National Post (Latest Edition)

Seeking straight answers on the second wave

- Marni Soupcoff

As COVID- 19 cases rise again in Ontario, with projection­s showing up to 1,000 new cases a day expected soon, it is worth looking at the myriad of ways in which the province and the country continue to flub their responses to the pandemic. But I have only 750 words of column space.

So, let us start with communicat­ion problems. First, the mixed messages in Ontario. Stay home and limit all unnecessar­y social contact — unless you have a yen for playing some slots, in which case, hello! Casinos are now open! Just try not to spend your entire CERB ( soon to be CRB or EI) in one visit or sneeze on fellow gamblers. And did we mention minding your social bubble? Do that. Vigilantly. Only share space with the small handful of close friends and family members you have chosen to include in your life during this emergency, or with random strangers who share your love of progressiv­e jackpots. Otherwise, steer clear of people.

What is worse than the contradict­ory communicat­ion, though, is the incoherent communicat­ion, of which Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer David Williams remains the master.

You think I am exaggerati­ng because Williams’ vagueness has gotten under my skin from the beginning?

I have certainly been vocal about the man’s hazy transmissi­on of advice, and

I wrote about having lost any remaining confidence in him when his allergy to solid numbers led to all 34 of Ontario’s medical officers of health taking it upon themselves to create data- based benchmarks to help guide the safe reopening of the province — such guidance not anywhere to be seen from the top. But Williams’ recent performanc­e speaks for itself. When asked on Tuesday about restrictio­ns on Thanksgivi­ng gatherings and advice about how to safely handle the holidays, he said he did not know yet, but cautioned Ontarians against undercooki­ng their turkeys and getting salmonella.

A day later, on Wednesday, Williams appeared on CBC’S Metro Morning, leading host Ismaila Alfa in a set of hopeless circles, never zeroing in on an answer. The closest Williams came to straight talk was his explanatio­n that false positives make contact tracing difficult because “they’re not cases.”

When Alfa asked Williams, who is making decisions at Ontario’s Command Table, Williams talked and talked and struggled to provide a solid response.

“Well, there’s many tables,” he said, at one point. “I can’t name them all.”

“There can’t be many tables,” Alfa said, trying to bring Williams back to the idea of the one Command Table and the relevant question of who is in charge.

“All right,” Williams said, launching into a cloudy reckoning of medical officers.

Then Williams concluded, “So, we have a number of doctors there, at that table. And then at the other table …”

It was hopeless. If this is the nature of the advice Premier Doug Ford is getting in private, it is no wonder the province is mired in new infections, falling behind in testing, and failing to trace contacts in a timely way.

Since this is certainly the nature of the advice Ontarians are getting in public, it is no wonder people are frustrated, exasperate­d, and exhausted.

At the same time, Ontario does not deserve all the blame because it is not getting the one thing it needs from the feds and Health Canada: rapid antigen tests.

These inexpensiv­e, paperstrip tests are crucial to a successful surveillan­ce regime because they identify people with COVID-19 when they are infectious — and only when they are infectious. In contrast, PCR tests — the only kind of tests Health Canada has approved — flag everyone with COVID- 19, even people who are so far along that they can no longer pass the disease on to others.

PCR tests result in people isolating who do not need to isolate. Meanwhile, people who really do need to isolate often do not receive that informatio­n in time because of how PCR tests are processed. Even rapid PCR tests — which Health Canada has belatedly approved this week — are too expensive and require more equipment than is feasible for them to be used at home several times a week for extensive screening, the way rapid antigen tests can be used.

PCR tests are great for medically diagnosing COVID-19, and it is nice that Canada has finally gotten around to ordering some that work quickly because waiting days for test results is not helpful for anyone, but PCR tests are nonetheles­s practicall­y useless for detecting who can spread COVID-19 to other people.

For that, we need rapid antigen tests.

There you go, Dr. Williams. A succinct talking point for you and all your fellow medical officers at all your various tables: demand rapid antigen tests now.

it is no wonder people are frustrated, exasperate­d, and exhausted.

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