The Death of Legitimacy: Part II
Part of an editorial series examining Public Health's role in manufacturing acceptance of mass illness and death.
By announcing the end of protections on March 14, 2022, Public Health 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.
This abdication of responsibility did not sit well with many, due primarily to a dearth of substantiative information. At nearly every turn in the pandemic, the public had been reading along. New Brunswickers were able to digest the provided data and became adept enough at its interpretation to accurately predict Public Health’s next decision. Educated thusly, they could dutifully reconcile the application of mitigation measures with the relative presence of the virus.
Now, the data and the decisions were becoming, to borrow a pandemic buzzword, decoupled.
On January 14, 2022, Public Health reluctantly announced the move to the most restrictive level of their Covid plan. The move was made in light of 103 hospitalizations, 11 people in intensive care, and 3 people on ventilators. In a news release the day of the announcement, Premier Blaine Higgs stated:
Introducing these additional measures is not a step anyone wanted to take, but we promised we would take action when action was needed, and that time is now, based on the rising number of hospitalizations, this is what we need to do to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant and mitigate the impact on our health-care system.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Jennifer Russell added:
These measures are serious, and that is because we are facing a very serious situation.
On March 14, 2022 Public Health gleefully removed all protections. This move was made while 103 people were hospitalized, 11 people were in intensive care, and 7 people were on ventilators; an arguably worse state of affairs than the one which warranted our most restrictive measures.
Many who had been reading along were dubious. The data suggested a course of action wholly removed from what was being proposed by the government. Removing all protections implied a level of reduced severity and risk not borne out by the government’s own numbers; numbers which were rapidly becoming more scarce and more obfuscated as they became more severe.
The public rightfully asked for one thing, clear data supporting this seemingly flawed decision.
No data came.
Public Health has not held a press conference since announcing their intention to remove protections on February 24. In a handful of interviews since, Russell sermonized about the harms of masking and made vague citations of “studies” which she claimed showed disproportionate mental health impacts on children. At no time was a study provided or named and the most likely candidates do not draw the conclusions she held up as justification for Public Health’s about face.
In a matter of weeks, Public Health’s narrative moved from a message of social solidarity to an invocation of the “harms of masking.” Two years of quantifiable, verifiable data supported the prior, while the latter was seemingly predicated solely on the infallible authority of Public Health.
Jennifer Russell was recently provided an opportunity, during Kelly Lamrock’s investigation, to justify Public Health’s decision to remove pandemic protections from children. Lamrock asked Russell a clear and concise question regarding quantifiable, verifiable information.
What specific information, data, advice, or studies from your office, to your knowledge, has led to the most recent decision by DEECD to reduce or remove Covid restrictions such as masking?
Russell’s responses are disjointed, qualitative, anecdotal and characterized by leaps of logic one would attribute to pandemic deniers and conspiracy theorists. Her first defence comes in the form of a decree that “vaccination is the most important action parents can take to reduce Covid-19 absenteeism in our schools.” She states that vaccines “reduce transmission rates” but does not offer any data to substantiate the claim. In fact, we know the Omicron variant has reduced the vaccines’ effectiveness at preventing transmission and that children have the lowest vaccination rates of any cohort in New Brunswick.
We have compared absenteeism data provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. There can be no question that student absences have increased overall. However, when one compares February 2020 to February 2022, the increase in absenteeism rate of Kindergarten to Grade 8 students is double that of high school students who have higher vaccination rates. The mask mandate was still in place at the time.
This sentiment has become a cornerstone of Russell’s argument against pandemic protections. She alleges that, because vaccination is the most important of all protection measures, all other protection measures should be abandoned until vaccination rates improve.
Russell adds the framing of “the mask mandate was still in place at the time” as an implication that it had no bearing on transmission outcomes. By juxtaposing the simple statement in a paragraph about vaccination rates, we’re meant to infer masks are pointless. At best it is bafflingly incompetent and at worst it is crass and manipulative.
Imagine a medical professional explaining that speeding drivers were getting into twice as many accidents as drivers who did not speed even though all of them were sober at the time. How logical would we find a suggestion to remove drunk driving laws until speeding has improved?
In her letter, Russell continues from her non-quantitative anecdote to the argument of lemming-like national solidarity by confirming that by March 2022, “most jurisdictions across Canada … made the decision to discontinue masking in schools.” Another argument that incorporates no quantifiable New Brunswick data or any consideration for the status of the pandemic within our province.
Russell rounds out her answer to this question with a list of trends observed by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Included in the list is the observation of an increased number of four year old children identified as at-risk for language development, regardless of the fact that two thirds of four year old children are not yet in kindergarten. Another group of children identified as at-risk were 18-24 month olds, also not in schools and therefore not subject to mandatory masking.
Finally, Russell provides the sole citation of an external document, written by psychologist Manon Porelle, which, she claims, details how “mask wearing will require an explicit teaching [of] our children, over the next few years, in reading facial expressions in others.”
We now know this document doesn’t exist and the cited author has no idea what Russell was referring to.
After pontificating on the multiple harms of masking, and the list of troubling observations occurring with New Brunswick children, Russell adds that “there is no evidence of significant negative cognitive impacts of mask wearing on children.”
This is the manufacture of authority. Loud proclamations of imagined ills directed toward an invested public so they may fully understand the grievous conditions which gave rise to policy decisions, followed by a whispered caveat that none of what was just stated is quite true. Time and again we see short authoritative answers which fall apart under the slightest of scrutiny, should any take the time to scrutinize.
One begins to see the design in the narrative. A claim stated boldly need not be true if it provides a compelling answer to a burning question. The intent, it seems, is not to answer the question, but to stop the question.
It is a methodology which has proven successful. Hollow justifications spoken with confidence from a place of authority are sufficient to quell the concerns of most people. Errors or mistruths corrected after the fact often exist solely in a post-concern dialogue, once the majority of questioning citizens have left the conversation.
Well-meaning individuals, having never experienced a clear reason to distrust Public Health, imbue the office with increasing medical and scientific sovereignty. Evidence of Public Health’s lack of transparency, authenticity, and credibility is less and less likely to damage its reputation as the source of “truth.”
Today, in this province, we have a Chief Medical Officer of Health who advised her government to remove all mandated protections for children. She underpinned this advice with spurious claims that protections harm children, wholly disregarding their effectiveness at preventing a disease that causes widespread organ damage and neurovascular impairment. When asked to validate this advice she refused until compelled by another office of government, at which time, she fabricated evidence. When that fabrication was exposed… nothing happened. The authority of the office of Public Health endures.
Having a government office exist outside of accountability is beneficial to those in power seeking permission to do as they please, and Public Health has become the incorruptible source of justification for any minister looking to rationalize their inaction.
The critical objective of such an office is safeguarding its manufactured legitimacy, and in the pursuit of this objective, truth becomes irrelevant.
If you would like to receive PoPNB posts in your email, please subscribe below. If you found this post helpful, please share it with your community.