Friday, September 23, 2022

Pandemic vs Endemic

Why Covid is now being called endemic instead of pandemic, and why that's even worse

TL/DR: Endemic means we've plateaued instead of having sudden waves of cases over and over. BUT we're plateauing at a very high rate. It means that it might not go up much, but it also means, without some serious immediate protections in place (mask, vax, and ventilate!), it also won't go down. Our current health care system cannot manage current caseload levels. 

Dr. David Fisman (check out his credentials here!) was on the Re-Sisters a couple days ago. It's an amazing podcast, and Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth was also on, so do give it a listen, but I'm just going to focus on Dr. Fisman's explanation of endemic here:

I actually don't disagree with Joe Biden's statement that the pandemic as a pandemic is over. I think if you look at the data in terms of deaths qualitatively, globally, we've been in a very different place for about the last 3-4 months, and I think that's great. You know, pandemics have beginning, middle and end. I think the difficulty is when a president says the pandemic's over. Everybody's eager to be done with this thing and go and time child back to 2019, and I think that's mostly how that's interpreted.


But you can't go back to 2019, and I think that's the difficulty as we now have a highly virulent, highly transmissible virus that infects blood vessels, that's an endemic threat. It's everywhere in the world, and it's infecting people at high, stable levels. So it's not causing these huge, massive waves.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Personal Troubles and Public Issues

"People do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction." Developing a sociological imagination is necessary so that, "By such means the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit troubles and the indifference of publics is transformed into involvement with public issues....To understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them."        ~ C. Wright Mills in "The Promise"

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society"        ~ attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti in Mark Vonnegut's The Eden Express

There was an excellent op ed on mental health, by Danielle Carr, in the New York Times yesterday. I'm saving pieces here. She looks at how we treat mental illness, and how futile some efforts have been. Many have been led to believe the problem is a matter of access to care, but she goes down a different road.

Are we really in a mental health crisis? A crisis that affects mental health is not the same as a crisis of mental health. To be sure, symptoms of crisis abound. But in order to come up with effective solutions, we first have to ask: a crisis of what?

It's politics. She uses the term "reification" to explain the institutional gaslighting in which political problems are spun as personal problems which conveniently "abracadabras" away any nosy questions about who started it and who benefits from it. 

It's how, for example, the effects of unregulated tech oligopolies become 'social media addiction,' how climate catastrophe caused by corporate greed becomes a 'heat wave'--and, by the way, how the effect of struggles between labor and corporations combines with high energy prices to become 'inflation.'

In medicine, it's called "medicalization," which focuses on an individual's body while ignoring the social system that's often at the root of the problem. Like with the mental health issues arising from Covid. Incidents of depression and anxiety have increased dramatically, but that's not surprising given the circumstances: "feelings of anxiety and sadness are entirely normal reactions to difficult circumstances, not symptoms of poor mental health." Looking at the data, economic security is the biggest predictor of a mental illness during a crisis: "it's not simply a question of the numbers on your bank statement - although that is a major predictor of outcomes - but of whether you live in a society where the social fabric has been destroyed."

Monday, September 19, 2022

Campaign Video

 I was asked for an "at the door" video of myself. Here it is!

Teachable Moments: Should Schools Teach About Covid?

 I've been talking with parents who are trying desperately to keep their kids safe in the classroom. It sounds like most staff and students are unmasked despite higher Covid numbers in the hospital and higher fatality rates than last year at this time. It doesn't have to be like this.

A big part of the problem is the type of messaging that says something like this: "Please understand and be tolerant of classmates who are still wearing masks." It makes it clear, subversively, that NOT wearing a mask is the normal thing to do. But shouldn't schools be teaching the facts about Covid?? We should expect students to come home educated about what's happening in the world around them as it affects them. When recycling was brought in to our cities, they targeted kids in grades 2-5 to bring the message home to parents, and it worked! In some science classes, people are learning how Corsi-Rosenthal boxes work, but they're still not allowed in our board. But here are some other options for lessons in the classroom to develop an educated populous.

First, kids need to understand a bit about how politics works and why Biden might suggest the pandemic's over despite averaging 500 deaths/day in the U.S. right now, which is more than a 9/11 tragedy every week.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

What To Do If Our Classrooms Aren't Safe

I'm getting these types of questions over and over: What should I do if other students and the teachers won't wear masks? What do I do if my child gets Covid? It's the hardest question to answer because there isn't a clear solution when people in charge are ignoring or oblivious to a harmful virus being allowed full reign in classrooms. Public health strongly encourages wearing a mask in indoor public places, but stops short of mandates, possibly to avoid a backlash from the loudest protesters, some with a menacing presence. We have to be louder.

Here are a few suggestions that might work for some parents and in some schools. I understand the privilege some of these measures require, so if you've got it, use it to help the rest of the class! It's frustrating and discouraging that I don't have a better answer, and I'm sorry for that.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

On not Grasping for the Good

 I'm taking a university course on Asian Wisdom, which I'm really enjoying.

My prof told a story about Buddha that concludes that we should only tell others of a better way to live if we're asked for advice; otherwise, we should never impose our morals on others because our moral purpose is personal. Whoops!! Lao Tzu's story is similar: he wrote the Tao Te Ching only after people asked for him how to live our best lives. Otherwise, he would have just gone on doing his thing and being a good role model, but never suggesting anyone should follow him. Kind of like Jesus and maybe even Socrates.

But does that stand even for the most basic moral tenets, like do no harm? Doesn't that go without saying?

And isn't the rule a bit of a paradox as it's telling us that we shouldn't tell people how to live?? But maybe I asked when I picked up the book and signed up for the course. Maybe there's a get-around if we leave advice strewn about, but don't present it to anyone specifically. It's just there for the taking, like this blog.

But what if we see harm about to happen? I can get with the idea of just living rightly and hoping others follow our model, but aren't we complicit if we see preventable harm and don't act? And what about the role of parents and teachers and legislators to tell us which values to follow or precisely the right thing to do? Or do more laws just make more criminals?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Strategic Plan: What about Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic??

This isn't a response to a question directed at me, but some people are questioning trustee campaigns like mine that speak to equity and student well being without mentioning how to improve academics, and there are many concerned voices on Facebook addressing the board's new Strategic Plan. Here's a sampling:

  • "I don't like vague promises."
  • "Ford government continues to make cutbacks to education, so how can the Director say they will provide them with the resources they need? What exactly does that entail?"
  • "This board has never mentioned the Right to Read inquiry going on."
  • "This agenda that's taking the next generation to a wishy washy sphere."
  • "Strategic plans lack the how that most people require in order to understand the impact."
  • "We can't keep aiming for the lowest common denominator. We should be shooting for the highest possible results and then look at the ones who didn't achieve."
  • "'Skills and knowledge needed to excel in the classroom' seems to be an afterthought."
  • "Bring back cursive writing, how to budget, how to grow food..."
  • "There's no math, science, reading... in the goals."

What IS a Strategic Plan?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

On Vaccine Mandates

Vaccine mandates were just ruled as legal and enforceable by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice after a challenge to Seneca College's mandates by two students. I was asked my opinion on them as a potential trustee. Here's my answer.

Vaccination mandates are under the jurisdiction of provincial public health and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). Any concerns with vaccination policy in public schools can be raised with your MPP. Although some trustees may have advocated for vaccines, they had no effect. It's entirely in the Ministry's hands. I don't expect trustees to be able to override public health initiatives this year either - or I'll be very surprised if they do.

Personally, though, I feel strongly about bodily autonomy, but with vaccinations that require herd immunity (polio, measles, rubella, etc.), the health of our society requires that we vaccinate as many people as possible. However, there are always exceptions granted to individuals who are unable to vaccinate or opposed to vaccinations. If this vaccine is mandated again, typically parents would be able to get paperwork from their school to opt out. We need a critical mass to be vaccinated, but not necessarily 100%.

How Much Harm is Immoral?

If you know something you're about to do could potentially harm people, and the only reason you're doing it is for your own convenience, then wouldn't we largely agree that this behaviour is immoral? Like being about to drive home drunk because it will be really annoying to have to come back to get your car later. That's just wrong, right?? Even if we've driven drunk before and successfully made it home without incident, we get that we were just lucky that time. Most of us seem to get that, anyway. 

What about the bystanders? If you watch someone stagger to their car and struggle to fit the key in the ignition, but you say nothing despite knowing they could end up killing someone, then you're in that chain of wrongdoing. You've got to say something at least. Try to get them to give up the keys. Right?!

Yup, this is about masks. 

So many parents are emailing and tweeting about their kid being the only one in the room with a mask. Even teachers aren't wearing them. It's like sending kids into traffic with a seatbelt firmly in place, knowing all the other drivers are shitfaced! That seatbelt can only do so much to protect them. 

But maybe you don't really know that Covid has the potential to harm right now because politicians and media have convinced so many that Covid ended. Then check this out:

Monday, September 12, 2022

Trustee Campaigning: An Expensive, Two-Month Long Job Interview

A friend asked me You don't put your own money into doing this, do you, and deliver all the fliers to each door yourself??

Short answer: Yup! Running for trustee is like a very expensive and time consuming, two-month long job interview!

For trustees, there is no budget for campaigning. The money needed to create fliers and signs, which is the bulk of expenses necessary to get our names out there, are entirely paid for by each trustee, out of our own pockets. I spent about $2,000 so far! But the more signs that go up, the more people might remember my name on October 24th, out of a list of ten at the very bottom of that lengthy and complicated municipal ballot.

Some people have the impression that we pay people to deliver fliers as well, but that's out of reach for most people running, which is unfortunate, since the area I cover, the City of Waterloo and the Township of Wilmot, is bigger than covered by any prospective city councillor or mayor in the region. I thought I was in great shape for this, but a couple times I've come home so tired from hours of walking (after biking 20km or so to get to each area) that I could barely make it in the door. Fortunately, a few lovely people have come out of the woodwork to take a section of area off my hands and campaign for me, which is an amazing support that I didn't expect!

Timothy Snyder's Talk on The Road to Unfreedom

I haven't read the book yet, but I stumbled on Timothy Snyder's talk about it from four years ago. Unfortunately, it's all still very relevant! 

"The things that are happening to us are not just bad but there's something weird, something unsettling going on."

He speaks of the politics of inevitability, that sense that things will run their course as they should, and how often that belief snaps and becomes implausible, like with the housing market crash in 2008. History isn't over, and there are always alternatives to our current path. Our ideas about which direction to take matter

Here's a bit of what he said on Trump's election, and much of it might apply to Poilievre too, who may have some connections with Gerald Chipeur, a lawyer with dual citizenship, tied to Stephen Harper and tight with Ted Cruz, and he may be benefiting from money on offer from the MAGA crowd: 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

It Ain't Over!!

Just a quick update on Ontario's Covid numbers, currently: 

In the words of Colin Furness, MISt PhD MPH:

"It's clear politicians from all parties won't act until there is public outrage. And there can't be public outrage if the public is in the dark."

Covid is still disabling and deadly, although the media would have you think otherwise.

We're not hearing anything about this, but more lives have been lost to Covid in Canada than in WW2, and in about half the time. In Ontario, looking at the period from August 14 to 31, Covid cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities are dramatically higher this year than the previous two Augusts combined

Hospitalizations:  80 in 2020;  406 in 2021;  1,034 in 2022

Fatalities:  24 in 2020;  87 in 2021;  207 in 2022

In Ontario, Covid is killing about 10 times as many people as automobile collisions, yet nobody's fighting against seatbelt laws or airbag regulations or traffic rules. We just do all that to keep ourselves safer because it makes good sense. Right?!  

Thursday, September 1, 2022

On Peanut Butter and Covid in Schools

A woman on twitter posted an unfortunate tweet, I assumed satirically, that a good solution to keep immunocompromised kids safe from Covid while they eat lunch indoors is to send them with a peanut butter sandwich. Then they'll be made to eat lunch in an isolated room to keep others safe from them. 

The poster was summarily lambasted, and has since deleted the offending suggestion.

I responded early on, before the shit hit the fan (a bit expanded here):

I don't at all support doing this, but it does show how differently we react to different risks. One is a risk to about 5% of people, causing 82 Ontario deaths in the last 25 years, but it has immediate effects. The other is a risk to everyone and caused 68 Ontario deaths this week, but more slowly.
To clarify a bit, those 82 Ontario deaths aren't just from peanut butter in schools, but from all cases of anaphylaxis. Deaths from nuts specifically total 18, but it's not clear where those fatalities happened or the age range. Almost all, 17, were from 1986-2000, and only 1 after that largely because of education campaigns around allergies and Epipens, and the banning of nuts in elementary schools. Changes came from Sabrina's Law, which was passed in 2005 following the 2003 death of Sabrina Shannon from exposure to dairy protein through tongs used both for poutine and french fries. I'm not discounting concerns about anaphylaxis at all. We absolutely must remain vigilant about protecting kids with allergies. But we should also notice how much we can reduce cases from contamination when we put our minds to it! 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

On Divisiveness

This post is so short! 

As I wrote about anti-anti-racism education (and that two 'anti's don't necessarily make a 'pro') yesterday, a connection became crystal clear to me. It's often the same people who are, to various extents....

It's curious to me how often those views seem to coincide. I noticed the anti-sex education stance fitting in there from a request for my opinion on a dubious list of items including "Should education get back to reading and math and stop talking about personal issues?" and "Should parents have the right to decide what's taught in classes?" 

This is a position that hopes to care for kids by not educating them. It hopes teachers won't tell kids about anything perceived as bad or dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, and we all want our children to be happy, right?  

Saturday, August 27, 2022

A Really Deep Dive into Anti-CRT Rhetoric

This will be a long one, but I'll break it into headings (after this preamble) for easier bit-at-a-time reading!

There's a division among school board trustees and some parents around the best way to tackle discrimination to ensure the best outcome for students and society. The board currently has been providing anti-racism education to staff, and many teachers discuss discrimination in various ways in their classrooms, but now we're seeing some backlash against these policies. It's happening in other boards as well, and it's starting to feel like an organized movement. Taking the most charitable view possible of the backlash, which is at various times part of the "FAIR" movement, anti-CRT (critical race theory), anti-anti-racism, and/or anti-2SLGBTQ+ books in the library, those opposing anti-racism education might be well-meaning and don't necessarily harbour racist or homophobic/transphobic views at all, but they have a different solution to discrimination than is currently outlined by the board. Remember that's the most charitable perception of this perspective. From what I've seen so far, however, their solution hasn't been overtly described, so I've been left to piece together that they're hoping to end discrimination by no longer discussing it. That summation might be in error, so I'm open to hearing a more comprehensive plan of action. 

If it is an accurate summary of their stance, then here are the two positions we're exploring in our goal to reduce discrimination and dismantle roadblocks for marginalized groups:

  1. Anti-Racism Education: Educate teachers on implicit bias to ensure fair treatment of students and assessments in the classroom, and educate students on implicit bias as well as systemic discrimination and intersectionality to help them understand how some people are able to get further in their field with less effort and mitigate those embedded structural components. 
  2. FAIR: Stop discussing CRT, privilege, intersectionality or discrimination in order to help all students feel equal. 
As a teacher and parent, instead of telling people what not to do, I've found it's generally more effective to tell them what to do. For instance, instead of "don't stand on the chair," we tell kids: "feet on the floor." It saves a whole host of misunderstandings and corrections. From an amalgamation of sources including board meetings here and elsewhere, I've heard that we shouldn't discuss CRT or offer diversity training or use present day discrimination to make up for past discrimination. It's not entirely clear to me what the concerns are, though, or what we should be doing to foster a fair and inclusive classroom experience for all students beside just not discussing any problems. 

If my understanding of their solution is accurate, that we shouldn't discuss racism in the classroom or allow access to books about trans experiences or same sex unions in our schools, then that makes about as much sense to me as hoping to decrease pregnancy rates by not talking to kids about sex -- or, a more current example, as much sense as hoping to end Covid transmission by claiming it's over and removing all protective measures. Some anti-CRT delegates have attempted to show evidence that our current practices don't work, but I've seen no research suggesting that just ignoring it all has a remotely positive effect. To change paths we'd need to see that talking to kids about these issues, also known as educating them, is detrimental, and that staying silent is beneficial. 

My concern is that pretending that racism and homophobia and transphobia and same sex marriages, and trans experiences don't exist, a lack of education on these issues, will increase discrimination over time from creating a fear of the unknown and just plain ignorance. The idea that prejudices are alleviated through knowledge has been with us for decades if not centuries, so this recent challenge to that understanding has provoked eye-rolling and exasperation instead of a thorough exploration. On top of that, CRT on its own is a bit of an American far right dogwhistle, which is what, I believe, led the board to avoid the topic, understandably, instead of doing a deep dive.

But let's actually take a look! (That was just the preamble!)

Friday, August 19, 2022

Privatization in Ontario

 It's vital in Ontario that we understand the problems with privatization because the shift of essential services from the public to private sphere is happening right under our noses. Brittlestar does a great job of explaining it here: 

The typical disaster capital scheme goes something like this: 

  1. Wait for a crisis (or create one). Then people will be busy struggling to manage and won't have the resources to protest the government or, in all the chaos, will be otherwise willing to allow new sweeping changes to take place without a thorough democratic process. This Covid situation just fell into the laps of the uber-right-wing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

On Finding Answers in Research

I recently posted, on social media, a list of studies showing the effectiveness of masks and of mandates. One commenter said he doesn't trust studies because they could be biased, and instead he has used raw data to come to his own conclusions. 

A few problems here:

  • If a group of scholars in a field work together to analyze data until they reach a consensus, and then the paper undergoes a peer review process in which no less than three impartial and anonymous reviewers scrutinize the methodology and then further analyze the gathered data to ensure they come to the same conclusions, if all that can be warped by bias to the point that all these studies coming to the same conclusion are flawed, then what makes it likely that Joe Blow, basement data collector, has no bias in his data analysis?
  • Part of the problem is that Joe thinks he can consciously recognize and avoid bias, as if it's something within our awareness, as if all researchers and their anonymous reviewers are biased consciously due to their some benefit they hope to get from nefariously leading the data to match their hoped for conclusions. But often bias is covert, which is why the scientific method has so many rules and systems to undermine any possible subconscious confirmation bias, like double-blind studies. Can Joe be sure that he harbours no unconscious biases??

A Useful Crisis

I'm a big movie buff, and I used to love watching meaty psychological thrillers and films with evil people murdering one another. No Country for Old Men is one of my favourites. Or deep absurdity, like Synecdoche, New York. But I find I can't watch that anymore. With the exception of Better Call Saul (because Kim Wexler is one of the most fascinatingly complex female characters written for a series), I've developed an aversion to the cruelty and mayhem of films I used to love. It appears I've become too sensitive! I blame the current socio-political climate making our lives full of death and chaos. I'm limited to comedies and cartoons. 

But even there, I can't escape our current situation. Last night's viewing was The Lion King, and this bit, when Nala confronts Simba, wouldn't allow me a brief respite from the current turmoil caused by Ford's privatization shenanigans:

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What Happened to Politics?

I want to save this thread by Jeff Rybak, defence lawyer, lecturer at the University of Toronto, and a not-for-profit corporate director: 

"I'm trying to understand what's happening with politics in Canada, especially on the right. I read a lot of comments, though I obviously don't have time to pick fights with all of them. Still, I have to say, I'm discouraged. We're seeing the worst in people lately. 

I'm seeing freedom defined as never having to do what you're told - even if that's just not to make life worse for other people. Forget about legal and illegal for a moment. We're just talking about human decency here. Apparently we're only free when that's optional.

Strap One On For Safety!

I wrote about the almost total absence of PSAs around using masks to prevent transmission of a virus that, in some areas, kills ten times as often as traffic collisions, and then look at the possible reasons we're being pressured to ditch this simple and effective tool: On Mandates: Mitigating Over Minimizing. I wrote it a week ago, before the new CDC guideline change that throw us all under the bus (see Eric Topol's takedown of it here), and then I spent a week in the woods to emerge, of course, too late to fix a glaring error -- an extra word bungling up a sentence. It happens. 

Here it is:

A mandate isn’t necessarily tyrannical. It’s a rule that, in any good government, is devised to protect the people from harm so we can better live and work together. We must monitor legislation to ensure we stop laws that can harm people, but we also need to get involved when harm comes from a lack of legislation. A good mandate is put in place when harm can be prevented in an enforceable way. For instance, despite the fact that skin cancer costs many lives each year, and suntan lotion can prevent these deaths, using suntan lotion isn’t mandated. It would be nearly impossible to enforce its use. Seatbelts, on the other hand, have been mandated for decades. In the states, traffic collisions take about six times as many lives as skin cancer*, so seatbelts potentially save more lives than sun lotion. They’re also much more easily noticeable and enforceable. 

I was just 11 years old, when I was first forced by my mum to strap myself to a car with a 2″ vinyl band with metal clips that held me tight against the seat. It felt like wearing a straight jacket, and I protested the infringement on my freedom. I wasn’t the only one; in many places “resistance was the norm” to seatbelt laws. Mum was avoiding fines of $240 from our Conservative Premier Bill Davis (about $1,200 now), and she was further cajoled by ads on TV showing the aftermath of people thrown from a car. Children weren’t kept from these gruesome images, sometimes shown at school assemblies. Such was the level of care we could expect back in the 1970s.