Mandryk: Moe's framing of COVID-19 success increasingly dangerous

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Mandryk: Moe's framing of COVID-19 success increasingly dangerous
© Provided by Leader Post Using current low morbidity rates is a dangerous way for Premier Scott Moe to frame his COVID-19 successes.

In just two weeks, Saskatchewan has added 16,434 COVID-19 cases to the dashboard … although there may be tens of thousands more because rapid tests are not included in the official tally.

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With 11,983 active cases (as of Thursday), at least one in every 100 Saskatchewan person now has COVID-19 (although, again, that ratio is also likely higher because of those uncounted rapid tests).

The good news is there have been no deaths in two weeks — stagnant at 961.

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The problem for Premier Scott Moe, however is that this death rate is actually the one statistic that he cannot use as a measure of success.

That the recent low death toll is creeping into Moe’s narrative this week was ill-advised. As much as this may be good for now, for any to politician to even hint the death rate has somehow become a positive indicator only adds to existing problems. For Moe, it’s a particular problem. Here’s why:

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After clearly suggesting in year-end interviews that Saskatchewan would have more restrictions if we saw numbers numbers even close to ones we are now seeing, Moe emerged from the holidays to say there would be no added restrictions unless we saw a massive spike in Saskatchewan hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Tuesday in the face of those swelling case numbers Moe — still self-isolating after becoming Saskatchewan’s highest-profile COVID-19 sufferer last week — noted on Facebook that “our hospitalizations, ICU admissions and COVID-19 related deaths remain significantly lower than other provinces that have strict lockdowns”.

Moe’s social media post then doubled down on his notion that lockdowns aren’t working in Quebec and Ontario, (although he’s never addressed how high case numbers would be elsewhere without restrictions). But the real problem may be that the post repeated the notion there’s been no deaths in two weeks.

It was a dangerously short-sighted way to frame his decision-making.

Leaked modelling shows hospitalizations in Saskatchewan headed for record highs, confirming chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab’s concern.

At best, ignoring the increasing hospitalization problem is moving the goal posts from what Moe said in late 2021 in terms of what would be a key determinant for further restrictions. At worse, it ignores the reality that increased hospitalizations can and do lead to ICU admissions. In past waves, that has, in turn,  lead to more death.

This is why it’s been dangerous for politicians to mention death rates during this pandemic … even during the times when death rates have been low.

It’s dangerous enough for the provincial government not to have offered post-Christmas guidance to schools, many of which are temporarily stopping in-class learning because of the sheer volume of Omicron cases.

It’s dangerous enough for Moe that there’s a growing perception his COVID-19 responses have become increasingly political — whether it was decision late last year to entertain the views of anti-vaccination advocate Nadine Ness or the more recent fallout from moving long-time political operative Raynelle Wilson first to the health ministry and then into an ill-defined role as a vice-president at the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

And it’s dangerous that Moe is increasingly being seen as insensitive to the mounting problems in heath care, as evidenced by the tumble he took in the most recent Angus Reid survey.

But to even vaguely imply the death rate is a success measure could have lasting implications.

To be clear, Moe was in no way being deliberately being macabre or frivolous in noting the news.

However, the death rate is something that cannot be controlled, is likely to trend upward and could quickly become political ruinous if it increases.

Even if the numbers don’t soar, the unexpected death of a younger person is apt to grab headlines. Moreover, falling death statistics are of little solace to those who have already lost friends and loved ones.

Simply put, no good comes out of Moe or any politician talking about COVID-19 deaths as mere statistics.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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