Sunday, December 19, 2021

Is doing the right thing really the right thing?

IT'S hard, right now, to really put into words everything I feel at the moment.

So I'll just begin where my brain wants me to begin and work from there.

On Friday night, I went to a rave. To be honest, it really wasn't anything special. It felt like a glorified high school dance complete with the barest of bare-bone setups and all the awkwardness. I feel bad saying all that because I'm sure the rave promoters put in a lot of hard work and I did actually enjoy myself, but I also feel like the promoters deserve an honest take if they're ever to get better at their craft.

Under normal conditions, something like that wouldn't be notable. On to the next night, one that hopefully is a bit more epic.


Unless you live under a rock (which is maybe something I should consider), these are not normal times.

Friday night- because of new, ridiculous rules brought in where I live, the Canadian province of Ontario- will represent the last time I'll get to enjoy a night out in quite some time. How long...who knows, because who knows when restrictions ever get lifted.

I'll spare you the details, except to moan that- once again- pandemic policy follows the "War on Fun" mentality that has failed so many times during the course of the crisis that I wonder why they keep trying. Not just that, but also because Ontario went further than expected. They didn't just cut capacity limits, they also imposed a curfew on venues, closed concession stands everywhere and banned dancing and singing, which they never did during the "vaccine era".

The government insists this isn't a lockdown but, by banning everything fun, it has the same effect.

It also seems unconscionable now that vaccines are widely available to everyone. Since mid-September, unvaccinated Ontarians (by choice) are barred from entering anywhere that would feature dancing, singing or concession stands, a decision spurred by the fact that the unvaccinated are more likely to end up in the hospital than the vaccinated, which has- still- held up to this day.

So, you would think, if Ontario was truly worried about "overwhelmed hospitals", the go-to move would be to get more of the unvaccinated to get the vaccine rather than restrict what the vaccinated can do, since the latter will only shave a few fractions of percentage points off your hospital case growth while the latter will shave several percentage points off your hospital case growth.

The only reason why you'd impose restrictions on where "vaccine passports" apply- especially ones as onerous as just implemented- would be if the vaccines stopped working. In which case, the vaccine passport is a useless policy.

Anyway, that's just me, and we could waste countless hours debating the topic.

What I really want to touch upon is how I feel. As I exited the rave, feeling melancholy that this might be the last time in quite some time, one question crossed my mind:

"Why did it all come down to this?"

Let me start by saying that, throughout the pandemic, I did what I could to do "the right thing". I wore my mask. I minimized my contacts. I tried to do everything outdoors, resisting vehemently any attempt to do indoor activities.

I did that until I got vaccinated. Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on May 29 and June 26, exactly four weeks apart. Why Pfizer? My brother's a longtime shareholder and all the data I saw on that vaccine pointed to it being the best, so I went with it.

Let me state that I never did believe the vaccine was going to make me impervious. No such vaccine- for any pathogen- exists. I just wanted to get back to a more "normal" sense of risk assessment, as, if the vaccine works as it should, the worst any interaction would give me is a bad cold.

Not the greatest thing in the world, but something I can live with.

I had a sense that the vaccine was my ticket to "freedom" from the shackles of the pandemic, and I was not alone. Both the Governments of Canada and Ontario ran ads literally telling people that vaccines were freedom, our ticket to getting back to normal.

Sure, the road ahead would still be bumpy as we worked towards getting everyone inoculated that we can, but there was no turning back.

At least there shouldn't have been.

Yeah, I heard quite a few naysayers suggest that, come winter, we'd be back in lockdown again. I, naively, didn't believe them, because I didn't think the government would be that foolish. Lockdown would be an admission that the vaccines don't work, raising the question of what would actually stop the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions for good.

Which means today that- rightly or wrongly- I feel all that energy "doing the right things" has gone to waste.

Yes, I do realize that there truly is only so much I can do and that the situation can change unpredictably, because science is like that.

It's still not enough to alleviate my disappointment, not just in the course of the pandemic but also with how our increasingly incompetent officials have handled it.

Truthfully, what does new, aggressive restrictions tell people like me who "did everything right"?

I'll tell you what it tells me- all of my efforts are in vain, and any more efforts will be futile, because there will be no way I can do anything to avoid "going back to square one" because nothing I did stopped us from getting there.

Sure, you can tell me that what I did wasn't in vain and the situation is really different now, but how bad is it, really?

You can tell me that I run the risk of passing off the virus to someone who is "at risk" but I somehow doubt that number is really that high and, well, I could pass off a number of other diseases that we don't  seem to care about to people "at risk" too.

Plus, there will always be "people at risk", and that wasn't going to change even if everything went swimmingly.

You can tell me that I run the risk of passing off the virus to someone who is unvaccinated by choice and I could send them to the hospital, but, seriously? At this stage during the pandemic, I doubt there are many people left who are unvaccinated and not content with that choice, because if they were, they'd just get vaccinated.

Frankly, if an unvaccinated person gets sick because of me, it's on them, not me, because they could have taken up the vaccine and not gotten sick in the first place but they chose not to. I mean, if someone jumps out of a plane without a parachute despite being offered one, any severe outcomes is entirely on them.

Finally, you can tell me that "there will always be new variants, and they could come at any moment and change the game". Yes, this is true. Yes I recognize that mutations will occur that will make the vaccines less effective over time and necessitate the creation of new ones or the importance of getting boosted. This is how we deal with the influenza virus since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919.

I know SARS-CoV2 is a coronavirus and not influenza, but the situation is still the same. Every time a new strain of influenza emerges, we don't go back to 1919. We learn, we adapt, we plan and we adjust so we can deal with the strain with as little disruption as possible. We need to do this with SARS-CoV2. We may not know as much about SARS-CoV2 as we do with the flu but I do think after two years we should have some idea of how it behaves even at its worst so we can plan for things with minimal disruption.

The fact that we haven't is absolutely inexcusable at this stage. The fact that I'm also paying for it is completely reprehensible. My tax dollars are literally going to the people who should have done their jobs and planned for SARS-CoV2, so I'm well within my rights to say they ought to be replaced with new leaders who will actually do the jobs they're supposed to do.

If I could give our policymakers the benefit of the doubt- and I'm not sure I will, but, if I did- I would say that the critical error in their decisions is prioritizing the elimination of COVID-19 as the end goal.

This, in of itself, is not a bad strategy. It's probably the ultimate goal, like it is with any disease. However, if it is the primary strategy in dealing with COVID-19, our policymakers have made a mess of trying to implement it.

The first part is obvious. If SARS-CoV2 is so dangerous that it absolutely cannot spread between anyone, let alone worldwide, then why, after two years, are we still dealing with a virus that is running rampant and pretty much unabated everywhere it goes? Either it can't be eliminated or the policies enacted to eliminate it are ineffective. There are no other explanations.

The second part is that our policymakers have used daily reports of positive test results as a metric for policy decisions. This was problematic right from the beginning, simply because we never did get close to testing everyone in a given population or even test a subset of people based on a random sample.

Which is a problem few seem to understand, because we never truly understand the prevalence of the virus within the population. If, say, on Day X there were 4,000 cases recorded and on Day Y, 5,000 were recorded, it may look like the prevalence is increasing. However, what if on Day X there were 6,000 undetected cases (making Day X's total 10,000) and on Day Y there were 3,000 (making Day Y's total 8,000)?

Prevalence is actually going down, but you wouldn't know it by the data that is collected.

All this points to is a problem with the leadership at the top. Make no mistake, they're the ones who have made this mess from the beginning and they're the ones who have contributed to the mess that is occurring right now.

Which just highlights the main frustration I have with the pandemic response. Our leaders have been woefully ineffective, and because of their ineffectiveness, I have to pay for it.

Now, they have shown that they cannot be trusted either, because vaccination didn't avoid the "worst case scenario". How am I supposed to believe that a booster or anything else asked of me to "stem the tide of COVID-19" will actually work now that it's been demonstrated that it hasn't?

Through it all, I try to see the positives. I know the seemingly never-ending restrictions will end at some point because countries cannot sustain them. Businesses- and people- will not stay in a country that may only be open for four or five months a year. Countries will have to figure out the least disruptive policies going forward because they will have no choice.

It still doesn't mean that the anger and sadness I feel today is any less real. The virus may not care what I think but the people paid to manage it should care what I think. Let me tell you, after two years of doing the right things, I'm tired of having to pay for the consequences of their ineptitude.

I'm sure I'm not alone.

It's beyond time that our leaders needed to do better, but "better late than never" to start. If not, I'm going to demand they be replaced with better leaders.

Because I'm not sure how much longer I can put up with paying for their ineptitude. That, I'm sure, I'm not alone on.

Do better and stop messing around.

-Daniel Arnold

Friday, December 17, 2021

A cartoon about how policymakers really view the pandemic crisis- and any crisis really.