The Death of Legitimacy: Part I
Part of an editorial series examining Public Health's role in manufacturing acceptance of mass illness and death.
The world functions largely under the illusions of order and ethics. We accept the policy of governments because we believe they represent us. We acquiesce to the difficulties such policies impose because we have been led to believe we all must make sacrifices and that equity is the objective.
There are moments however when the machinations of government are so fundamentally in opposition to the interests and will of its constituency that the legitimacy of the entire structure comes in question.
On April 21, 2022, Kelly Lamrock, Child, Youth and Senior’s Advocate for New Brunswick, released a condemnation of the province’s removal of pandemic protections, discussed in a previous post. In his review of the facts, Lamrock stated:
We could not see any signs that the hallmarks of a transparent decision - explanation, predictive benchmarks, measurement, and accountability- were being provided publicly. Given that part of the stated reason for the lifting of the mask mandate and other restrictions was that individuals would be empowered to make their own decisions and supported in their choices, this public sense of vagueness and confusion was not in the interests of children.
Prior to the release of Lamrock’s report, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Jennifer Russell, provided a response to the Advocate in which she attempts to justify the decision to remove protections from children. In the opening paragraphs, Russel states:
During the pandemic, we learned that masks are an important protective layer for slowing the spread of COVID-19. Public Health continues to work with school districts to create a respectful and supportive environment for all. Schools have been directed to ensure that students and staff continue to feel welcome to wear masks, based on individual risk assessments and comfort levels.
Public Health also recognizes the importance of empowering children to make choices regarding when to wear a mask and accepting and supporting all children whether they wear a mask or not.
On the surface, these comments appear to align the CMOH with scientific consensus while appealing to the wishes of a divided citizenry. Conspicuously absent is any acknowledgment of the inferior effectiveness of one way masking, and the established cordial tone of “strong encouragement” to continue employing this protective practice. When pushed in the past, Russell has been quick to defend Public Health’s position stating her office fully encourages “all public health measures to continue to be used by individuals.”
Recommendations for responsible behaviour are insufficient when employed against a pathogen who’s prevalence and morbidity the public has been kept ignorant of. Public Health has yet to acknowledge COVID-19’s airborne transmission, vascular impacts, or long term complications. A public who is uninformed, either through design or negligence, can obviously not make informed decisions.
Even if the public had an adequate understanding of the virus’ associated risk, relying on modest encouragement to use protections is vastly inferior to mandating their use.
Dr. Visvaldas Legkauskas writes on this concept:
Recommendations for responsible behaviour alone is not a viable policy tool in public health emergencies such as pandemics of highly contagious and deadly diseases such as COVID-19. For responsible behaviour to be effective, it should be practiced voluntarily by the absolute majority of the population. This is unrealistic, given that current social distancing recommendations are both unusual and inconvenient, i.e., they contradict both prevailing social customs and personal habits.
In other words, unless a behaviour is commonplace, it is unlikely to be voluntarily adopted by the majority of a population. When a measure is inevitably disregarded, it fails to provide its intended outcome of protection.
More sinister is the cultural impact of not mandating a protection.
We are surrounded by mandated protections we have come to accept as common and usual. As banal a task as commuting to work involves mandated seatbelts, speed limits, and blood alcohol levels. We accept these mandated protections because we have come to understand their benefits both anecdotally and through public discourse.
The structure of mandated protections is so engrained in our culture that the absence of mandates implies a level of safety or reduced severity and risk. We are trained to look for warnings and infer proximal hazards from their presence.
In all of their communications since announcing the end of protections, public health has loudly communicated two points;
COVID-19 is not severe enough for you to do anything about; and
COVID-19 is not severe enough for us to do anything about.
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