On Arrogance and Abandonment
In response to PoPNB exposing the New Brunswick Government's lies of omission, Department of Health becomes defensive and trivializing.
Following PoPNB’s publication of documents detailing how the New Brunswick government has been receiving high quality information and evidence on Long Covid since July 2020, related articles have been published by the Telegraph Journal and CBC New Brunswick. With them came the expectedly dismissive replies by Department of Health spokespeople.
In its comments, the Department of Health continuously trips over itself and the now publicly available evidence in desperation to both absolve itself of any negligence and to maintain its manufactured authority, all while quietly adding a new page on Long Covid to its website.
It has become transparently obvious that the canned responses provided by the Department of Health are not designed to answer a line of questioning; they are designed to stop a line of questioning. Their comments regarding the RTI and its clear implications of systemic neglect include a tone of desperate defensiveness and minimizing. Let’s look at them.
Reading the two stories side by side, we can see the responses from the Department of Health spokesperson were largely similar if not identical. There are several statements made in the replies.
Post COVID-19 condition is currently an actively researched field of study. Public Health officials believe in responsible government, which means reviewing and vetting this information, and ensuring it is rigorously tested and relevant for the public.
A grain of truth to make the justification more palatable. The statement that information must be reviewed and vetted, framed as “responsible,” implies that the information the department has been receiving for over two years isn’t reviewed or vetted. Yet, the entire purpose of the Office of the Chief Science Officer (OCSO) documents is to provide fully reviewed and vetted science.
When stating the information must be “rigorously tested,” they evoke the nebulous concept of untested science and by extension imply the information they have received is not reliable. Common understanding is that scientific rigour is achieved through testing, and therefore untested science should not be taken into consideration.
This can be a valid principle when the untested science, if wrong, could cause harm, such as theorizing that drinking bleach might kill the virus. Acting preventatively based on the science we are discussing however, does not cause harm; it prevents it. The evidence being presented to the Department of Health was not suggesting risks should be taken, it urges for risks to be avoided.
Acting on the threat suggested by emerging science is a core tenet of the ethical framework of Public Health. As defined by the Canadian Public Health Association, public health involves the organized effort of society to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death.
Public Health should not be asking “should we prevent.” They should be asking “how we prevent”. Acting out of caution is the precautionary principle, a concept that has governed health policy for decades. It asserts that complete evidence of a potential risk is not required before action is taken to mitigate the effects of the potential risk.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) (whose advice and guidelines we have been continually reminded New Brunswick Public Health are following whenever external responsibility was required for changing policy) reiterate the concept of the precautionary principle in their Public health ethics framework: A guide for use in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. The entire document guides public health agencies to act ethically to minimise serious illness, death and social disruption, and to do so in the face of rapidly evolving knowledge.
For an office who boasts of their adherence to PHAC’s advice, New Brunswick Public Health seem actually to apply that advice arbitrarily, as the core concepts of the ethical framework are nowhere to be seen in their actions or their response to criticism. The ethics framework guide states clearly that “scientific uncertainty should not prevent decision makers from taking action to reduce risks associated with COVID-19” yet the spokesperson wants us to believe scientific uncertainty is the very basis for their lack of action to prevent long term illness in the population they exist to protect.
“Scientific uncertainty should not prevent decision makers from taking action to reduce risks associated with COVID-19”
New Brunswick Public Health propose we not be told of the risk until they deem it has been quantified to a degree not possible given the changing nature of the pandemic and its epidemiological context. However, should we suggest the information be given to us in the interest of precaution, we are told it is not “relevant.”
The most meaningful information is shared with the public when it’s deemed relevant by Public Health officials.
We see the framework of relevancy mentioned multiple times in the department’s response. In an attempt to provide a secondary justification, knowing full well that their first is built on concepts utterly in conflict with the practice of public health, they name themselves the sole arbiters of relevancy.
Information on impacts to health and the risks of long term illness and disability are relevant to the people exposed to that risk. To claim that information was kept from you because it has been deemed irrelevant by a party with no stock in your wellbeing is repellant and criminal.
Public Health New Brunswick has been studying the phenomenon of post COVID-19 condition (or what may also be referred to as long COVID) over the course of the pandemic, and reviews information from a variety of sources as it emerges. Some of this information involves academic studies produced around the world, while other data is collected here in New Brunswick.
In a brilliant display of undermining their own arguments, Public Health admits to reviewing information and data on Long Covid which, though evolving, has been largely unchanging for more than two years. Taking aim at their other foot, they qualify the information as being researched world wide. Some data, we are told, is collected in our own province.
It should be noted that because there's no identified diagnostic marker for the condition, it's unlikely any jurisdiction can provide accurate numbers of patients affected by Post COVID-19 condition. As you know, many COVID infections go unreported, and the diagnosis of this condition is one that involves ruling out other issues, and may take time.
But wait, that locally collected data doesn’t tell us anything because there is no diagnostic marker for Long Covid. They omit that there are very reliable diagnostic markers for previous Covid infections, unreported or not.
The department has answered many questions from the media about post COVID-19 condition, and it is currently looking at information it could make available, online or otherwise, to people afflicted by this condition.
While the Department of Health has answered some questions on Long Covid from the media, they have not made those statements available through their Covid information website. They have never mentioned long term complications due to Covid in press conferences, in press releases, or on their social media. Claiming an answer to a Long Covid question was presented in a fleeting media piece, often behind a paywall, is a poor substitute for transparency through the established and widely advertized sources of pandemic information available to all New Brunswickers. This is yet another example of Public Health arbitrarily applying the ethics guidelines from PHAC which state “In the current context of uncertainty, being open, truthful and transparent in decision making and communication is essential to establishing and promoting trust.”
At this point, the spokesperson’s narrative takes a strange turn into the defensive, with a lamentable attempt to call into question the information PoP NB has publicly provided. According to the spokesperson, Public Health was proactively developing Long Covid communications well in advance of our Omission is Negligence piece released on November 16th.
Granted, November 4th is a full twelve days before PoP NB released its findings.
November 4th is one day after PoP NB received the Right to Information response.
November 4th is fifty days after PoP NB submitted the Right to Information request.
November 4th is eight-hundred and twenty-seven days after Public Health began receiving compelling evidence that Long Covid was a serious, and a not insignificantly frequent outcome of Covid infection.
Patting themselves on the back for their efforts to inform New Brunswickers of a significant and disabling threat twenty-eight months after they first knew of its presence and prevalence is not a win. It is shameful and delinquent.
The department has been keeping New Brunswickers informed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s held many news conferences, issued numerous news releases, and it posts weekly, detailed COVID Watch reports - featuring pages of data compiled by the province’s epidemiology team on hosptializations, case demographics, the main subvariants spreading at this time, and other relevant information. This helps to outline how COVID-19 is spreading in our province, and the impacts it is having on our citizens.
Flooding the response with unrelated and irrelevant points which they see as accomplishments shows how desperate the office is to tip the scales of performance in their favour. The department has held many news conferences (none of which mentioned Long Covid, its impacts or its prevalence). The department has issued numerous news releases (none of which mentioned Long Covid, its impacts or its prevalence). The department does post weekly Covid Watch reports, which do feature pages of data, laboriously listed by the spokesperson and labelled again as “relevant” (none of which mention Long Covid, its impacts or its prevalence).
The spokesperson proudly claims that all of the above efforts outline how Covid impacts New Brunswick’s citizens. We would suggest that 15% of infections resulting in long term symptoms, 20% of which are disabling, is an important “impact” for New Brunswicker’s to understand.
It should also be noted that much of the scientific research referred to by the group is available publicly, and is not exclusive to government or Public Health officials. It’s available across the globe within research, academic and medical communities, as everyone strives to better understand this condition and how to effectively treat it.
In a last ditch effort to absolve itself of negligence, and in the spirit of individualization and personal responsibility, the department would like you to shoulder the blame for not being informed on Long Covid. The organization which just provided what it feels is a spotless record on transparency and communications states that much of the scientific research is available publicly.
“Available publicly” means buried in academic journals. If you did not know Long Covid existed, or if you did but you weren’t aware of its prevalence or impact, you simply weren’t caught up on sifting through thousands of highly scientific and sometimes impenetrable medical studies. Shame on you.
We also suggest the term “much of” is dramatically misused here. Absolutely none of the OCSO evidence summaries on Long Covid are currently available to the public. Obviously, no member of the public was included in the federal Special Advisory Committee on Covid-19. The public were not invited to the PHAC closed seminars on the current state of Long Covid, nor were the information packages discussed therein made public. CADTH’s audience for their Long Covid roundtables were public health officials, with the assumption those officials would be disseminating the information to their respective publics.
In fact, out of thirty-one documents culled from the Right to Information response, none of them were made available to the public.
This last attempt to reverse responsibility is pathetic and symptomatic of an organization which has long forgotten its purpose.
Health officials will continue to monitor post COVID-19 condition in the days, months and years ahead.
We have no doubt Long Covid will be monitored, what we take deep offence to is the demonstrated tendency to keep the public in the dark.
Public health cannot be achieved through concealing hazards from the public or only admitting to their existence once they become present in the public consciousness. Public health must be constantly cultivated by practicing prevention and precaution and by fostering trust through transparency. It is unimaginable that it falls to private citizens to explain this, and it clearly exposes the fact that the existing framework of public health is constructed not to protect people but to fabricate consent through the curating or withholding of critical information.
In every sentence of their response, we clearly hear the tone of defence and frustration at the erosion of the public’s unquestioning belief. The information uncovered in the Right to Information response is a scratch in the veneer of Public Health’s manufactured authority and professed altruism. What we see underneath is organized abandonment; an office with the capacity but not the will to provide critical life saving information to the public.
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