Here we go again. While unusually warm weather in many parts of the country postponed the arrival of fall, it — and the seasonal flu season — are on the way. With the latest COVID-19 wave building in Europe and almost certainly set to arrive in North America, we’re about to head into another unwanted stress test of our health-care system, which is less equipped than ever to handle it.

It’s not like COVID-19 cases stopped showing up in hospitals over the last few months, or people weren’t still dying from the virus. In Canada, the seven-day average plateaued over the spring and summer at approximately 45 deaths, a figure that isn’t very different from 2021 or 2020. Instead, we seem to have all just stopped caring about that data and tried to move on with our lives. As U.S. President Joe Biden said during an interview with 60 Minutes, “The pandemic is over… if you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

This falls somewhere between blind faith and wishful thinking, and it’s clearly informed by the looming presence of the November midterm elections. But viruses don’t particularly care about the political calendar, and they’re quick to take advantage of our willingness to drop our collective guard. Just ask Darren Markland, an intensive care doctor in Alberta. “Yes, we are seeing an uptick in COVID Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in our ICU,” he tweeted last week. “Yes, they are unvaccinated. Yes, they have had it before. And yes, I’m hoping it’s a blip, but I’ve been here before, but never with so few protections, and so little will to implement them.”

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s medical officer of health, is already trying to sound the alarm in his province. In a recent interview with Global News, he encouraged people to get their boosters and wear a mask to save the province’s battered health-care system from another surge in hospitalizations. With the uptake of fourth doses by Ontarians aged 70 and older at just 16 per cent — a level he described as “absolutely not acceptable to me” — Moore suggested public health measures like mandatory masking could return.

Fat chance of that happening, though. With most of Canada’s provinces governed by conservatives and opposition to those sorts of restrictions running higher than ever, the odds of getting any meaningful buy-in here are about the same as getting Elon Musk to keep his opinions to himself.

This is bad news for everyone, from health-care workers to beleaguered parents and business owners. But it could be a particularly lethal development for new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who will go to the polls in just a few months. She’s already promised there will be no new public health mandates under her leadership, evidence be damned. To make matters worse, she’s also pledged to fire the board at Alberta Health Services, which will throw the province’s health-care system into organizational chaos at a time when it can least afford to be distracted.

If things go badly for Smith on this front, her already dismal polling numbers may fall through the floor. But as recent research from the United States shows, her most fervent supporters will undoubtedly pay the highest price. Data compiled by Yale researchers shows that between March 2020 and December 2021, excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 76 per cent higher among Republicans than Democrats — a spread that nearly doubled to 153 per cent between April and December 2021, even as vaccines became more widely available.

And while vaccine hesitancy explains some of that discrepancy, much of it can be attributed to opposition to public health measures like masking and social distancing among American conservatives. "When you have less transmission, you have fewer cases and you have less mortality,” Neil Jay Sehgal, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told NBC. “And you have less transmission in general by instituting protective policies like mask requirements when we had them, or capacity limits in businesses.”

Make no mistake: this isn’t on our scientists, doctors and nurses, who did their jobs to near perfection. They developed vaccines in record time, deployed them as quickly as possible and worked brutal schedules in order to accommodate the flow of patients who wouldn’t take them. But their work has been undermined by a small army of right-wing pundits, politicians and pandemic opportunists who have depleted our stores of social capital. They have eroded our sense of trust, both in each other and the broader society we share, and chipped away at our collective faith in the system — one that, it bears repeating, did a good job of protecting us during the pandemic.

Opinion: Make no mistake, the hard-core conservatives most against masking and vaccine mandates will be hurt the most in the next COVID wave. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #COVID #masking #VaccineMandates #abpoli

Our only hope is that a new variant of conservatism emerges, one that’s more interested in protecting public health than promoting private interests. But we’re going to have to get through this fall and winter first — and the me-first mentality that seems to drive today’s conservative politicians could make that very, very difficult.

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Conservatism was once to some extent about conserving the fabric of society. But that was at a time when society had elitist concepts built in--when the idea of people deserving more because of their birth was not just tenable, but the establishment, default position. The real point was to preserve that elitism, to block any encroachment on privilege by modern democratic ideas.
Ever since the idea of democracy and that birth does not imply superiority became firmly entrenched, the only way to increase the wealth and power of elites has been to destroy the fabric of society, so that in the absence of social checks and balances money can rule. I don't think they can go back.

Rufus has some views I usually disagree with, but he is right on with his comments . 5 people a day Iin Alberta are dying daily because the UCP ultra Conservatives don't care and frankly don't give a s**t. When I hear Pollievre state that he will make the freest country in the world freer, I grimace as one of his promises is the opportunity to not get vaccinated! I can hardly wait for the polio virus detected in Canadian sewerage to jump to the children!

My partner is immune compromised. She gets COVID, she dies. Period.

We always wear masks indoors, even for a 1-minute elevator ride in department stores, and even outdoors if the crowds are getting thick. The pandemic -- all variants -- must end before we cancel our self-imposed mask mandate. We are also up to date on our COVID booster shots.

I think the headline doesn't go far enough. The conservative backlash against their "freedom" regarding wearing masks or limiting their travel, say, in confined airplanes breathing the same air as 200 other people for several hours has now infected the entire populace. Today we took a large ferry (a necessary elder care mission) where we are conveniently allowed to sit in our small econo car on the open-air reservation deck and eat a home prepared lunch (better than ferry food!). When I went to the deck above to quickly zip into a washroom, I didn't see one person wearing a mask, with the exception of a couple of BC Ferries staff.

Wave Number 7, Omnicron variants abound. A ferry filled to capacity with 2,000 passengers and 400 cars, no masks. Think about that in the context of a disintegrating healthcare system.

So yes, I'll say it one more time. The National Observer was an equally guilty group of climate and pandemic sinners for flying 11 staff -- including Max Fawcett -- to Scotland last year to a climate conference with thousands of people in attendance during a large COVID that concurrently hit the UK. There are perfectly viable journalistic alternatives in a digital world.

People, our morals and ethics should not be that flexible or be so wide open to interpretation. COVID kills. CO2 molecules don't recognize climate criminals from hypocrites posing as climate fighters.

You can't pin everything on conservatives.

I've been wearing an airborne particulate respirator mask since early 2020 when it was clear SARS-CoV-2 was airborne. I'm in healthcare. Infection Prevention & Control 101. CDC was posting research as far back as Feb 2020 where they found the virus travelling through ventilation systems and across rooms. I caught the virus once because the "evidence-based" employer/s I was working for at the start of this year would not let me wear it, instead directed to wear a surgical mask (appropriate for droplet pathogens, not airborne). I no longer work there. I'm glad I had three vaccines already. Covid was miserable but no long-term effects...thus far. My current healthcare employer encourages me to wear my airborne respirator mask, has a vaccination policy, AND has a disinformation policy. I love this employer and won't be going anywhere soon. Their retention rate improved, not that they had a poor one before I arrived. I also purchased air purifiers. We have several school-aged children, and when they have symptoms, they isolate themselves in their rooms, get a purifier in their room, and they wear masks outside their rooms. So far we've prevented the spread of disease through the household several times...from the start of this school year alone. This will be our normal practice going forward.

The problem is identifying the right variant of -ism. Conservatism is too vague. Authoritarianism is the one to watch for, since authoritarians are quite willing to let others do their thinking for them. The other one is professionalism. The professionalization of politics -- career politicians and consultants wanting status and influence for their own gratification -- means that there is no shortage of opportunists who'll stand up in front of the crowd yelling "follow me! I have the answers".
Or maybe it's the Me! Me! Me! generation arriving at voting age.