Campaign school: Raising the COVID consciousness of anyone running for city council, school board or park board
Just like global heating, COVID-19 has an ability to worm itself into unexpected areas.
Last November, the climate crisis—in the form of greater water vapour in the atmosphere—walloped the province with horrific floods.
It washed away highways, creating a massive amount of work for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The worst atmospheric river inflicted long-term devastation on the agriculture industry in Abbotsford and caused untold damage to the communities of Merritt and Princeton.
People running for political office at all levels really need to understand what's driving the climate breakdown to be able to make sound decisions about our future.
The same is true when it comes to COVID-19. It's already wreaked havoc on the arts and entertainment and hospitality sectors, among other industries.
If you don't know how COVID-19 is spread or if you don't understand the basics of aerosol science, you're flying blind if you're a member of the Vancouver park board, school board, or city council.
Right now, I can see the contours of the upcoming municipal political campaign shaping up in Vancouver.
There's already a roaring debate over densification, including at the Jericho lands. Others duke it out over whether housing is being built at a pace to accommodate a growing population.
Some want to force a debate over the police budget. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says that a recent provincial decision has taken away the city's control over that area.
Others want to make public safety the issue of the campaign.
These are all important topics. But so far, I haven't seen a great deal of focus on COVID-19. The Democratic Socialists have been the only ones calling for greater local control over the pandemic response.
One thing is clear—the provincial government's decision to lift an indoor mask mandate has real potential to emerge as an issue in the school board election.
There will like be candidates running who will argue for reinstatement of the mask mandate in public schools. As an employer, the Vancouver Board of Education has the power to do this.
The same powers exist at the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Public Library board.
Whoever wins the mayoral election will be on the TransLink Mayors' Council. In that position, the mayor can argue for reinstating a mask mandate on the transit system.
To date, Mayor Stewart has not done that, even though supporters of mask mandates believe that this could save lives by protecting passengers and transit operators from an airborne virus.
I realize that it's extremely difficult for politicians to keep up with a bunch of different issues. This is especially so for first-time candidates who haven't had the benefit of regular staff briefings.
To increase the COVID-19 literacy of candidates, I'm going to provide some tips below, followed by links to eight scientific papers.
By October, if B.C. continues without an indoor mask mandate, COVID-19 will undoubtedly remain a huge public-policy challenge.
This will take centre-stage if it's throttling the economy because of so many people taking time off work. That's to say nothing of the growing number of deaths and disability resulting from the disease.
Tip 1: Understanding airborne COVID-19
Candidates need to know that there is a significant group of well-educated voters who are convinced that Vancouver Coastal Health and the provincial health officer disagree with the White House and the chief public health officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, on how COVID-19 is transmitted.
This may come as a shock to some readers of this column—especially those who are focused on municipal issues and who haven't delved into the nitty-gritty of COVID-19.
Dr. Tam and the White House have accepted the view of aerosol scientists who insist that the primary route for most COVID-19 infections is airborne. As a result, they're strong proponents of masks.
Public health officials in Vancouver and at the provincial government level are not keen proponents of masking up—and they've offered no real evidence that they accept the findings of the four papers listed below.
Aerosols are a tricky concept to understand. The slide below, presented by the coauthor of two of the papers below, University of Colorado Boulder aerosol scientist Jose-Luis Jimenez, helps explain what they are.
"Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2", the Lancet (April 15, 2021)
"Mitigating airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2", Canadian Medical Association Journal (June 8, 2021)
"Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses", Science (August 27, 2021)
"Orthodoxy, illusio, and playing the scientific game: a Bourdieusian analysis of infection control science in the COVID-19 pandemic" (version 3), Wellcome Open Research (October 22, 2021)
Tip 2: COVID-19 is not simply a respiratory disease
If there's one thing that upsets critics of Dr. Bonnie Henry and the health authorities, it's their continual references to COVID-19 as a "respiratory disease".
Groups like Protect Our Province B.C. and the Safe Schools Coalition B.C. cite evidence published in peer-reviewed papers showing that COVID-19 is actually a vascular disease that initially presents as a respiratory illness.
In a significant minority of cases, this can have devastating consequences for the nervous and circulatory systems and internal organs. A growing body of research is linking this to impacts that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has on the functioning of the immune system.
"Nervous system consequences of COVID-19", Science (January 20, 2022)
"COVID-19 - A vascular disease", Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine (January 31, 2021)
"Long-term cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19", Nature Medicine (February 7, 2022)
"Endothelial cells are not productively infected by SARS-CoV-2", Clinical & Translational Immunology (October 24, 2021)
There are scores more papers published on COVID-19 in various journals. The key is to realize that this is an evolving area of science and one must not simply rely on a single voice, like Dr. Bonnie Henry or Vancouver Coastal Health, as the sole source of information.
To date, the vast majority of MLAs, mayors, city councillors, park commissioners, and school trustees have gone along with the local public health officials in the belief that this constitutes "following the science".
But not everyone believes that these officials are following the science, let alone reading it.
It's something to keep in mind when COVID-19 invariably shows up where it's least expected—in the midst of local election debates in the fall.