We live in times where transparency matters, especially from government. These are also times when setting the example matters greatly and when not doing so has serious consequences. Some of us who saw yesterdays stunt at Queen’s Park, where the Ontario Conservatives ignored physical distancing rules and crammed their members in the chamber for a vote that wasn’t necessary. It was selfish behaviour that completely undermined public confidence in those important, life saving measures.
But despite that, there are still people out there saying “Big deal…. That doesn’t matter… It’s not like anyone got hurt”. That is the attitude of too many people in this crisis, and it’s one that has dangerous consequences. It’s important that our elected leaders not only set the example to set a good example for the citizens they represent. It’s also important because of the real public health risks associated with it. We only need to go back to April for a dark example of this from the Town of Pelham to get a reminder:
That story from “The Voice of Pelham” was burning up social media last month when it came out, as it showed the real-world consequences of ignoring these vital public health measures. According to the reporting, Pelham Councilor Ron Kore was visibly ill at local town council meetings going back into March and tested positive for COVID-19. The reporting goes onto state that “for a period of nearly four weeks he continued to come into work while exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory illness.” That included going to town council meetings.
During that same period of time one of Kore’s council colleagues, Councilor Mike Ciolfi, came down with COVID-19, testing positive during the week of April 6. Just a couple of weeks before both Kore and Ciolfi were at an in-person council meeting, on March 23rd, where Kore was visibly ill to the point where it is reported that staff in the room were concerned & alarmed that Kore was even there. As the Voice of Pelham piece points out, both Kore and Ciolfi sat on the same side of the room, eight feet apart at that meeting. Within days of that meeting Ciolfi start to show serious symptoms and eventually he died overnight on Sunday, April 12.
This case outraged people across the country because of the dots that connected here and the callous disregard for everyone else’s safety that Kore displayed. Days after the Voice of Pelham story came out, Kore released a statement saying that he would never “take a risk with my health, the health of my wife, employees or colleagues at Town Hall”, yet that seems to be precisely what he did. He later released an apology in which he said that he wanted “to apologize for any unintended consequences my actions caused early on in this pandemic and the resulting stress and hurt it may have caused the community.”
It’s those kinds of consequences, unintentional or otherwise, that make the public health measures we have in place so important. That makes government officials and elected leaders setting the example all the more important. When you look at what happened at Queen’s Park yesterday, the story of Pelham should ring through our minds. In that case there were only three people in the room; at Queen’s Park yesterday there was clearly over 50, in much tighter quarters than what Pelham Town Council faced. But if you want to drive how why what happened yesterday was so bad, a story from the United States came out last night that shows again why following these public health measures matters so much:
Yesterday Democratic Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims went live on Facebook with that video above and proceeded to tear a strip off his colleagues from across the aisle. It turns out that some of his Republican colleagues have been testing positive for COVID-19 but did not tell their assembly this. Some of their Republican colleagues knew, but they did not tell others, including their Democratic colleagues across the aisle. And they did all this while they called for in-person committee meetings to argue that business sectors were safe to reopen. They were sick, they knew it was not safe, yet they concealed it and then tried to re-open things prematurely, all without telling anyone they had been exposed.
This went on for 11 weeks folks, without saying a bloody thing while trying to claim that things were overblown. For 11 weeks, those other elected members sat in a chamber with infected or exposed colleagues and had no clue, all because those Republican members decided to withhold that vital information, apparently as not to undercut their dangerous partisan point.
In that Facebook video, Sims lays bare the reasons why this was so dangerous to some of his colleagues and even himself. He pointed out that one of the Republican leaders, who it turns out had been quarantining himself between sessions without telling anyone about his health status, was known to bump into this other colleagues, talking closely with them or letting others open doors for him. Sims went onto point out that some of his Democrat colleagues have young children, who thanks to this selfish act were now exposed. The wife of another Democratic colleague is immune compromised, which would put her in the highest risk category for COVID-19. And yet every day, that elected official went home to his wife not knowing that he had put her life in danger, all because those Republican members refused to disclose their situation and exposed him in the process.
Finally Sims disclosed a piece of information that wasn’t public, something that was honourable of him to have done, but that now this health crisis puts in a new light. It turns out that this past January, Sims had donated a kidney to someone in need, an act of charity that normally comes with the price of certain health risks. Those risks went up significantly with COVID-19, and for him to be exposed to the virus like this could have the most mortal consequences of all. It’s easy to understand why he was so mad.
When I saw that video from Representative Sims this morning, I thought immediately of the selfish stunt we saw at Queen’s Park yesterday and the potential real consequences of that vote. Yes those MPPs were wearing masks in the chamber, but those aren’t a panacea. We don’t know what their exposure has been, we don’t know how they’ve been feeling. We do not know if they have been sick and honestly before this moment, I honestly wouldn’t have thought to ask it. But it is that kind of the point here? In normal times, we wouldn’t ask but in these times being upfront about our exposure to COVID-19 is of paramount importance. It’s a matter of life and death to so many.
For all the Randy Hillier’s of the World who say “I am willing to accept the risks”, they forget that it is not themselves alone that they are risking. They are putting others at risk, to a degree that I doubt they realize or want to consider. And that is the thing about this disease, it’s not just about you or me as individuals. It’s about all of those around us, those who we know and love and those who we don’t know. When we don’t think of others, like those MPPs did in Toronto yesterday, you can end up with cases like the two above. We shouldn’t need reminders of that fact in these hard times yet here we are. Now’s a time when we should be thinking of others and their risks, not our own and when it comes to that, our elected leaders should be setting that example first and foremost. That’s not an unreasonable thing to expect.