L’enfer c’est les autres, mais l’état c’est personne…

The New Public Health: Goodbye, common-sense compassionate care and social justice, and welcome, state-ordered child abuse.

In Sartre’s play “Huit Clos”, three individuals find themselves quarantined post-mortem in a room that serves as hell. They turn on each other to the point where the protagonist laments “l’enfer c’est les autres”. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the existentialist nuances of these words, yet the superficial meaning of “hell is other people” is becoming more and more evident in the corona crisis.

My brilliant girlfriend had just made me aware of the Sartre quote that fits so well with the new hotel quarantine procedures for travellers returning home to Canada. But then the public health authority of our neighbouring Region of Peel raised the bid even higher. In a flyer summarizing what to do when a child is sent home after exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. because of a classmate with a positive test), they literally wrote:

“The child must self-isolate, which means:
• Stay in a separate bedroom
• Eat in a separate room apart from others
• Use a separate bathroom, if possible
• If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others”

Source: Peel Region child dismissed protocol, posted at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/_media/child-dismissed-protocol-en.pdf until 28 February 2021

English and French versions of the flyer were posted under the “School exposure” tab on the “Going to school during COVID-19” page, an archived copy of which is shown below. The flyer was attached to a letter to parents which threatened fines up to $5,000 per day for non-compliance.

Source: screenshot of web site at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/schools/ as of 23 February 2021 (via web.archive.org)

Since I am not an active parent currently, it took a moment to understand the implications of the solitary confinement instructions. Thankfully, two compliant mothers’ reports on Twitter amply illustrated the cruelty of this government-mandated child abuse.

Even if most parents might have enough common sense to ignore these guidelines, I pictured a child returning to school after 14 days at home and telling her teacher that she was not locked in, thereby putting her family at risk of incurring a $70,000 fine. As Peel resident and family physician Dr. Kulvinder Kaur pointed out, the regional municipality has a large population of recent immigrant families who live in tight quarters with incomes that may be as little as half of the possible fine. Whether these families typically have a separate “isolation room” available for each affected child, is another issue that Peel’s medical officer of health and school board presidents might have forgotten to think about.

Fortunately, there remains one mainstream Canadian news outlet, Postmedia’s Sun newspapers, and first and foremost their opinion editor Anthony Furey, who are critically reporting on the pandemic response measures. With reference to children’s health experts, the paper called out Peel Region’s 14-day solitary confinement as “cruel punishment” and generated a storm of protest that led to a “clarification” and halfhearted apology. In keeping with my French heading, I was reminded of Louis XIV’s authoritative “l’état c’est moi”, except that today no individual person would be caught taking responsibility for government overreach, thus “l’état c’est personne” – “no-one is the state”?

While Peel Region admitted that they made a “mistake”, their convoluted response does not show much understanding of the harm done. The mistake apparently was that they forgot to mention that children who need “help with daily living” may need to isolate together with a caregiver. The tweet mentions “emotional support” as a need; yet, the currently posted instructions on “How to care for a child sent home from school” only include help with “bathing, feeding, and clothing”. So, is the New Public Health approach to withhold parent love from children during respiratory disease cycles?

Also in the morning, perhaps before seeing the Peel Region apology, Ontario Science Table member and University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman tweeted what appears to be an attempt to cancel Furey and MPP Randy Hillier for revealing and criticizing the abusive child isolation order. Fisman is calling on Twitter to remove the “hateful, damaging, malicious disinformation” from the platform — disinformation that consists of truthfully reproducing public health instructions and criticizing them with reference to experts in the field…!? I am at a loss for words about this gaffe from a fellow academic. To the Toronto Sun’s additional credit, editor-in-chief Adrienne Batra issued a firm statement supporting her columnist.

Even though today’s events have ended with a shred of reason returning to COVID-19 measures, the sentiment of “l’enfer c’est les autres” continues and a nightly Twitter thread by lawyer Ryan O’Connor only shows that there is no end in sight to the abnormal panic response exhibited by politicians, scientists, public health officials, and commoners. O’Connor collected examples from across Ontario of public health guidelines for parents to isolate their healthy children for having been exposed to a COVID-19 “case” in school.

So, the state-ordered child abuse continues, although we know better. For example, contrast the hysterical public health response with the scientific evidence referenced in the open letter signed by some 100 Canadian pediatrics and family doctors on Feb 2nd, 2021. The signatories call for schools to be open because it is the safest option for everyone: Kids are not at serious risk from SARS-CoV-2 but suffer severely from a lack of education and socializing; schools do not contribute significantly to the pandemic; and parents, teachers, and the broader community are also demonstrably better off when kids are in school. The trick is to embrace a comprehensive and long-term perspective on public health rather than a fixation on a singular yet nebulous threat from a single respiratory virus.

Update: Toronto Public Health (TPH) responded with a further improvement the day after this post went initially online. The screenshot from the Internet Archive as of 29 January 2021 shows that TPH only had self-isolation instructions for adults and used relatively ‘soft’ language such as “you should … stay in your own room” (emphasis added). In the meantime, their additional instructions for “Caring for a Child Who is Self-Isolating…” make it very clear that “caregivers should continue attending to their child and looking after their needs” as well as “Maintaining physical distancing as much as possible without compromising care”.