Toronto Star

Ford abandons rubber crutch daily briefings

- Bruce Arthur Twitter: @bruce_arthur

Doug Ford had showed up every day. He may have gotten public health advice wrong, turned his daily COVID-19 pandemic briefing into a daily warm-up for a snap election call, and expressed more condolence­s to small business owners than to people who are in hospitals or in long-term care or dead. Sure.

But the premier was a constant pandemic presence for a long time before deciding, this week, to chuck it. Maybe he’s tired. We’re all tired, after all. Health-care workers perhaps most of all.

“We’re over the threshold at which we believe we have to start cancelling and delaying elective surgeries,” said Dr. Steini Brown, the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and head of the province’s independen­t science table. “And when ICUs become heavily affected by COVID by this, you really do start to see interrupti­ons in service, including in necessary and emergency service.

“And it’s not just ICU beds … we’re starting to see staff break down, as you see reports coming into the hospitals.”

The picture from the latest provincial modelling was of a province walking the precipice, with record second-wave daily case counts, hospital capacity already strained, lower-income and non-medical essential workers bearing the brunt of the disease, and deaths going up.

“Right now … it’s really a precarious position,” said Dr. Brown.

Maybe that’s why the premier decided to stop the daily briefings. They started as critical public health updates, and became two things: the preeminent public health briefing in the province, warts and all, and then a daily campaign stop, designed to win friends and influence people.

Remember when they used it to announce the province was hiring 200 police officers? Remember when they announced $116 million to add surge capacity hospital beds, which is actually an annual add for flu season? Or when they rolled out their grand fall plan — a plan so robust, the premier said, that you couldn’t get to it all in just one day — and one plank involved asymptomat­ic testing at 60 pharmacies, some of which were quite surprised by the news?

Remember when he held one at a fireplace factory? An Italian restaurant? The ship

building yard in Hamilton, the day after the Star’s Kate Allen and Jennifer Yang reported the province had ignored advice from Public Health Ontario when it introduced its utterly irresponsi­ble, hospital-swamping, grave-digging framework in October?

The daily briefings were a rubber crutch when it came to effective provincial public health advice, but the only other option was the twiceweekl­y obfuscatio­ns by chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams. Which are ongoing, in that regard. And since the announceme­nt of the approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, the province seems to have lost interest. Ford hasn’t faced the press since Monday.

In fairness, everyone deserves a break. But meanwhile, the pandemic continues to burn. Hospitaliz­ations are up 91.6 per cent over the past four weeks, 165.9 per cent in the ICU, and when they did this two weeks ago the overall increase was just two thirds of this. Twentyone per cent of all long-termcare deaths since Aug. 1 have occurred in the last seven days. Windsor-Essex’s medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, closed the schools there Thursday; a lockdown is possible.

The Ontario Hospital Associatio­n, the Ontario Medical Associatio­n, the Registered Nurses’ Associatio­n of Ontario, the Registered Practical Nurses Associatio­n of Ontario and the Respirator­y Therapist Society of Ontario all asked, again, for more restrictio­ns and for people to stay apart at Christmas. York hospitals asked for help; doctors there quietly say they’ve never seen the hospitals so busy.

And Ontario’s modelling showed ICU occupancy will be over 200 for the next month and could easily go higher, which will locally impact access to care. Also, the secondwave restrictio­ns, which have escalated as high as incomplete lockdowns in Toronto and Peel, haven’t had much of an effect on mobility and contact rates. They’re just better than the alternativ­e.

In other words, the tools to control this are limited by design, beyond closing schools or institutin­g a serious GTA-wide lockdown with paid sick leave and actual isolation facilities, but the province hasn’t shown interest in any of that. Which means we’re probably about to hit the really bad stuff.

“If you wait until the hospitals break, you can’t put the health-care system back together in one day,” says Dr. Michael Warner, the head of critical care at Michael Garron

Hospital in East York.

If you have enough conversati­ons with people, you start to hear of furtive Christmas plans: people who are plotting get-togethers in ways that won’t attract attention. Stashing cars out of sight on a visit, working on cover stories, walking to a house in shifts, one by one, like they’re the French Resistance and they can sneak past the virus. Some people intend to travel.

I wish they would reconsider. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister went viral for imploring people about Christmas, but Ford has been sort of halfhearte­d on it. If a Ford family Christmas card pops up with rather a lot of Fords in it, the bet here is that nobody should be surprised.

Why would the premier show up every day for all this? Why would he stand up there as it’s revealed the province was sitting on $12 billion in federal funds at the end of September, as the second wave was already in progress, and has only committed to spending 80 per cent of that?

Or that the provincial government was reverting to type by attacking the Greenbelt again, or rewarding a homophobic, Islamophob­ic, financiall­y questionab­le friend of the premier, or presiding over a hospital system that could very easily melt down?

No, better to hope people get excited by a vaccine, occasional­ly announce increased and half-effective restrictio­ns when absolutely necessary, and prepare in case that snap election comes up, maybe in the spring. Looking back, Ford facing the press every day was never going to fix things. After all, his decisions hadn’t, either.

 ?? FRANK GUNN THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Premier Doug Ford holds up a rapid test kit during his daily briefing on Nov. 24. Since the announceme­nt of the approval of the vaccine, however, the province seems to have lost interest. Ford hasn’t faced the press since Monday, Bruce Arthur writes.
FRANK GUNN THE CANADIAN PRESS Premier Doug Ford holds up a rapid test kit during his daily briefing on Nov. 24. Since the announceme­nt of the approval of the vaccine, however, the province seems to have lost interest. Ford hasn’t faced the press since Monday, Bruce Arthur writes.
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