Wednesday, September 22, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, happy Hobbit Day, and happy Autumnal Equinox!
We’re now astronomically into the first REAL day of Fall – and a day past the disappointment of an unnecessary and pointless $600M federal election. Our sense of déjà vu is heightened by the inevitable cycle of September street parties and political backpedalling, too, as the pandemic starts its surge in the northern hemisphere…
I summed up a week’s worth of pandemic trends in Monday’s “Parties, Protests & Politics,” from the warzone out west and more and more vaccine passport programs to Ontario’s overeager move to lift capacity restrictions on ONpse classrooms. A few more updates…
1,900 Deaths a Day
The US is now recording 1,900+ COVID19 deaths each day, primarily among the 71M unvaxxed Americans. (New daily cases are “only” 139,000.) The country is facing medical supply shortages for everything from exam tables to defibrillators. In a sombre memorial, 650,000 tiny white flags have been planted across 20 acres of the National Mall in Washington DC, representing American deaths from COVID19, as “a physical manifestation of empathy.” The COVID19 pandemic has now killed about as many in the US as the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic (although the population of the country was just a third as big at the time). uWashington models project another 100,000 or so US deaths by Jan 1.
Heads Roll in Alberta
With another 4,633 new cases of COVID19 this weekend, Alberta’s hospitalizations have hit a record high of 954, and the province is asking Ottawa to help airlift COVID19 patients to other provinces. Since premier Jason Kenney won’t fall on his sword over his fatal act of hubris this summer, his health minister will have to do it: Tyler Shandro has been replaced by Jason Copping in a damage-control cabinet shuffle. The UCP party’s VP of Policy is publicly calling for Kenney’s resignation, but uAlberta political scientist John Church warns “Kenney is unlikely to go quietly.”
Bracing for More Parties
In the wake of off-campus violence and on-campus sexual assaults (detailed on Monday), Western U is now bracing for Homecoming and “FoCo” (“Fake Homecoming”) celebrations this weekend. Official homecoming events, which are largely virtual this year, begin tomorrow. (In 2016, Western moved Homecoming to mid-October, hoping cooler weather might allow cooler heads to prevail. But it only caused the emergence of Fake Homecoming in late September too.) City politicians are expressing concern that once again, “thousands of student revelers” may flood the streets near campus. “Unsanctioned street parties are environments where incidents of violence and injury pose real threats and present serious risks to everyone.” The local PHO has doubled fines (up to $5,000) for parties larger than 25 indoors or 100 outdoors, and London Police plan to enlist assistance from other jurisdictions to have a “highly visible presence this weekend.” (In 2019, FoCo drew ~25,000 partiers, police issued 2,000+ warnings and 62 tickets, and policing costs exceeded $300,000.) London Free Press
Monday’s federal election won’t be entirely over until all the mail-in ballots are counted, but it seems clear that everyone is disappointed…
Justin Trudeau is obviously disappointed that he gambled on an early election and failed to gain more than a couple of seats in parliament (despite claiming to have gained a “clear mandate”). Erin O’Toole was really expecting a better showing for the Conservatives, after alienating part of his base with a more centrist platform – but it appears they broke even on seats, after Jason Kenney and the PPC “kneecapped” his campaign. Jagmeet Singh likely hoped to gain more than a single seat, too, but at least he still holds the balance of power in a minority parliament again. Green party leader Annamie Paul has been consumed by party infighting throughout, and failed in her third attempt to win a seat. (And I think we’re all somewhat sobered by the fact that Maxime Bernier’s alt-right, anti-science PPC garnered 800,000+ Canadian votes, more than twice their take in 2019.) Pundits are already asking when the “political knives” will come out, as caucuses question the future of their leaders – but in a minority parliament, most doubt the major parties will consider a change.
Obviously, those of us who bothered to vote are asking ourselves why, when the outcome changes nothing (and most of us weren’t exactly passionate fans of the status quo either). Plenty of people opted not to bother, in the midst of a pandemic, as evidenced by voter turnout that’s estimated at about 59%. I know people who faced hours-long lines at the polls on election day, and some gave up entirely. Students at Queen’s and at UBC reportblocks-long lineups and 3-hour waits to vote, hours after the polls closed! (I always hit the advance polls, and in a pandemic that seemed like the only sensible thing to do.) At plenty of other CdnPSEs, there was no campus polling station at all thanks to Elections Canada’s decision to cancel the Vote on Campus program. (20,000 people signed a petition demanding the program’s return, calling its termination a form of voter suppression.)
“I’m livid about the absolute failure that was Elections Canada’s decision to not run the student vote program. It’s proven to help youth turnout. No excuses.” – Gerald Baier, political science prof, UBC
Naturally, epidemiologists are concerned that holding a federal election amidst a booming fourth wave of the pandemic could stir the pot and contribute to further spread of COVID19. (Although masks were required at polling stations, vaccination was not.) Elections “produce spikes in physical mobility,” and one study concluded that they prompted 23% greater new COVID19 infections within weeks in the Czech Republic in 2020. PPC rallies and watch parties attracted hundreds of largely unmasked people to a Saskatoon ballroom, and will almost inevitably spark new cases.
Perhaps not. Amidst an unpredictable pandemic, ongoing travel restrictions, complicated vaccine mandates and a sputtering economy, would an upheaval in Ottawa really have benefited anybody in CdnPSE? Certainly Alex Usher enjoyed the opportunity to rant yesterday (in a midnight blog entitled “Yawn”) about the meaninglessness of Liberal campaign promises in which the details are never meant to be taken seriously. The election result means “both cautious optimism and hurry-the-hell up and give them alternative ideas to implement,” so far as CdnPSE is concerned. Alex’s analysis last week observed that the Liberal platform emphasized some “boutique” research initiatives and equity targets, increased R&D support to entrepreneurial companies, 1,000 more CRCs (although funded how?), $75M a year for research commercialization, and a “deeply under-baked” idea for a new Canadian DARPA, called CARPA. (He also did some in-depth analysis of the platform’s plans for student aid, which certainly exceeds the 2019 platform’s promises but is “a mixed bag,” wasting billions to eliminate loan interest.)
I know, I know, we’ve heard enough about vaccine mandates by now. (I’ve written 46,000 words on the subject since March, all of which you can find in the Insider Recap on Vaccination Policies.) But I’m obsessive about closure, apparently…
More Vax Passports
Provincial premiers and PHOs are realizing that, to increase vaccine uptake among the 20-39-year-old population, nothing has proven as effective as requiring vaccination for entry to bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Alberta’s proof of vaccination policy came into effect Monday, and Ontario’s does so today(although you’ll have to find your own way to carry the PDFs around on your smartphone until Oct 22). Ontario premier Doug Ford introduced the measure apologetically: “This pandemic remains an emergency and there are real-world consequences of not acting.” Yesterday, PEI premier Dennis King announced a PEI VaxPass, and vaccinate-or-test policy for some provincial workers, both effective Oct 5. Around the world, as of Oct 1 even the Vatican will require the EU’s GreenPass as proof of immunity (although exemptions are available to attend mass).
I summarized last week (“The Last Dominoes Fall?”) the impact of Alberta’s state of emergency on ABpses, and how at least 10 suspended in-person classes in order to implement the new “restrictions exemption” protocol for vaccinated students, staff and faculty this week. Since then, they have been joined by AUarts, Lethbridge College, Medicine Hat College, NAIT, NorQuest, Olds College and Red Deer Polytechnic (for whom it was a significant reversal of position).
This Fall, as we resist our sense of déjà vu or “here we go again,” our inner psychological state is worth closer examination…
Craving a Fresh Start
As the Delta wave ushers in an autumn of renewed mask mandates and COVID19 anxiety, this “prolonged liminal state” is causing many people to experience “pandemic flux syndrome”: blunted emotions, spikes in depression and anxiety, and a midlife-crisis-like urge “to drastically change something about their lives.” We have depleted our psychological “surge capacity” (much like Alberta hospitals), endured 18 months of uncertainty, and now have been denied our much-anticipated “fresh start moment.” Moreover, many people anticipated that summer get-togethers were going to be far more satisfying than they actually were – the return to “normal” was underwhelming. A trauma social worker explains that our sense of emptiness can lead to feeling out of control, and “we then try to regain control by changing what we can, including our jobs, relationships or appearances, somehow redefining our self-concept.” (Others withdraw, shut down, and seek an escape from reality in isolation.) Washington Post
Many antivaxxers are responding to “existential anxiety” in the pandemic by seeking to join something “larger than ourselves, that transcends our personal lives,” according to Acadia U psychology prof Joseph Hayes. Rhetoric about personal freedoms cast vaccine hesitancy in heroic terms, giving their actions greater significance and making life “meaningful and worthy of meaning.” Conversely, pro-vax advocates can feel the same way, as they feel they are “part of ridding the world of COVID.” CBC
Brace for More Pandemic
As long-time readers doubtless already realize, the pandemic won’t be over in the next 6 months. Around the world, billions of people remain vulnerable, either because they are vaccine-resistant, unable to access the vaccine, immunocompromised or too young to be eligible. COVID19 has demonstrated it will not be contained or eliminated: it is on track to become endemic in the human species, and the pandemic won’t be over until 95% of the global population has been vaccinated or developed natural immunity. Infectious disease experts warn that recurrent surges and outbreaks will continue to close schools and cancel classes, bring hospitals close to overwhelm, and nurture new variants – potentially with even greater immune-escape qualities. “The race between the waves of transmission that lead to new variants and the battle to get the globe inoculated won’t be over until the coronavirus has touched all of us.” National Post
“This is a coronavirus forest fire that will not stop until it finds all the human wood that it can burn.” – Michael Osterholm, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, uMinnesota
Since we’re summing up the federal election, and the sense that nothing changes, here’s a “22 Minutes” segment not to be missed…
Red Pill? Nothing Changes…
22 Minutes’ Trent McClellan does a brilliant impression of Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, offering Neo a choice between the red pill, blue pill, orange pill, or purple pill. “Choose the red pill, and nothing changes.” But “choose the blue pill, and everything changes, pretty much guaranteed for the worse.” Or take the orange pill, he says, “pretty much a placebo.” Ultimately, take the red pill and feel “a twinge of disappointment.” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
Please do drop me a line with your questions, tips, or observations about trends and developments on your campus, or elsewhere.
Stay safe and be well,
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