Emergency alert!!! It was another irrational week April 26-May 2, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Nov. 19, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

I’m only going to talk about one thing this week – one thing only – BIKES!

Just kidding. As much as I would enjoy a full newsletter article about bikes, there is something seriously wrong and dangerous happening in Alberta right now. So, I’m only going to update you this week in on the disastrous COVID-19 response we’ve seen spinning out of control on Jason Kenney’s watch.

This week, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared a state of emergency after the largest population centre, Fort McMurray recorded the highest per capita rate of infection in the province, with 1,064 active cases. That’s about as many total cases reported in the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador since the beginning of the pandemic.

Mayor Don Scott said too many residents, particularly young oilsands workers, have been left unprotected. He called on the province to lower the vaccine eligibility age for his constituents and provide more details on community spread. 

Kenney responded immediately with a “no” to lowering the eligibility age, despite the fact the vaccine is approved for 18 years and up. Even the overly cautious National Advisory Council on Immunization has recommended it be made available to those 30 and up.

And yet, Kenney dug in on this as he has so many times before.

“The supply is there. Maybe the clinics and pharmacies have not been convenient enough for folks. Maybe there continues to be an issue of vaccine hesitancy in some of the surrounding First Nations. Those are issues that we have to work through.”

To which the Chief of the Athabasca First Nation responded:

“For almost thirteen months we have followed the leadership of Jason Kenney, and where has it gotten us? To last place in the country when it comes to the rate of spread. More than double the worst outbreak in Ontario and tied, if you can believe it, with Delhi, India. Whatever Alberta has been doing so far has been a failure.” Chief Allan Adam

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras also responded and called on the Premier to apologize for his remark about First Nations vaccine hesitancy. No apology has been made to date.

By Wednesday, Kenney was forced to act on lowering the age eligibility and announced that Albertans under 30 in two of the hot spots – Fort McMurray and Banff – would soon be eligible to get the Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Of course, it was later announced the J&J vaccine was being held back due to some cross-contamination concerns.

“Alberta Health officials are urgently looking into how we can deliver doses from other sources,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro wrote in a tweet.

On Thursday, after only a few days earlier refusing to take further measures to protect Albertans amid rising case numbers and a positive test rate reaching 12% at one point, Kenney announced new “targeted restrictions.”

Even normally sympathetic political pundits were quick to denounce the measures as politically motivated rather than public health driven.

“If these reimposed restrictions — including indoor fitness cancelled and outdoor group fitness classes restricted and all Grade 7 to 12 classes going online — were truly about ‘bending the curve’ as the government claims (and not about preventing Kenney from having to face a leadership review at the UCP convention this fall), then the rules would apply to all communities with rates of infections above a certain threshold.”

Lorne Gunter

On Friday, Albertans were startled late in the day by an emergency alert on their phones. This seemed completely ridiculous given the minor restrictions announced the day before and the exemptions for the “COVID 18” MLAs’ home ridings. Even though some of the regions are being particularly hard hit with rising case numbers, the government is adding no new restrictions.

Schools were already moved online in most cases and the cancellation of a fitness class doesn’t seem to warrant an emergency alert – there was nothing really for Albertans to do and most took to social media to deride the alert. The credibility of the emergency alert system has certainly been tarnished.

Then, media reported on Friday that Kenney had begun talking with restaurant and bar owners about having them step up efforts to enforce the rules around outdoor dining. Restaurants are allowed to serve “tables of up to six people from the same household, and up to two out-of-household contacts for people who live alone.”

These measures are not new but Kenney is pressuring the industry to do more and industry representatives are pushing back.

The president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, Ernie Tsu said “staff safety is the main concern with enforcement as some customers have been hostile when it comes to health measures.”

Meanwhile, the weekend arrived and so did the “No More Lockdown” rodeo in Bowden, south of Edmonton. The non-sanctioned event attracted thousands over two days and both the premier and UCP MLA Devin Dreeshan could not be reached for comment as the event shifted locations to avoid Alberta Health Services and RCMP scrutiny.

On Sunday, Premier Kenney finally tweeted his dismay with those who attended the rodeo. For those who aren’t following him (or are blocked) he basically said, “please smarten up.”

Now, this is a phrase my dad would sometimes use with me when I was a teenager. It usually was delivered in a mildly annoyed fashion for minor infractions like forgetting my homework at school or missing an assignment due date. If I had done something really serious, this is not a phrase he would use. Kenney’s message was more of a gentle chiding than a serious rebuke. The tweet was almost a perfect example of — too little, too late.

As many have pointed out, Kenney opened the door for this kind of event recently by suggesting the Calgary Stampede would be able to go ahead in about two months time.

Not making excuses but for some of the rodeo attendees, the ongoing contradiction to the severity of the COVID case numbers reported in media and the “best summer ever” messaging from Kenney – is extremely frustrating. The premier’s lack of consistency could be an excuse to interpret the situation optimistically or at least, not as dire as the critics say.

We’ll know more about whether this was a super spreader event in about two weeks time, I guess.

Unfortunately, the current numbers are pretty dire.

So today, the Premier announced they were suspending the Legislature’s spring session for at least two weeks due to rising cases of COVID-19 across the province.

The Opposition pounced and social media exploded.

At a hastily organized news conference details of which were tweeted out by Michelle Bellefontaine of the CBC, Rachel Notley called Kenney a “hypocrite because retail stores and patios are still open, forcing people to work.” She said there are laws they could pass like paid sick leave, etc. Kenney has apparently ruled out any attempt at holding the sessions virtually even though most of the governments in the world have moved to this format since the pandemic started.

The number of hospitalizations is rising at an alarming rate in almost all age groups.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw is delivering only infrequent commentary and updates, takes only a limited number of questions from the media and generally is not at all transparent about what advice she is giving the premier and his “Keystone Caucus” in this crisis.

The Alberta government is also delivering some of the worst crisis communications I’ve seen in 30+ years as a professional communicator. To be fair, there are not a lot of examples of good communication by anyone these days but still. We deserve better.

I’d like to end the newsletter with this campaign from the government of New Zealand, whose prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has a background in professional communications.

With vaccine hesitancy on the rise and protests against public health measures increasing to the point where thousands have simply washed their hands of the government’s confusing advice, urgent action is needed. Not only are the logistics in need of expert help, but also the provincial government’s communication strategy. The current one is so lacking in efficacy it is nearly non-existent.

A campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated, wear masks and take all the other precautions we know are needed with an airborne illness, should be initiated as soon as possible. Otherwise, we could find ourselves still struggling with this same scenario into the fall or *despair* – experiencing a fourth wave.

Alberta has more new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other place in North America. The legislature has been shut down, effectively halting the passing of any new legislation or allowing the Opposition to publicly ask questions of the government (crucial for accountability).

And Fort McMurray’s COVID case numbers are the highest in the province. The Premier has yet to even acknowledge the threat to the same oil and gas workers he claims to “love.”

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and was one of the first in line for the Astra Zeneca vaccine when it became available.


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