The New Public Health: Goodbye, common-sense compassionate care and social justice, and welcome, state-ordered child abuse.
In Sartre’s play “Huit Clos”, three individuals find themselves quarantined post-mortem in a room that serves as hell. They turn on each other to the point where the protagonist laments “l’enfer c’est les autres”. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the existentialist nuances of these words, yet the superficial meaning of “hell is other people” is becoming more and more evident in the corona crisis.
My brilliant girlfriend had just made me aware of the Sartre quote that fits so well with the new hotel quarantine procedures for travellers returning home to Canada. But then the public health authority of our neighbouring Region of Peel raised the bid even higher. In a flyer summarizing what to do when a child is sent home after exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. because of a classmate with a positive test), they literally wrote:
“The child must self-isolate, which means: • Stay in a separate bedroom • Eat in a separate room apart from others • Use a separate bathroom, if possible • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others”
Source: Peel Region child dismissed protocol, posted at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/_media/child-dismissed-protocol-en.pdf until 28 February 2021
A few years ago, some American and international cartography and GIS experts banded together to hold low-key community mapping events under the Maptime label. The international site and the MaptimeTO Twitter account of the Toronto group are dormant, but the idea is alive and well – let’s start a Ryerson University map club under the MaptimeRU banner!
In class the other day, we had a look at “The True Size Of…” web app, which illustrates the size distortion of countries under the Web Mercator projection. Some students already knew the example of Greenland. In most online maps, Greenland looks about as big as the continent of Africa, but its size is greatly inflated under the Mercator projection due to its far-northern latitude. When you pull it towards the equator for size comparison, it shrinks to as little as 7% of Africa, and that is the actual ratio of their land surfaces.
Size comparison maps are popular talking points but they are surprisingly tricky to make in geographic information systems (GIS). After all, we usually aim to map things at their actual location on planet earth’s surface. John Nelson, cartography and user experience specialist at world-leading GIS company Esri, recently posted a blog and video tutorial on “How to make one of those size comparison maps” in ArcGIS Pro. As possible kickoff for a recurring MaptimeRU meetup, I will sit down with interested Geographic Analysis students during study week and replicate John’s instructions as well as try the same in the free and open-source QGIS package.
We Are in a Public Emergency Situation – Health Scientists Are Not Qualified to Lead the Response
According to a March 2 press release by the Government of Ontario, “A new Command Table will be the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19.” The Command Table, whose membership has never been disclosed, reports to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. The Ministry’s existing Emergency Operations Centre “will continue to provide situational awareness and perform an overall coordination function”. Yet, the Minister, along with the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, and municipal and regional MOHs such as Toronto’s Dr. Eileen de Villa, are the public faces of the pandemic response and use their powers to order sweeping restrictions on everyday live. The March 2 press release is clearly focused on the health and medical side, promising to “Safeguard [the] Public from COVID-19” and “Ensure Health System Readiness”.
While this singular focus may have been appropriate in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, doubts have started to emerge as early as March 2020 and continue to grow. In a May 12 post titled “Corona Crisis – Tunnel Vision vs Comprehensive Risk Assessment“, I summarized a leaked report — known as the “false alarm paper” — from Germany’s crisis management specialist Stephan Kohn, in which the author argues that “a new crisis situation should be declared and the out-of-control pandemic crisis management itself be battled”. In “We Have a Different Emergency Than You Think“, an anonymous blogger and self-identified business professional provides a brief but scathing assessment of the Ontario government’s situation assessment and emergency response capabilities. He recommends listening to Canadian emergency management experts, at least two of whom have spoken up about the corona crisis: David Redman and Alex Vezina.
The writing’s on the wall: COVID is a totalist cult with righteous followers who are impervious to evidence
In his Master’s thesis “Hope Wanted: Wall Writing Protests in Times of Economic Crisis in Athens“, Georgios Stampoulidis presents a photo of a graffiti on Athens’ Sina Street reading “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear”. This play on the words of the standard holiday greeting became a symbol for the street protests in conjunction with the 2008 economic crisis and its political fallout, as it primarily affected southern Europe. In the context of the 2020 corona crisis, this aphorism is so spot on that I can’t skip writing about it.
Mentioning the state of Florida in my Dec 14 Sun newspaper op-ed was one of the triggers for a nasty personal attack from a fellow geographer on Twitter, suggesting that I spread “cherry-picked disinformation” and “contribute to ignorance”, “rather than listening to [the health experts]”. After having my olive branch spurned, I decided to ignore these uninformed and underhanded comments and let others think for themselves. Some community members indeed seem to have a better sense of what a geospatial data analyst can contribute to resolving the corona crisis. In response to a similar kick at the expertise of a “professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies” by a Sun reader, other readers’ answers included that “it’s about data and using it properly” (John Cauchi) and “As for this professor, he is a professor because he has critical thinking skills” (John Smith). My personal favourite is Twitter user Darryl Schomson’s observation that “Geographers have a unique, synthetic view of the world which no other discipline has.” I am very grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response and support; hopefully I will find the time to put together a collage of the most insightful comments.
Due to recent events, I want to talk a little bit more about Florida. I mentioned Florida in the op-ed because they had recently mandated their labs to report PCR test results along with the cycle threshold (Ct) count (for source, see my blog post “Brave New Covidworld?“). This was a consequence of concerns about what Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharyan calls “functional false positives” (see the interview referenced in my post “Some Doctors Are Giving John Snow a Bad Name“).
As if it was coordinated with my op-ed, the World Health Organization (WHO) this Monday, 14 December 2020, issued an information notice/medical product alert for laboratories that use PCR tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. According to this document, the WHO is responding to reports of “an elevated risk for false SARS-CoV-2 results“.
Today’s the day that my first-ever newspaper op-ed is published. I argue that “Canada’s current pandemic response isn’t supported by the facts“. The working title of the op-ed was “Brave New Covidworld?”, inspired by a brilliant paper by British philosophers Ian James Kidd and Matthew Ratcliffe. In “Welcome to Covidworld“, they raise many of the same concerns with the global pandemic response that I reiterate in the op-ed and that many clear-thinking academics, health scientists, professionals, and other citizens have developed since March 2020. For example, I maintain a short list of dissenting Canadian doctors’ voices published in the mainstream media, see MSHFD.ca. These reasonable critics are largely ignored though, and that is a problem.
One of my students has just completed an individual research paper on “Investigating the use of GIS-Based Ordered Weighted Averaging in Wildfire Restoration”. Ordered Weighted Averaging (OWA) is a multi-criteria decision analysis technique that allows the decision-maker to mathematically define their attitude towards risk. The available strategies range from risk-averse to risk-taking approaches, based on a simple parameter setting. That parameter determines whether we emphasize the negative or positive aspects of a possible solution. Under a risk-averse strategy, we focus on the worst aspects and choose the solution that has the “least bad” outcomes. Under a risk-taking strategy, we focus on the best aspects and choose the solution with the “greatest good” outcome. The OWA also allows any number of strategies between these extremes, including an intermediate approach under which emphasis is balanced between the strong and weak outcomes.
A new “killer virus”, global panic, squandered public monies, and a rushed vaccine—déjà vu from the swine flu pandemic
The Council of Europe blasts the World Health Organization and national governments around the globe for the handling of the pandemic. Their report cites “overwhelming evidence that the seriousness of the pandemic was vastly over-rated by WHO, which led to a distortion of public health priorities.” The British Labour politician and author of the report, Paul Flynn, is cited with the comment: “This was a pandemic that never really was.”The pandemic in question is the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the quote is from a 2010 article in the British Medical Journal. The concerns at the time focused on undue influence by big pharma companies on the WHO, which led to poor decision-making and excessive spending by many countries on unnecessary anti-viral drugs and vaccines. By early 2010, Mr. Flynn apparently filed a motion in the UK Parliament to deplete left over Tamiflu pill stockpiles by using them as winter road salt.
The PCR test is coming under fire for missing its target: detecting COVID-19 infectiousness
The late Dr. Kary Mullis, a biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process that is used in COVID-19 testing since January 2020, said that “with PCR … you can find almost anything in anybody” in a video (around minute 49:00) from a 1997 meeting on “Corporate Greed & AIDS” in Santa Monica, California. He responded to an audience question about the possible misuse of the PCR test in medical diagnoses, stating that the technique cannot be “misused” in a narrow sense, but that the test results are prone to misinterpretation when doctors “claim that it is meaningful” when a virus is discovered based on a minimal amount of genetic material present in a patient. “It doesn’t tell you that you’re sick“, as Mullis says in an extract of the video created by Bright Light News. In this context, he also referred to the “Buddhist notion that everything is contained in everything else.” While the statements were made in conjunction with HIV/AIDS, where Mullis held a highly contested view, they increasingly prove true in the ongoing SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 testing fiasco.
Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States
“The Coronoia Blogbook: Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States” is a collection of posts originally published on this blog between March and November 2020. The posts were lightly edited and rearranged into three thematic groups: Part I puts “COVID-19 in Context”, Part II illustrates “Mapping the Pandemic”, and Part III discusses “What the Data Do Not Tell Us”.