The German language probably has a word for the state of being surprised by the unsurprising, unprepared for the expected, and caught off guard by the danger you were on guard against. English does not have such a word. But when this pandemic is over, we are going to have to come up with one.
We’ll need it to describe what appears to be happening right now, in Canada.
Governments from coast to coast knew a second wave was coming. It was as predictable as fall. It was as expected as the rising of the sun. It was as surprising as the first snowfall – timing and severity uncertain; occurrence inevitable.
And yet, somehow, many governments have reacted like someone who forgot to set the alarm clock. Leading the parade of those surprised by the unsurprising is Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government.
On Monday, Ontario reported 700 new cases of COVID-19, a new single-day record. Also on Monday, Ontario casinos reopened their doors to gamblers.
They say timing is everything in comedy and politics. In pandemics, too.
Also on Monday, the Ford government announced that, in response to the second wave, it would be hiring 3,700 more frontline health care workers. It’s a move that should have been made in May or June, not late September.
Still on Monday: Ontario reported processing more than 41,000 tests, but had a backlog of 49,586 waiting to be analyzed. By Tuesday, the backlog was nearly 55,000. The province, like many parts of the country, has recently seen enormous lineups at testing centres; lineups that are – how is this surprising? – driven by the predictable and predicted combination of rising infection rates and people needing to get tested to allow a safe return to school.
Yet again on Monday: The Ottawa Citizen obtained a memo showing that provincial health bureaucrats ordered a reduction in testing in some areas, owing to labs being overwhelmed. It’s another unsurprising result of too little test-processing capacity meeting growing demand for tests.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the pinned tweet at the top of Health Minister Christine Elliott’s Twitter feed still said: “It’s never been more important to get tested for #COVID19.” She’s right. The more people who get tested, the more often, the better. That should include lots of people who have no symptoms. But if everyone takes that advice to heart in the current system, where there are not enough tests or facilities to process them, Grade 3 math points to the inevitability of a surprisingly unsurprising outcome.
For anyone who remembers what Ontario went through last spring, that outcome looks all too familiar. We have lived this movie before.
Yes, Ontario is conducting several times more daily tests than it did back in April. Yes, Ontario has the second-highest provincial testing rate (Alberta is tops). There has been progress. There just hasn’t been enough.
With case numbers rising, as in the spring, and testing not keeping pace, as in the spring, this looks a lot like a sequel. The script has a disturbing amount of consistency. If it were run through plagiarism-detection software, someone would be getting an “F.”
More unsurprisingly surprising findings:
The most recent data from Toronto Public Health, as reported by the CBC, show that most people testing for COVID-19 don’t get results for at least two days. And nearly half of those who test positive are not followed up by contact tracers within 24 hours. Both of those numbers are well below the targets that need to be met for a program of heavy testing and contact tracing – which the province is supposed to have, but doesn’t – to be able to quickly find infected people before they infect others, and even more quickly track down anyone they may have infected.
In an effort to speed things up, the Ford government last week gave the green light for some pharmacies to begin administering tests to some asymptomatic individuals. The province also intends to hire more contact tracers. The mystery is why it didn’t do that months ago.
And last week, the province began rolling out plans for its response to the pandemic’s second wave. But this is like announcing in January that, in response to recent snowfalls, you plan to put out a tender for snowplows. It’s a bit late in the game.
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