To vax or not to vax: Wasaga to bring in vaccine policy for town employees

Wasaga Beach municipal employees will soon have new rules for the vaccinated, and unvaccinated. However, the town’s deputy fire chief and point person on COVID-19, Craig Williams, said anyone opting not to get a jab will not be subjected to antigen testing. “There are a number of challenges with the testing, the logistics of delivering (testing) on a daily basis and the number of staff we have,” he said. Williams presented council’s co-ordinated committee with a draft vaccination policy that will apply to employees, contractors, volunteers, and politicians. The policy, which is not yet in its final form, would require employees — including those who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Wasaga Beach Professional Firefighters Association — to report their vaccination status to the town’s human resources department. The town’s pandemic command team, in consultation with the local health unit, conducted an assessment of the risk for employees, and determined it to be “moderate risk” of virus transmission, Williams said. The position on testing could be reviewed depending on the progress of the pandemic, he said. Employees retain the right, he said, “to make an informed decision about their personal health care, including the decision to become vaccinated. “We will be strongly encouraging all employees to receive the vaccine,” he said. Employees who do not submit proof of their vaccination status, or who are unable to be vaccinated, will be treated as unvaccinated. That will mean a requirement to wear a mask in all municipal facilities, including non-public areas, when in the presence of another employee, regardless of physical distancing or other public health measures. Should an outbreak occur in a municipal facility, unvaccinated employees will be subject to other precautionary measures that may include wearing additional personal protective equipment, modified or reassigned duties, alternate work locations, or required use of vacation and sick time. However, emphasized Williams, “under no circumstances will an employee face any degree of intimidation, coercion, bullying or any other negative behaviour” based on a decision whether or not to be vaccinated. “The municipality’s standpoint is we will support our employees with their decision-making,” he said. Council will be updated at a later meeting on the reintroduction of in-person meetings for council and committees. That policy will be informed by the province’s vaccine passport system that will come into force on Sept. 22.

McDonald’s has new COVID-19 policy for restaurants in Canada

Fast food giant McDonald’s has made a change to one of its COVID-19 policies due to the changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant chain says it will no longer be publicly reporting COVID-19 cases at its locations across the country; something McDonald’s did since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. “At McDonald’s Canada, our top priority is to protect the health and well-being of our employees and our guests – it’s at the core of everything we do. In addition to our existing high standards of cleanliness, restaurants have implemented enhanced protective measures during the pandemic to ensure every part of the McDonald’s experience is safe,” according to a statement on the McDonald’s COVID-19 tracker page. “Throughout the pandemic we have communicated restaurant closures due to COVID-19 so that restaurant employees and guests were continually informed of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in restaurants and could take proper measures. This was important during the early months of the pandemic and we posted an ongoing COVID-19 tracker to report on any change of status in our restaurants.” However, McDonald’s added, “due to the increased numbers of Canadians who are vaccinated, a corresponding reduction in impacts on our operations, and the introduction of vaccine passports or cards for restaurants in most provinces, the tracker has been discontinued.” The company says it will continue to operate in line with guidance from public health authorities and all levels of government. McDonald’s joins whose stores include No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore and Shoppers Drug Mart, who earlier this summer also decided to no longer make public COVID-19 cases in its stores. However, many other stores including continue to report cases at their store locations.

When it comes to empathy for the unvaccinated, many of us aren’t feeling it

“Unvaccinated COVID patients do not deserve ICU beds.” “I have no empathy left for the willfully unvaccinated. Let them die.” In the no-holds barred world of Twitter, comments like these, where the vaccinated say the unvaccinated deserve what they get, are becoming increasingly common. But even in the minds of people on the street, these sentiments are swirling in collective thoughts as the intensifies and vaccination rates plateau. According to a recent most vaccinated Canadians are indifferent to the unvaccinated getting sick with the virus, with 83 per cent saying they have no sympathy for those who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine and then fall ill. Anecdotally, patience is even wearing thin among health-care professionals. “There’s certainly health-care workers who have said they’re out of sympathy,” said Amir Imani, a clinical pharmacist serving neurological rehabilitation patients, including those recovering from COVID-19, adding that sometimes he feels it, too. “Many of them, frankly, have had it much worse than I do working in COVID ICUs.” Dr. Anita Sircar, an infectious-disease physician, “Last year, a case like this would have flattened me. I would have wrestled with the sadness and how unfair life was. Battled with the angst of how unlucky he was,” Sircar wrote. “This year, I struggled to find sympathy.” The lack of sympathy is apparent as the debate around mandatory vaccinations to attend public spaces heats up politically, and as ICU capacity and case numbers climb again. Over 80 per cent of eligible Canadians already have their first dose, and many are eager to return to a life free of COVID threats after 18 months. With vaccines free and available in Canada, patience and understanding for those who still choose not to get vaccinated is in short supply. The rise of the more contagious Delta variant is also increasing the pressure. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, stressed to reporters on Tuesday the urgency of getting more people vaccinated, especially those in the 18-29 age group, where only 62.6 per cent are fully vaccinated in Ontario. For Imani and other health professionals, empathy for the unvaccinated remains key to having open conversations about their decision, and ideally convincing more people to get the shot once their fears about the vaccine are addressed. But for most of the public, empathy is becoming harder to practise, and the divide between those who are vaccinated and those who are not is widening. On social media, quotes like “If an unvaccinated person catches it from someone who is vaccinated, boohoo, too bad,” and “If you chose to be unvaccinated I don’t care about you,” have become common, as news reports emerge of more people getting hospitalized with COVID-19 before receiving a vaccine. Among all Canadians surveyed by Angus Reid regardless of vaccination status, 75 per cent said they’re unsympathetic to the unvaccinated getting sick. For the much smaller number of the unvaccinated, 82 per cent of them showed higher rates of sympathy for those who, like them, are unvaccinated and may become ill. The divide between the two groups, while stark, is not entirely surprising. Empathy — the act of relating to and understanding someone who shares a different set of beliefs than our own — can sometimes be hard to practise in general, said Sara Konrath, a Canadian social psychologist. Konrath directs the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Empathy is different from sympathy, which means developing feelings of pity and sadness for someone else’s unfortunate situation. Research shows that empathy takes effort, Konrath said, and it could be harder to extend when we ourselves feel worn out and psychologically tired. , published in the American Journal of Psychology, concluded that empathy is not easy to extend, and “in many cases, particularly with strangers, it may require cognitive work.” Work that, Konrath said, is tough to do when we ourselves aren’t feeling great because of pandemic trauma. “People are exhausted at this point,” Konrath said. “At the best times, empathy takes effort … It’s been a year and a half of very challenging stress, financial stress, homeschooling, worries about jobs, worries about health, social isolation.” “People don’t have the psychological resources that we would have had otherwise to invest in people different from us.” Konrath said she finds herself feeling empathetic for people who aren’t able to extend empathy now. “I would assume that people who answered the (Angus Reid) survey don’t feel really great when they say they don’t care about the unvaccinated … I think if they were in a better state in their life, they probably wouldn’t feel that way.” But the topic of vaccination has also become especially polarizing, said Imani, the clinical pharmacist. Developing lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, or dying in a car accident after dangerous speeding, are understood as consequences of unhealthy behaviour, though the tragic outcomes are typically met with more empathy. Responses to COVID, on the other hand, have become tied to our sense of identity, Imani said, making understanding between the vaccinated and unvaccinated even more difficult. The spread of the virus also impacts communities as a whole, and not just the individual who chooses to be unvaccinated. While a percentage of people remain unvaccinated because of barriers to access or information, Imani said, some have capitalized on it as a political movement, tied to freedom of choice and anti-vaccine sentiments. “People smoke, but there isn’t a pro-smoking political group, or pro-smoking conspiracy theories,” he said. The rise of conspiracies tied to the vaccine is one of many reasons why Imani said he maintains empathy through his role in health care, especially as a bulk of his time is spent educating those who are hesitant about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. “You can’t help people if you don’t really understand what they’re thinking or what they’re coming from,” Imani said. He added most of the people he ends up interacting with aren’t staunch anti-vaxxers, but rather victims of misinformation or systemic barriers, like not having access to a family doctor to answer questions about the safety of the vaccine. “What I try to focus on is the systemic barriers that got them into that position, which I think are a lot more common than people think,” Imani said. Ultimately, he added, bridging the gap with the unvaccinated is important for society. “No man is an island, and we are not separate from people who choose to not get vaccinated,” he said, adding those who survive illness with post-COVID health complications will likely put a strain on health care and social services, with ramifications on broader society and the economy. Both Konrath and Imani said the lack of empathy for the unvaccinated after 18 months of a pandemic riddled with loss, isolation and despair are understandable. But for those who want to build on their empathy, Konrath said the work starts with healing from within. “This is a time where people need recovery, they need to restore and rebuild both emotionally and socially, and give themselves time where they feel like they’re themselves again.” She added that because exercising empathy is a choice and takes effort, a person needs to be willing and ready to do it. It’s also important to note that while empathy is a pillar of health-care workers’ job to help patients make informed decisions, empathy in general should be exercised without an agenda and without an expectation that someone will change their mind or behaviour. “Our lack of empathy is not going to be very effective,” she said. “And if we do have empathy, the purpose of it is not to change them, it’s to understand them.” Nadine Yousif is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering mental health. Follow her on Twitter:

Martin Regg Cohn: As Doug Ford dithered, the price of inaction was infection

Inoculation if necessary, but not necessarily inoculation. Not unless and until absolutely necessary. Now, Doug Ford sees the utility and necessity, belatedly and at long last. Vaccination . Details to come, as Delta comes on strong. But by dragging his feet on the rolling up of sleeves, the premier has left much of Ontario in the lurch — not least an education system that is coming out of its summer slumber to face a September of discontent and disruption over COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands of post-secondary students making their way to campus in coming days may find themselves potentially locked out of classrooms and relegated, yet again, to online learning — unless the government clears up the confusion. The challenge is Ontario’s indecision on whether to enforce a strict two-metre “social distancing” requirement that could well wreak havoc on campuses. Colleges and universities got a green light to resume in-person learning just last month. Now, amid mixed signals and radio silence, post-secondary institutions fear they’ll be forced back to social distancing unless Ford settles an emerging split within his government. Based on the government’s initial go-ahead, , universities and colleges have been promising smaller in-person classes, tutorial workshops, science labs and hands-on vocational training — all scheduled to begin within days. Now, some at Queen’s Park are having second thoughts about how close students can get on the lab floor or the shop floor. Sources told me of a cabinet split, while the key ministers I spoke to downplayed any schism. But the debate comes against the backdrop of continuing dithering on vaccinating at the top levels of the Ontario government. As has emerged between Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health who works directly with the premier, and the council that represents all 34 regional medical officers of health. The regional doctors have formally recommended vaccine requirements for all students and support staff on campus, but Moore (who ran the regional Kingston unit before being promoted by the premier in June) wouldn’t go along. Undaunted, the local doctors on vaccine passports. When push came to shove, Ford backed off his stubborn certification already endorsed by provinces from B.C. to Quebec. Such is the state of bureaucratic inertia and political paralysis in Ontario today. It helps us understand the incomprehensible indecision surrounding COVID-19 of recent weeks. In mid-July, the deputy minister overseeing colleges and universities quietly gave approval for in-person classes to resume on campus this fall, without any physical-distancing restrictions. But in recent days, with vaccinations slowing and COVID infections rising, top decision-makers have argued that post-secondary students should be kept apart after all — which would effectively preclude small classroom, workshop and laboratory settings where two-metre separations are impractical. That would leave most colleges and universities right back where they started last term, with tuition-paying students once again stuck online in bedrooms or residence rooms, not in classrooms and labs. That prospect has panicked post-secondary institutions, still reeling from the distance-learning experiment of the past year that prompted students to question the value-for-money proposition of paying full tuition in a pandemic. Sources say university and college presidents, already distressed by decreased cash flow, have reached out urgently to the premier’s office warning of consequences for the mental health of their students and the fiscal health of their institutions. Yet for weeks, the Ford government has refused to impose mandatory vaccination, let alone certification of those who have gotten the jab. The government’s disconnect is difficult to reconcile: Vigilance on distancing while vacillating on vaccinating. In this misguided tradeoff between rights and wrongs — the right to education versus the right to ignorance — universities and campuses are on the front lines, which is why most of them have finally done what the province didn’t dare to do: Mandated vaccines so that the majority can benefit from unimpaired in-person learning, while relegating the unvaccinated minority to online lessons at a distance. Surely the priority for post-secondary students, like most secondary students, should be the proven protection of vaccination, backed by mandatory masking. Those are the first lines of defence when dealing with the airborne contagiousness of Delta, with social distancing coming a distant second. By closing off the options of vaccine mandates and passports until now, an increasingly desperate government has made itself more dependent on social distancing as a solution that won’t get us very far — and opened the door, down the road, to lockdowns for society at large. We are . We need vaccination not only in education but everywhere — across the private sector, in all workplaces, and in public spaces. If not, we will witness the human toll as infections go up. And we will pay an economic price as lockdowns come back in. When that happens, when the cost of inaction is infection, how will we judge our delinquent leadership? The longer we wait, the greater the missed opportunity for a premier missing in action. Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist focusing on Ontario politics and international affairs for the Star. Follow him on Twitter:

Bruce Arthur: A medical officer of health with no public health qualifications: Matt Strauss is an absurdly political hire

Maybe you don’t think Dr. Matt Strauss is qualified to work in public health, but have you considered that famous public health dictum, ? Strauss tweeted that in late August, and it’s an idea that lasted until the Romans came along, more or less, which is a pretty good run. , to truly tragic results. Anyway, the anti-lockdown, anti-restriction, anti-public health doctor was hired in early September to be the new interim acting medical officer of health in Haldimand-Norfolk in southwestern Ontario; that appointment was upheld 8-1 by the local board of health Monday night, which is also the local county council. There had been considerable consternation over Strauss’s qualifications before the council went behind closed doors, but it came out with a much softer approach, like people who had been told by the lawyers, well, you’d have to pay him anyway. It is an absurd, backwards, political hire. Strauss is not trained in public health; he is an ICU doctor, but more prominently, he is a guy who has spent the pandemic condemning lockdowns and praising Florida and saying in a since-deleted tweet he would rather give a child than a Happy Meal. Maybe he doesn’t know Happy Meals come with apple slices now, and yogurt. Or that communicable diseases are communicable. Mostly, Strauss is a doctor pretending to be a more qualified doctor who has also flirted with anti-mask sentiments, including in a , who into something like full-on lunacy. This hiring is clearly the work of a political agenda from a part of Ontario represented by conservatives and dominated by the farming industry. The previous MOH, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, with proposed two-week quarantines, or by limiting how many could sleep in a single bunkhouse. (A legal challenge from farmers briefly , before an . Indeed, Nesathurai , and caught hell for it. Tobacco country may not care enough about what’s good for you. So led by Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp, the counties clearly sought out an anti-lockdown voice instead. In fairness, you can’t say Strauss isn’t qualified to be interim medical officer of health, if only because, as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore noted, qualifications aren’t really applicable: You just have to be a doctor. To be the actual MOH, you’d need actual public health training: at least one year, but ideally three or more. Strauss … uh, doesn’t have any. When you have to explain that you’re not anti-science in your , it may raise more questions than it purports to answer. And so, we come to Moore. He has the power to not just rescind Strauss’s appointment but to suspend the board of health if he sees a risk to the public health of the region. Haldimand-Norfolk has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the province, at 74.4 per cent of those above the age of 18 who are fully vaccinated; beyond that, migrant workers have been poorly protected there before, and one died in the summer of 2020 as part of a massive outbreak. Strauss couldn’t lift a lockdown, but he can mismanage who is and isn’t considered a high-risk case, and could muck up case and contact management in many ways. “We will first provide guidance and support,” said Moore. “He may be new to outbreak management and to the immunization strategy and we’ll be monitoring adherence to best practices in that region. And if I have any concerns regarding the safety and health of that community, I can step in as the chief medical officer of health, and will.” But by that measure, Moore should rescind the hire now. Sources tell the Star that Ontario’s medical officers of health spoke on a call last week about the appointment, and expressed both misgivings and mistrust. Would Strauss misuse or exploit information, especially regarding arguments over different approaches? Would infighting between public health officials give a province that didn’t value public health before the pandemic an excuse to push the overhaul they have long planned? “I feel bad for the (workers in public health in Haldimand-Norfolk) and the people in that public health unit,” said one medical officer of health who requested anonymity. “COVID is obviously a huge thing. They can play the games they want. But what are we going to do to get out of this pandemic, and convince people to get vaccinated, and ultimately to rebuild all the other aspects of public health that keep people healthy? “How will he handle promoting healthy babies and healthy children? How will he handle the human health hazards and environmental investigations? Has he ever done one? Has he ever run any outbreak response, or even a COVID response? What’s he going to do about a restaurant adulterating food? Does he even know the regulations? These are some real questions. Public health is more than just COVID, but (that) is the only reason he’s being hired. “Public health units have essentially been utterly destroyed. We have staff that are completely burnt out. None of our other programs are running the way that they should. We’re going to have to rebuild from the ground up once this is done. So if he’s the guy, I hope he has some help, because there’s a ton of work to do.” Again, Strauss, who has resisted giving interviews, has presented no relevant qualifications for the public health aspect of this job. In his letter he calls attacks on him anti-scientific because “science is not a popularity contest, nor is it an agglomeration of credentialed opinions.” Maybe there are provincial politicians whose anti-lockdown sympathies extend to Strauss’s ideas; maybe firing him could become a fight. But the odds are he will fail, and hopefully this will be a cautionary tale without too much damage. Locals who install unqualified political appointees are like a hospital that lets the infectious diseases doctor do surgery. Making politics into public health has been our single biggest pandemic problem. So good luck to Haldimand-Norfolk. The fourth wave has not quite taken off, thank goodness, though we’ll see about the schools. Delta is a different game, and we underestimate it at our peril. Strauss’s beloved Florida is a bonfire, and Alberta’s let-’er-rip approach is cratering its health system, and a fourth wave could crush us here, if handled poorly. When it comes to public health, it would be better to leave the amateurs where they belong. Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter:

‘Definitely some issues down here’: Orillia merchant on crime in city’s core

Downtown Orillia is calling for a heightened police presence in the core to combat ongoing criminal activity. manager Lisa Thomson-Roop, in a letter to the city’s police board, calls for the next OPP contract to include a dedicated foot patrol from May through September. “While the OPP have always been very quick to respond to calls for assistance, the board and members believe a dedicated foot patrol, perhaps using recently retired officers, will greatly reduce the current undesired behaviour downtown and the need for calls for assistance in the core,” Thomson-Roop said. The merchants’ organization has over the past three years sought an increased police presence “to curb unwanted behaviour, ensuring customers and business owners feel safe while doing business downtown,” she noted. Thomson-Roop suggested the “much-needed” service enhancement be included when the police board and city negotiate the next OPP contract. Mayor Steve Clarke said the police board was “certainly willing to have the conversation,” adding the detachment had recently welcomed a new commander who “went to lengths to make sure he understood some of the challenges we face in the downtown and in the city at large.” Insp. Coyer Yateman has reached out to the downtown board to better understand the issues, added Clarke, who said he would work to ensure Yateman is aware of the challenges and the importance of foot patrols. Clarke provided data showing what he said represented “a significant increase” in the number of hours officers spent on foot patrols in the past year, including a nearly 220 per cent increase in February over the same month last year. owner Patricia Cousineau told she had noticed some improvement in the frequency of patrols downtown this summer, adding she hoped to see more in future. “It would be nice, because there’s definitely some issues down here,” she said. “It’s definitely not where it should be, I don’t think.” Thomson-Roop said police had “done their best in terms of trying to get more foot patrols here, but there isn’t … a dedicated fund for it.” “It comes down to if they have time,” she told, adding that Yateman had been visiting and talking with people in the core. The downtown board also asked that staff write Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, requesting municipalities be authorized to regulate methadone clinics via zoning in their communities and, separately, that detachment commanders serve a community for a minimum of three to five years before moving onto another role. Clarke voiced support for those two requests, while encouraging the board and its members to make their issues known to the OPP’s community mobilization unit and report all incidents of crime. He noted the city was encouraging participation in , in which residents/businesses voluntarily identify their video surveillance locations through a secure online form. Identified addresses are mapped on a database of camera locations that police can then reference when investigating crimes. Officers must seek permission to view and use camera footage for an investigation.