If it’s ‘not a coverup’ what is it?

A key moment in the provincial government’s press conference announcing the latest pandemic mitigation measures on Monday came when a reporter asked Premier Doug Ford how the province would know when to lift them, in light of an earlier decision to all but abandon the idea of testing and tracking beyond a few select sectors.

Ford turned the question over to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, who offered that COVID-19-related hospitalizations would become the new metric for making such decisions.

Moore, we should remember, was already left on his own just last Friday to appear publicly to ensure parents schools would be opening Jan. 5. Now, it appears he must be the one to explain why tracking and transparency won’t be the way going forward.

It’s easy to question the many decisions made by this provincial government in its efforts to navigate the pandemic. However, to this point, Ontarians could at least take solace in the idea that pandemic trends were undergoing a science-based evaluation, even if the resulting recommendations have seldom been followed with action until a few days after the “too little, too late” line had been crossed.

With a third of PCR tests returning positive results, Moore was tasked last week with trying to sell us on the idea there was no further point in testing and tracking, as the existence of community spread has been confirmed.

Whatever merit there might have been in that approach was lost in the reality the testing restrictions mean that realistic case numbers (one assumes it’s always been an undercount due to asymptomatic or mildly ill people not getting tested) going forward will never be known.

It might sound cynical to suggest that’s not a bad outcome for a government due to face voters a few months hence, but here we are. It’s hard to dispute it all reeks of former reality show host Donald Trump’s logic on testing. “When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases,” he once famously declared.

Here at home, Moore’s assertion “this is not a coverup” in defence of the plan does little to quell the sinking feeling this government has gone into extreme damage control mode. Nixon, after all, stated clearly that he was “not a crook.”

The province’s move Monday to keep schools closed an extra two weeks at least delays implementation of the infuriating decision not to have education boards report school case numbers. Does this government really expect parents to send children, many un- or under-vaccinated, into an environment where the level of COVID spread is a crapshoot? While a case may be makeable that province-wide testing at previous levels is unrealistic at current case numbers, the school system is a limited population which could be far more easily monitored.

And, without that wider data on provincial case numbers, where will the modelling come from to warn us of impending future waves and inform studies that will help prevent and prepare for health crises down the line?

This pandemic has thrown governments at all levels a lot of curves and the occasional swing and miss is not surprising. However, just standing back with the bat on your shoulder hardly seems an advisable strategy.