Facemasks should be worn but not be mandated

It’s tempting to change bad behaviour through mandates. The reasoning is that citizens will stop doing bad things if they are told not to.

The problem with mandates is compliance. Unlike laws, which are enacted through a democratic legislature, mandates are orders issued by public officials.

Image: Wall Street Journal

An order by If B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer to use facemasks would run into two problems. The first is political. Facemask use has, unfortunately, become politicized with those who live in a parallel world of reality thinking that COIVD-19 is a hoax and facemasks represent a threat to their liberty.

I hesitate to call these pandemic deniers right-wingers because that suggests that they occupy the political spectrum. Instead, they live in an echo chamber of the Facebook vortex; a demented vision of the world projected by the outgoing president of the U.S.

In Canada, conservatives, liberals, NDP, all agree that measures have to be taken and they vary by province, not by the colour of the politics. Quebec and Ontario have made masks mandatory but Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are relying on moral suasion to convince their citizens to mask up to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The second problem is that mandates can seem arbitrary and result in pig-headed defiance. Look at what happened when some of those belligerent types arrived at Mittz Kitchen in Kamloops this summer. After being told of safety protocols at the restaurant, they harassed staff, pushed owner Steve Mitton over a table, and smashed a plate of food on the floor.

I wouldn’t want masks made mandatory any more than I would want vaccinations made mandatory. Vaccinations save lives but orders to get them gets people’s backs up.

I’m not talking about measles vaccinations which everyone, with the exception of small communities, agrees to be necessary. I’m referring to vaccines being developed against COVID-19. Reluctance to get a COVID-19 vaccination has been growing.

 Even with an increase in COVID-19 cases in B.C., fewer people are willing to get vaccinated than before according to a survey conducted in September. The poll found that while a large number people would get the shot as soon as it was available (46 percent) a sizable number would to take a wait-and-see approach (32 per cent). Wait and see as people die?

If masks are to be mandated as part of a program to reduce pandemic deaths, shouldn’t vaccines also be compulsory? Millions of British Columbians would be defiant if such an order were issued.

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry struggles with ordering the use of masks: “Mandating masks is not something that is going to change people’s minds,” she said. More recently she has tried a different approach. Now she says that masks are, in fact mandatory: they are part of a general order:

“Some people are asking when we will see masks mandated in B.C. The answer is that they already are. The mandate to use masks appropriately is a cornerstone of businesses’ and organizations’ COVID-19 safety plans, and is embedded in our health-care facilities’ operational policies and restart protocols in other public institutions (armchairmayor.ca, November 17, 2020).”

So, masks are mandatory but not mandated. Go figure.

The real solution to make bare faces in public socially unacceptable. Nothing is stronger than shunning the lack of facemasks.

Note: the day that this column was published, facemasks were made conpulsory in BC.

Bubble families emerge from pandemic

Provinces are allowing the expansion of family units to include friends and family. The selection of who’s in and who is out is tricky.

image: Money Crashers

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said last week: “I believe that we are at a point where we can increase our social contact, and we can have more people in our close circle of family and friends.”

Singles can pair off with another single or with a couple and socialize exclusively with them.

Families can also pair off with other families. But it has to be done carefully. As soon as you add others to your circle, you add all the people which they are connected to which amplifies the risk.

Before you extend your bubble family, sometimes called a cohort family, you need to check with them to ensure that their degree of virus avoidance matches yours. It would be a mistake to extend your circle to a family just because they’re “cool” as Professor Lucia O’Sullivan found out.

O’Sullivan wasted no time inviting her “best friend family” to join forces after New Brunswick allowed bubbling. The families lived nearby, traveled together, spent Christmas Eve together and have children of a similar age (Globe and Mail, May 2, 2020).”

“Saturday morning,” said O’Sullivan, “I was gardening and I thought, uh oh, I better contact them and see. I felt rushed because I thought everyone’s going to ask them. They’re like the coolest family in town. It’s like asking someone to the prom: Were they already taken?”

It turned out that they were taken. Instead, the “best friend family” had bubbled up into a group of eight: two husbands, two wives and four kids.  O’Sullivan’s parents paired up with her sister. Her best friend family’s parents decided not to break their quarantine. Bubbling can leave you feeling left out.

Bubbling requires commitment, like going steady or being in a monogamous relationship. For instance, the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease is extremely low in a monogamous relationship, but increases sharply if one or both partners cheat.

You can’t play the field. Dr. Henry says: “What you can’t do is see two people one night and four different people the next.”

Bubbling reduces the isolation of singles. Daycare and work-time access improve.

An Edmonton couple, both who work and have a two-year old, bubbled with another working couple with two-year old forming a makeshift family of six.  They care for the children on alternate days: While one parent goes for walks, or does arts and crafts with the kids, the other three parents can work a full shift uninterrupted. They rotate a biweekly grocery run, one person shopping for both families. As a courtesy, they text message each other whenever anyone leaves the house for errands, a walk or a drive.

Mental health improves with socialization. Some sense of normalcy returns to these crazy times.

However, what legacy will remain once the pandemic is over. Will you remain close to those in your bubble?  Will those not included feel slighted or shunned?

And how will you feel about the “others’” outside your circle? The stain of disease is deeply engrained in the human psyche. If they didn’t meet your standards of hygiene, can they ever be trusted?

 

Coronavirus tests Canada’s character

Canadians are seen as “nice” people, sensible, proud of Canada but not jingoistic, modest, not fanatically religious. The way we respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic will further define who we are.

Nice Canadian

The response to the pandemic in the U.S. has been politicized, similar to the response to climate change, with President Trump initially calling COVID-19 a hoax cooked up by his political opponents. Apparently some Republicans are following Trump’s initial lead and not socially isolating themselves by going to bars.

Canada can be an oasis of calm amid the global coronavirus freak-out. Political leaders can instil a sense of calm and confidence. One of those is Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. She has become the face of Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadians are rising to the challenge of a worsening novel coronavirus outbreak, going out of their way to be kind. Jason Dudas of Kamloops posted on Facebook:

“A co-worker told me about an elderly woman collapsing at a North Shore grocery store this weekend. If you are in a lower risk group and can help out elderly people you know with shopping you will be helping with keeping them safe at home, using extra sanitary precautions around them. If high risk groups don’t change their behaviour we will have a serious run on our health care system. But if we all work together then can make it through this situation.”

Kyle Ashley in Toronto posted a sign in the lobby of his downtown building offering to provide whatever assistance he could. “It’s like a war,” Ashley said, referring to the pandemic. “We will have bad actors, but good will come out.”

I have just returned from Mexico and will to self-isolate for two weeks. Neighbours have offered to buy groceries for me. It’s going to be tough to cut off contact with others, not going for coffee or to meetings at the society where I volunteer.  Social isolation is important, especially for travelers returning to Canada who have gone through busy airports. It’s voluntary but it’s the right thing to do; the only way to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread which could potentially affect more than half of Canadians.

This isn’t panic, it’s just good citizenship under adverse social conditions.

Universal healthcare defines how we care for each other. Healthcare puts the common good above that of individual desire. Responsible Canadians will weigh what they individually want and what is in the public good. Canadian professor of philosophy Mark Gerald Kingwell says:

“Politics is a series of bargains between individual desire and collective good. What always remains is the goal of robust public trust. Community health is a shared good, just like education, transit infrastructure and building standards. It’s a concept that people against vaccines, flu-shot refuseniks, and turnstile jumpers everywhere just don’t seem to grasp (Goble and Mail, March 12, 2020).”

Herd mentality is not in the common good. Canadian’s response to COVID-19 will demonstrate our steely resolve in the face of adversity. We can hold our heads high with pride in the measures we take to stop the spread of this pandemic.

 

Homoeopathy debate re-ignited

Questions about the practice of homoeopathy have been re-ignited by two recent events. One has to do with a homeopathic rabid-dog-saliva treatment and the other about the retrial of a couple originally found guilty of failing to provide for the necessities of life.

Samuel Hahnemann   image: thefamouspeople.com

 

If you thought that dog spit was an effective treatment because Health Canada approved it, you would be wrong. Health Canada approved rabid dog saliva and 8,500 other homeopathic remedies, not because they are effective but because they have concluded that they are safe. Health Canada doesn’t test these remedies for efficacy.

Other homeopathic treatments are made from cancerous cells, black mould and the smallpox virus; they sound dangerous until you realize just how much they have been diluted.

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, devised a dilution system that he called “C scale.” Homeopathy claims that the more remedies are diluted, the more effective they are. A 6C dilution will result in the original substance being diluted to one part in a million million. Kamloops’ tap water has a million times more naturally occurring fluorides than such remedies.

No wonder Heath Canada has deemed homeopathic remedies to be safe. They are purer than the water we drink. So, why go to all that trouble to make pure water?  The difference between pure water and homoeopathic pure water, homeopaths claim, is that the later contains a “memory” of the original substance even when it is diluted virtually out of existence.

A Vancouver Island naturopath got into trouble when she provided a remedy containing (or not containing, depending on the dilution) rabid-dog saliva. Anke Zimmermann, gave a child lyssin because he demonstrated behavioural issues after a dog bite. The problem, according to Health Canada, had nothing to do with the fact that it contained rabid-dog saliva: five others had been approved. The problem was this one, lyssin, which is made in Britain and not approved.

People can imagine whatever they want, but if they think they are taking medicines when they are drinking pure water, that’s a worry. B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, wrote Health Canada expressing her concerns.

“I believe all of these products that are purportedly based on infectious or dangerous material should not be classified as ‘medicines’ and should not be regulated as health products (Globe and Mail, May 13, 2018),” Dr. Henry said in an e-mail.

Professor Bernie Garrett at the University of British Columbia’s nursing school says:

“It’s absurd that these homeopathic remedies should be licensed for use when technically, they’re nothing more than water because of the dilution process. But they still cause harm by delaying access to effective treatment and by causing people to lose money.”

David Stephan and his wife, Collet, were found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel. They treated him with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor. Ezekiel’s body was so stiff from meningitis that he couldn’t sit in his car seat. She took him to naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge on a mattress where she bought an echinacea mixture. Ezekiel died later.

The Supreme Court allowed a new trial based on a technicality. The couple appealed the original decision and lost. But because appeal court’s ruling wasn’t unanimous, the couple had an automatic right to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Michael Kruse, executive director of Bad Science Watch, is blunt in his assessment of homeopathy:

“These self-regulated professions are based on magical thinking, and until provincial governments take responsibility to be the arbiter of what is scientific and what is not, the doors are open for any profession with a training program and standard of practice to make potentially deadly claims.”