Vaccines are flowing fast and furious into Ontario and records for shots in arms are being made daily. But the province is still at over 2,000 cases a day and Toronto officials are urging the lockdown needs to stay. What does Doug Ford’s government need to do to avoid a fourth wave?  We asked David Wills, Chris Loreto and Sarbjit Kaur.

David Wills:

The simple answer is to learn the lessons from wave one, wave two and wave three.

The big issue is that a false hope narrative has taken hold — that the only thing we need to do is vaccinate people.

If we want to avoid being back in lockdown, we need permanent measures and we must heed the warning signs when they come up, and not simply hope that things will get better. The sad truth is that the recommendations that came post-SARS are still relevant today, mostly because they were not implemented.

We’ve talked about a lot of COVID-19 measures here before, so I’ll focus on the immediate.

First, move much faster to stop workplace spread. It took far too long — and it took courage from Municipal Medical Officers of Health — to start shutting down businesses with outbreaks. The faster we do this, the less harm it will have on workplace and community spread, and ultimately, the less damage to the economy.

Second, implement actual employer-paid sick days. At least 10 of them. The current proposal managed to be even more cumbersome and ineffectual than the federal program — quite the feat.

I know some will say mandatory sick days will hurt the mom and pop businesses. I got a fix for that. Let’s create a program for those businesses that can make a case for assistance. What we saw with the Wage Subsidy Program was that big business took advantage. Full disclosure: my company (@40 people) has always had paid sick days. We don’t want people working while sick. And no one has ever taken advantage of it. It costs us nothing.

Chris Loreto:

We have not yet won the war. We must remain focused on the objective of getting vaccinations up.

While we do this, we need to maintain current measures as our case counts are not near the 1,000 or less the Chief Medical Officer of Health wants to see before we ease restrictions.

We are beginning to win little battles. Case counts are gradually declining, ICU admissions are gradually declining, and deaths are going down as well.

However, unlike David’s case, the real answer here is vaccination. We need to get to 70 or 80 per cent for herd immunity. We are going to be behind the eight ball if we do not get supply up — enough supply to actually get second doses in arms faster.

Only way out of lockdown is vaccination.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Setting aside the vaccination piece, which is going along swimmingly after some initial hiccups, I think having gone through a few botched lockdowns we should by now be experts at this and know what works and what doesn’t.

While we are getting the broad strokes right in this latest lockdown it’s still frustrating that we’re missing some of the strategic and evidence/date supported measures we have to get right.

Why are golf courses and tennis and outdoor activities, which we now know to be relatively safe and quite low risk, still barred but workplaces continue to be open — save for when local authorities step in due to lack of government action?

Why after all this time, are our nurses and PSWs not getting the support they need to prevent burnout? If there is a fourth wave I don’t know how they’ll be able to rise to the occasion again and again. Staffing is the number one problem at hospitals right now and we’re back to PSWs working at multiple homes — a practice we know contributes to the spread of COVID-19 and certainly a far cry from any concept an “iron ring.”

Finally, we tend to open up everything all at once and then have to shut right back down.

A phased approach may work better. Again — being strategic at this point is necessary. Really pin-pointing the problem areas and tackling them can prevent a fourth wave.

David Wills:

Chris confirmed my biggest fear — that the Conservatives have no plan other than vaccination.

That’s not a plan. Until COVID-19 is eradicated worldwide, we will remain in a pandemic. Variants will occur, they will spread and vaccines will need to be updated.

That’s why we need to learn lessons and create a public health model that protects us from past mistakes. Our return to normal should not be a return to 2019. It should be better so when the next pandemic hits, we will know how to deal with it better.

But back to the question of how to avoid a fourth wave.

We also need to look at the value of the people we put on the front line. Nurses. PSWs. Daycare workers. Teachers.

It’s all well and nice to call them heroes, but we need to provide them with the tools they need to do the job and we need to pay them better. Too many working in daycares and long-term care homes are paid far too little. We need to align their value with their pay.

History is full of lessons. Emperor Constantine IX thought the salary of the master engineer Orban was too expensive, so sent him away … right to the Sultan’s army, where the guy built the cannon that would destroy the walls of Constantinople. One of the earliest examples of why it’s a good idea to keep your frontline happy.

Fast forward to today, and we see research that says nurses and teachers are burned out and feeling abused. A large number now say they will retire early, and it will become difficult to recruit for those jobs if we don’t show them more respect.

Chris Loreto:

I want to respond to a few things.

First, vaccinations are hardly going swimmingly — we still do not have enough supply to do second doses. Less than 3% of the Canadian population has had a second dose.

The feds are doing a great job spinning a yarn here, but there is real risk in going against the medical advice on second doses because the feds dropped the ball on vaccines. Those jurisdictions going back to normal have done so because of vaccines, not lockdowns.

Second, for all the saber-rattling from local Medical Officers of Health about shutting down businesses, they have not shut down many. I think businesses have been more responsible that they have been given credit for. I hate to see the shutdown ideology being purveyed by the Liberals and the NDP. People need to work. The economy needs to move. Business can’t take any more.

Third, for all the grief the media and Twitter-epidemiologists gave to the Ford government on its lockdown measures, its intent to reduce mobility seems to be working. Cases and hospitalization rates are going in the right direction. The government will also likely extend the emergency measures further into June so that we further tamp the third wave down and avoid a fourth.

But avoiding a fourth is contingent on one thing — vaccines. We need more and we need to accelerate second doses.

To say we should learn from waves one, two and three is fair, but this virus keeps changing — the mutations are what are kicking our butts now. These variants didn’t swim here. They came from overseas. If Ontario extends its emergency order, the feds need to tighten the borders.

So, avoiding the fourth wave is simple and largely in the feds’ hands at this point.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Lol. Just lets the feds run Ontario — why not??

They would’ve brought in the Red Cross to support health care workers by now, stopped the 30,000 international students and all the temporary foreign workers that Doug Ford approved and relies on, and domestic flights where most of the variant spread is coming from.

Fifty percent of Canadians are vaccinated with a first doses as of Tuesday! That’s huge. The feds have done their part and more. By end of May we’ll be at 70 per cent, which is a game changer in terms of getting back to “normal.”

There’s data now to show second doses can be delayed. Some have gone so far as to call it a “nice to have” vs a “must have.” But provincial Conservatives just have to keep searching for something to blame the feds for rather than taking responsibility for their part in this and doing what needs to be done at the provincial level.

There has to be accountability as well. Vaccines are a miracle and there was never a guarantee on when they would come or if they would even work. So many people didn’t make it to the first dose. We lost those people and they don’t get to be part of this more optimistic phase.

The only way to prevent a fourth wave and prepare for future pandemics is to do the hard work of bettering our systems — as David noted.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

The ONW Salon: Avoiding a Fourth COVID-19 Wave

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