31 August 2020

Warning: Elephant Crossing #nlpoli

Lots of people are very worried and some are quite upset about the government's plan to re-open schools next week.

There's more than enough controversy,  way too much noise, and very little useful information to get into here, but there is one aspect of the way people are talking about this that fits with a pattern your humble e-scribbler has noted before.

It's the tendency for local opinion leaders - local elites - to talk about doing things here based on what is happening somewhere else. Back in June, all the enthusiasm for tearing down statues prompt the post called "Mimicry and pantomime" that described several examples of this behaviour that didn't involve racism.  By the way, notice that it was a very popular topic then but has vanished just as surely as it disappeared from CNN.

Anyone on Twitter this weekend would have seen a raft of comments from teachers across the province holding out Ontario government policy as the plan we should follow in this province.  If we were the same as Ontario, doing that would make sense.  But we aren't Ontario and are not likely to become Ontario any time soon.  

That's because the basic public health strategy here not only limits the likelihood disease will arrive but it is also very good at quickly identifying cases that do show up and contact tracing to contain the spread.  That's what worked in the spring - not the travel ban or closing schools prematurely or  anything else - and it continues to work now.  In fact, it is so effective that, based on the best expert advice globally, we could probably have lower restrictions on the public than we do now and send the kids back to school without masks or social-distancing. 

That idea likely sets people in the horrors but just look at the facts of the case.  Right now,  we have one positive case in Newfoundland and Labrador.  And that one was identified on arriving from outside Canada.  Contact tracing has turned up no new cases since this one was spotted on the weekend.  There likely won;t be more.  The time before that, one traveling worker brought home a case of COVID and his partner and child got sick.  That's it.

In Ontario, there are more than 1,000 active cases. They also don't have any feasible way to limit people moving across the province's borders.  It's a totally different world from the one in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Even living next door to the province with the highest number of cases,  we have not seen a massive outbreak despite thousands of people a=coming and going from the province every week.

It could happen here, you say.  Well, sure, and when it does we should take the same kinds of measures to control the spread they are taking in Ontario. They've been very effective, by the way in getting the disease under control there.  Only a handful of hospitalisations and ICU cases compared to last spring.

But why would we adopt the same steps they are taking in Ontario when there is nothing like the situation here right now.  Imagine the expense, not to mention the fear and anxiety. It's a bit like putting up "bison crossing" or "elephant crossing" signs here when there are no elephants or bison here.

Maybe we should put them up anyway, just in case. To adapt another argument used for a policy move that doesn't really apply here, we could put the signs up to get people used to it in the event elephants do come here.  You never know, some would say.

Don't be silly.  Elephants won't come here, some will say.

True, but here are a couple of other ideas that actually highlight the weirdness of what is going on in the province in a relevant but no less absurd a way. 

What about snow-clearing in July?  There should be snow ploughs on the road, driving around, spreading salt just in case there's a sudden fall of flakes.

Make people wear winter clothes in August to get used to them when the snow comes.

COVID is one of the most important issues in the province right now.  We should be concerned about it.  People should speak their minds.

But merciful heavens, it is odd that their minds are in Toronto or Toledo and not Torbay.