Once again, our hospitals are straining under the weight of a growing load of COVID-19 cases, a burden amplified by the sheer number of health workers who are being felled by the virus themselves.

In Ontario, the number of hospitalizations has risen above 1,000 for the first time since February, while wastewater data suggests as many as 120,000 new cases a day. It’s serious enough that Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, came out of hiding for the first time in nearly a month Monday to “strongly encourage” people to wear their masks again in public indoor settings.

When the full story of this pandemic is finally written, the behaviour of people like Moore — to say nothing of his political masters at Queen’s Park — will feature prominently.

We know, and he knew, that removing the province’s masking mandate in March was premature and would almost certainly invite another surge in cases and hospitalizations. But the political calculus of an impending provincial election was allowed to override the math of exponential growth and its inescapable realities.

Those public health officials could be excused for not fully understanding this during the first wave back in 2020, and it’s easy to see why the premiers they work with seemed to wait until the last possible moment to do what was necessary during the subsequent ones.

But now, with two years of the pandemic at our backs and the enormous body of research and data that it has generated, there are no excuses left. The reaction to previous waves was driven by a stew of uncertainty, indecisiveness and opportunism. But this current one has a single defining ingredient: cowardice.

Just last month, when Moore tried to cover for the Ontario government’s decision to remove the province’s mask mandate, he said that it was up to individuals to figure out when to wear them in public. “You can't mandate masking forever. It has to be, eventually, an individual choice based on an individual's risk assessment, and we're at that point, by March. 21.”

This was, at best, a cop-out. In reality, it was an abdication of his responsibilities — ones that he left behind during his recent vacation in the Caribbean.

After all, as we’ve shown time and time again as a species, we’re just not very good at assessing risk. This is a well and widely documented reality. As Marie Helweg-Larsen, a professor of psychology at Dickinson College, told the New York Times’ A.C. Shilton back in 2020, “People think that their own risk is less than that of other people’s risk.” This is known as the “optimistic bias,” and it explains any number of otherwise high-risk behaviours, from riding motorcycles to walking around unmasked in the midst of a pandemic.

Humans are also notoriously bad at properly identifying and weighing the various risks we face. Our fears tend to revolve around low-probability outcomes like plane crashes and natural disasters, even though a poor diet, a lack of exercise and even getting into our cars are far bigger threats.

Opinion: When the full story of this pandemic is finally written, the behaviour of people like Dr. Kieran Moore — to say nothing of his political masters at Queen’s Park — will feature prominently, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID19

And when it comes to accounting for longer-term risks and incorporating them into our near-term behaviour, we tend to live with blinders on. Witness the persistent unwillingness to take climate change as seriously as it demands, despite the obvious consequences for our long-term health and well-being.

So when politicians and public health experts tell people to “perform their own risk assessment,” they’re essentially inviting large parts of the public to make bad decisions. As Dr. Katharine Smart, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, tweeted in March, “‘Perform your own risk assessment’ might be the new ‘I did my own research.’”

And as this pandemic has proven time and time again, doing your own research is the best way to get it completely wrong.

The usual suspects are already hand-waving this latest surge of cases away. As the Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley wrote, “We don’t need to panic and bring in more restrictions, we need to be patient and wait a week to two for this latest wave to crash.” That it’s crashing down on an already battered health-care system doesn’t seem to occur to him. But given Postmedia’s fondness for more private health care, maybe that’s the whole point.

The rest of us need to remember a pandemic doesn’t end just because we want it to, and that doing your own risk assessment involves listening to experts who actually understand what the risks are here.

Wearing a mask isn’t going to single-handedly end the pandemic, but neither will pretending you don’t need them anymore.

The Ford government clearly performed a political assessment and decided it would be better to gamble with people’s health than protect their health-care system. When it comes time to vote, Ontarians should remember just how much this approach to COVID has already cost them — and how much more it still could.

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I wonder if you can map voting preference ( I live in a vote for a potato if it were tory riding)
on mask abandonment (;eg. tory voters proudly strutted around starting March 21 saying, “ it s my personal choice”).
that has been my horrified experience at the local recreation centres in Barrie where 99% of everyone, staff, guards, cleaners and patrons are MASKLESS AND PROUD OF IT
I cannot say how shaken with the stupidity and disregard for anyone but their own situation
( and wrongly assessed at that as per article) this has left me. I cringe in my N95 when I enter and get out asap.! But I have to swim as therapy so I keep going. My pet theory is the chlorine cloud keeps me safe! ;)

That's very interesting. Owen Sound is also Cons. but I have been impressed by the numbers of people still masking even at our local Rec Centre. Of course the students don't but Seniors like me and staff do, except when actually exercising which was always the policy.

As long as we are comparing jurisdiction, I come from the land of Leslyn Lewis, Toby Barrett and Matt Strauss. Masking has never been a big thing in this strongest of blue strongholds. ( you could run the eye of a potato here).

And when actually exercising is precisely when one's most likely to both spread and inhale enough virus for infection.
It wasn't the policy until after "reopening" got well underway.

The thing that's beyond disingenuous about the "do your own risk assessment" (and an inadequate comment re "doing your own research") is that with the niggardly approach to testing, taking school data out of local Public Health Departments' hands, and consequently no data on neighbourhood case rates, it has been (a) easy to rest on false assumptions (like kids don't spread Covid, and infection provides immunity -- my neighbour gets more information than I do bc she has a child in school; there have been multiple infections in the child's classroom, including Omicron in February, followed by Omicron in April, in the same student), and (b) difficult to assess one's own risks.
Even the vaccination information now is sketchy, in terms of neighbourhoods.
Neither did Public Health or doctors in general keep up with the research: they relied on behind-the-curve federal guidance, and the feds and provinces both covered their a*ses by pretending, when they were caught short, without having followed the provisions that resulted from the SARS-1 enquiry.
And despite that Covid spread in common areas of apartments, landlords paid no heed to the local requirements ... and both province and city are intent on building more and more condo towers: the last round including 80 storey towers.
There's more than enough insanity and irresponsibility to go around, without blaming it all on the poorly educated and those who should know better, but still "believe" or "not believe" science.

I most certainly agree with the main thrust of this article to the effect that there is a lot to blame for Ontario’s and Canada’s abject performance throughout this pandemic. And yes, our leaders’ consistent failure to learn from their mistakes does make this wave the dumbest yet. But, I would argue that blaming public health officials unfairly misses the underlying cause, which is the politicization of public health. We need to understand that they are all public servants whose role it is to advise the government, but are not empowered either to make the overarching decisions nor speak out if they disagree with their marching orders. In fact, their contracts may restrict their speaking out even should they resign (I served as a contractor to a federal security agency two decades ago but am bound for life under the Official Secrets Act not to reveal any classified information to which I had access).

Dr. Moore saved at least many dozens of lives by his decisive actions as the Kingston area’s Medical Officer of Health in the first half of the pandemic. He took preemptive action prior to COVID arriving in our area, being the first to impose an indoor mask mandate and sending health inspectors to every one of our many retirement and nursing homes to get them adequately prepared. In sharp contrast to the rest of the province, we had no deaths in those homes and only six deaths in total over the entire first three waves. What is so very different now is that public health is so much under the thumb of the Ford Government that local health authorities no longer have that autonomy to respond as and when needed.

Relatively few Canadians yet realize that most significant policies are decided not by MPs, MPPs or Cabinet but by the unelected, unaccountable political operatives (“courtiers”) who staff Premiers’ offices. Those individuals rarely have much in the way of real-world experience outside of the political fray and are immersed in intense group think which elevates re-electing “their guy” as the highest social good, resisting any evidence which might contradict the Premier’s message. Hence, public servants who speak out against Mr. Ford’s patently false “pandemic is done” re-election message can expect to suffer the consequences. The virus, of course, is oblivious to political wishes or messaging and capitalizes on every dumb decision to go forth and multiply. High pandemic death rates are simply the price nature levies on us for having allowed our governance to so tragically deteriorate.

Wrt gag agreements, there are always whistle-blower laws.
Not so sure it's the "operatives" that determine policy, as opposed to funders.
I don't recall a single instance that Ford opened his mouth, that truth came out of it.
With all respect, our governance has tragically deteriorated despite the concentrated and best efforts of many, the pandemic no less so than the environment.
As far as public health officials goes, the job of public health used to be defined as protecting the health of the public, not protecting the health of the public healthcare system, and public health made orders: they weren't simply in an advisory capacity.
And "not revealing the shortcomings" of the healthcare system has been euphemized as "protecting the healthcare system."
Toronto's chief medical officer of public health would have liked to make restrictions, but council and council's lawyers were worried about liability issues, vis a vis costs: not vis a vis lives lost or ruined. It took Dr. Kenneth Lo to stick his neck out, long after there was plenty of research published in medical journals that made it clear that was what needed to be done. I called his office to thank him for doing so: apparently he'd received a lot of calls about it, but the others were all critical of his decision.
Now, we're at a point where even the best vaccine protection doesn't protect those of advanced years, and NACI and the province are still ignoring the science as to when their protection wanes (reduced as it is below what others gain).
When it's all over, heads should roll over the decision to devote the world-wide early warning system Canada unilaterally and without notice pulled, despite having agreed to maintain it and despite that not only countries all 'round the world, but WHO itself relied on that information. Why did they do that? To track opioid cases. Using a blast furnace to make a single slice of toast. And the system wasn't well suited to the sole purpose to which it was put, in the first place.
Chances are, much of the transmission could have been avoided, had the federal chief officer had bothered to become informed about the office's powers. "Closing borders doesn't work" was a snow job, or inexcusable ignorance, And when questioned later about why it was being done when it was, rather than before, the answer given, on national television, was "I didn't know I could."
It's hard to believe that the sheer level of incompetence happened only recently ... but then it's hard to believe that it's always been that bad, too.