just break the rules anyway.

One exception was Italy, which announced Dec 2 a ban on all travel between regions of the country, to go into effect from Dec 21 to Jan 6. On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, they would not even be allowed to leave their own towns. Travel to second homes was prohibited. The governor of Lombardy called the order “crazy.”

 

Spreading the Love

Last-Minute Shopping

Ontario had already locked down the worst-hit regions around Toronto, but as the holidays approached the premier announced a province-wide lockdown to begin on Boxing Day. As usual, the advance warning only served to spark a frenzy of shopping activity, and hundreds of thousands living in lockdown zones simply drove to neighbouring regions to pack into shopping malls. Cellphone mobility data for the week before lockdown shows that in some regions, up to 70% of people were out and about, and those same regions show the steepest rise in infections now. Mall data shows that traffic from Toronto shoppers more than doubled over last year. During the holidays, Ontario’s case rate rose 23%, as Torontonians “spread the joy” across Southern Ontario.

“The few days before the lockdown… did the most damage of all the weeks leading up to Boxing Day. It was a big mistake to say, ‘Pretty please don’t gather for Christmas, but the day after Christmas, we’re putting down the sledgehammer.’”Jody Lanard, risk communications expert

 

Home for Christmas

Over the holidays, indoor gatherings were limited to 10 people in NS and PEI, and 20 in NB and NL. In all other provinces, the public were told not to socialize with anyone outside their own household. And yet, a national Leger poll found that almost half of Canadians admitted to visiting family or friends over the holidays, and 15% did so several times. Respondents in BC, AB, SK and MB were least likely to have done so at all, while 72% of those in Atlantic Canada did so, and 45% did so more than once (4x the rate in the rest of the country). Predictably, young people (aged 18-34) were most likely to have done so, and 61% admitted it.

Manitoba extended the province-wide “code red” restrictions on Jan 8 because of “a spike in illegal gatherings at private homes during the holiday season.” Such parties resulted in 355 new COVID19 cases, and so far 1,900 close contacts.

Most CdnPSE campuses sent students home over the winter break, and many have even extended it into late January or February. But recognizing the dangers of international travel, some ensured that students could tough out the holidays on an almost-empty campus. In Thunder Bay, Lakehead U and Confederation Collegesent about 100 international students a take-out Christmas dinner on Dec 29.

Personally, as someone who sacrificed all family contact this year, and hosted Christmas via Zoom for three generations of Steeles, I admit I am angered by the selfishness of so many others. But those who gathered at home were not the worst offenders…

 

Holiday Hooligans

Believe it or not, some people still think it’s OK to travel in the worst global pandemic of the century…

 

Corona on the Beach

It’s certainly not good news that 961,000 tourists flocked to the beaches of Cancun and district in Mexico for the holidays – almost half of them Americans. (The Europeans have better sense.) Tourism traffic was down just 25% from the previous year, and most hotels, gyms, and other facilities were operating at 50-70% capacity. The COVID19 positivity rate in that state of Mexico is ~50%, and weekly deaths quadrupled after Christmas.

Some Caribbean destinations enforced quarantine more strictly than others. Skylar Mack, an 18-year-old student at Georgia’s Mercer U, travelled to the Cayman Islands in November. Instead of observing the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival, she slipped off the electronic monitoring bracelet 2 days later, so she could watch her boyfriend compete in a jet ski championship, without wearing a mask. They were both sentenced to 4 months in prison (later reduced to 2 months). The maximum penalty for violating quarantine in the Caymans is a $10,000 fine and 2 years in prison. A number of high-profile tourists have also been caught violating quarantine in Barbados.

“In the most popular tourist destinations, you’re going to have epidemic activity increase again in a big way.”Mauricio Rodríguez, National Autonomous University Mexico, Medical School

 

Airborne Transmission

But it’s not just Americans of course. On Christmas Eve, dozens of flights departed Canadian airports for sunny destinations in the Caribbean. All promised health officials they would quarantine upon their return, of course, but many experts are very concerned about the lack of enforcement. And they suspect the federal government has not implemented a ban on non-essential travel because of lobbying from the airline industry.

Just one disgusting example will have to suffice: Dominique Baker, the acting manager of the Office of Border and Travel Health at the Public Health Agency of Canada, accepted an all-expenses-paid holiday in Jamaica courtesy of Air Canada Vacations in November, “even as her agency has been advising Canadians since March to avoid non-essential travel to combat the spread of COVID19.” (How on earth did she think it was ethical to accept such a complimentary trip??) Air Canada claims not to have known Baker was employed with the government.

Naturally, Jan 3 was the busiest US air travel day since the pandemic began, with 1.3 million people flying that day alone. Just as Mexico and the US hit record-breaking COVID19 infection levels, and the new UK variant began to appear.

“It’s safe to travel. It’s the parts after you’ve travelled and come back that are more problematic.”Karl Moore, Management Prof, McGill U

 

Hypocrites Redux

While selfish tourists recklessly spreading a deadly virus worldwide are deplorable, still more outrageous are the innumerable examples of political leaders breaking the very rules they have imposed…

 

Just One Month Ago

In early December, we explored the ways in which toxic masculinity and a youthful sense of invincibility were contributing to defiance of common-sense health restrictions, and in particular I focused on hypocritical politicians who broke their own rules, hosting weddings or large dinner parties. Most examples at the time were American, and typically Democrats – because the Republicans simply didn’t impose restrictions in the first place. I did, however, single out the health minister of Newfoundland & Labrador, and the hospital staff at Western’s University Hospital. (More on that in a moment!)

But the Thanksgiving turkeys were nothing compared to what Christmas brought to light…

 

Privileged Politicians

Despite months of federal and provincial government advisories to avoid all non-essential travel, the list of Canadian politicians caught vacationing in sunnier climes last month is too long to do it justice. From east to west, they include:

In Quebec, Liberal member Pierre Arcand was asked to return from vacation in Barbados, and stripped of his critic role. Liberal MPs Sameer Zuberi, Patricia Lattanzio, Alexandra Mendes, and Lyne Bessette all recently admitted to travelling internationally for a range of reasons. Zuberi and Khera have stepped down.

In Ontario, Finance Minister Rod Phillips headed to St Barts on Dec 13 when the Toronto region was already in lockdown. On Christmas Eve, he thanked healthcare workers on Twitter, writing “as we all make sacrifices this Christmas, remember that some of our fellow citizens won’t even be home for Christmas dinner over Zoom.” Phillips cut his vacation short when the premier expressed displeasure, and has resigned from cabinet. Steve Tanner, Halton Police Chief, apologized for travelling to Florida, and although there is no word yet on his future, the mayor of Oakville has resigned from the board for approving the trip.

In Manitoba, Clerk of Executive Council David McLaughlin spent the latter half of December working from his family home in Ontario. The premier’s office denies he was on vacation, and his status as a government official apparently exempted him from the need to quarantine upon his return. MP Niki Ashton was stripped of her role as critic after visiting Greece. James Teitsma, the MLA for Radisson, travelled through Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia over the holidays with his household. He won’t face any penalty.

“We’ve got to subordinate our individual selfish desires to a sense of community, and it’s critically important that our politicians communicate this. It’s critically important that they walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.”Arthur Schafer, uManitoba bioethicist

 

In Saskatchewan, Minister of Highways Joe Hargrave travelled to Palm Springs with his wife, ostensibly to sell a home there (although it wasn’t listed until Boxing Day). After several discussions with the premier, he stepped down from his cabinet position. Gordon Barnhart, leader of the Municipalities of Saskatchewan, former Lieutenant-Governor, and former interim president at uSaskatchewan, apparently vacationed in Hawaii. MuniSask has publicly expressed its disappointment.

In Alberta, fully 10% of UCP MLAs have admitted to travelling abroad in December, and 7 have resigned or been demoted. Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard stepped down over her vacation in Hawaii. Pat Rehn, Alberta MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, wished his Facebook friends a Merry Christmas from Cancun, “despite having also posted government messaging encouraging Albertans to stay home.” Jamie Huckabay, premier Kenney’s Chief of Staff, was asked to resign over his trip to the UK.

Perhaps most moving was the outrage of Lia Lousier, mother of a terminally ill 9-year-old who had to cancel their Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii last year because of the pandemic. She called Tracy Allard’s trip to Hawaii “a huge kick in the teeth to average people.”

“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe. They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.”Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta

 

Even in the Northwest Territories, “at least two” senior officials travelled over the holidays. The newly-appointed head of the COVID19 secretariat, Associate Deputy Minister of Health Russell Neudorf, travelled to Kelowna BC with his wife. Bruce Cooper, the Deputy Minister of Health, travelled to Newfoundland for the holidays with his wife and children.

 

Hospital CEOs

Tom Stewart, the CEO of St Joseph’s Health System in Hamilton ON, and also a member of a provincial health advisory panel, vacationed in the Dominican Republic over the holidays – while his frontline staff were fighting off COVID19 outbreaks. He was fired Jan 6, but “without cause” – so he also gets a belated Christmas gift of >$1M in severance pay.  CBC

Martine Bouchard, CEO of St Boniface Hospital in Manitoba, travelled to her family home in Quebec over the holidays to visit her husband and children. While she was away, “hospital officials were asking healthcare workers to voluntarily give up their booked time off in late December and January, in exchange for vacation pay.” Winnipeg Free Press

Paul Woods, the CEO of London Health Sciences Centre who publicly excoriated his staff for taking breaks in cramped lunch rooms and sparking a catastrophic series of COVID19 outbreaks, was all the while travelling back and forth to the US on 5 separate occasions, including during the Christmas holidays. “We must set ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to living and modelling public health guidelines both inside and outside our workplace,” he wrote on Nov 19. “Willfully choosing to not adhere to our critical safety practices while at work may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” Accordingly, the board fired him on Monday, although it is unclear whether with or without cause.  CBC

“Our nurses have been restricted from getting together with their loved ones over the holidays, but I guess those rules don’t apply to [CEO Paul Woods].”James Gibbons, Nurse, LHSC

 

University Administrators

So far, few CdnPSE leaders have made headlines for their holiday plans, but…

Peter Berman, head of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, should obviously have known better than to travel to Hawaii during the winter break. He has apologized.  Global

 

Pandemic Ethics

It is truly saddening to see how many people seem unable to grasp the simple ethical principles of “Do unto others” or even Spock’s Vulcan philosophy…

The Needs of the Many…

Whether you’re a manager of Border and Travel Health, a Minister of Health, a hospital CEO, or just any Canadian at all, York U philosophy prof Alice MacLachlan points out that Immanuel Kant’s simple question would have stopped their travel plans before they began: “What would happen if everyone acted on the principle I’m following right now?” And UBC political science prof Max Cameron observes that Aristotle believed “politicians should be exemplary citizens.”  CBC

 

Cases on Campus

Although it’s a bit tedious and only going to get worse, readers are encouraging me to keep on with this roll call. You can find my running totals in my master spreadsheet, but since yesterday there are 74 CdnPSE cases to add:

Brock U reported 1 new case on campus yesterday. (Total 6 since Sept)

Durham College reported 1 new case at the Whitby campus yesterday. (Total 40 since Sept)

McMaster U reported 2 confirmed cases on campus yesterday, one a student and the other “an employee with an external company.” (Total 24 since Sept)

Queen’s U has tracked a total of 87 confirmed cases in their community since Sept, including 9 cases in residence. They are maintaining a wonderfully transparent dashboard, but I’ve only been noticing news reports like this one. So, since I had just 17 on the tally before, I have to add 70 more today.

 

And in the US…

Rutgers U (NJ) president Jonathan Holloway has tested positive for COVID19, which he contracted “at my home.” He is “paring back his schedule” for 10 days.

 

Postscript

Stricter Measures for Ontario

As expected, Ontario premier Doug Ford announced new lockdown measures yesterday, effective tomorrow, including a state of emergency until Feb 9, sweeping stay-at-home and WFH orders, 8pm curfew for non-essential stores, more intense testing in workplaces, limits on non-essential construction, and of 5 persons for outdoor gatherings. Projections for Feb include up to 20,000 new COVID cases and 100 deaths daily. K-12 schools will be closed for in-person learning in Toronto, York and Peel Regions, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex. (MCU will be following up on regulations today, but most Ontario PSEs do not seem to expect any change to their current operations.)  Globe & Mail

 

#ICYMI

 

Where is UNB?

Back in October, the University of New Brunswick introduced an eye-catching new brand campaign, “UNB is Here” (to follow the #OnlyHere campaign). The “people-focused” strategy focuses on the local and global impact of UNB faculty, staff, students and alumni. Essentially, “UNB is wherever its people are changing the world.” The ads highlight “moments of connection, collaboration, and real-world applications of UNB research, teaching and scholarship.”  UNB Marketing Blog  |  UNBishere Landing page  |  YouTube playlist

 

Phew! As always, thanks for reading!  I’m not sure what I’ll be able to pull together for tomorrow’s edition, but in the meantime, do stay safe and be well!

Ken

 

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