Campaigning on Covid

by Marie Snyder

I’m running for an elected position: school board trustee. It’s a relatively minor position and non-partisan, so there’s no budget or staff. There’s also no speeches or debates, just lawn signs and fliers. Campaigning is like an expensive two-month long job interview that requires a daily walking and stairs regimen that goes on for hours. Recently, some well-meaning friends who are trying to help me win (by heeding the noise of the loudest voices) cautioned me to limit any writing or posting about Covid. It turns people off and will cost me votes. I agreed, but then had second thoughts the following day, and tweeted this:

I’ve been cautioned not to tweet so much about covid because it could cost me votes. But we’re sleepwalking through a crisis that could be averted if we can just open our eyes to it. Hospitalizations and deaths are way higher now than this time in the previous two years. 

Protecting kids by possibly saying that one thing that finally lights a fire under chairs to #BringBackMasks is far more important to me than winning a popular vote. Look at young people dropping dead from strokes! The pandemic didn’t end. We’re not easing out of it. We’re in the thick of it. But it appears that some people in power want you at work and going to restaurants and bars and travelling more than they care to prevent children getting sick and hospitals overflowing.

There are variants that bypass vaccines. A well-fitting N95 can stop all variants. And CR boxes filter all variants. If we #BringBackMasks then more of us stand a fighting chance at avoiding getting this repeatedly, accumulating risk factors for brain damage or strokes. Masks don’t stop us from living; Covid does. 

I closed my laptop to avoid reading the expected onslaught from haters, but, once I mustered the courage to look,  found incredible support instead. Hundreds of new people followed me, and my email was suddenly full of donations and requests for signs. That one tweet appeared to do more than weeks of walking door to door.

I wasn’t being remotely manipulative when I wrote it. I really didn’t predict this reaction; I’m not politically astute enough for that! At face value, the response could indicate that a quiet but sizeable number of people care about Covid and hope for a better solution other than to let ‘er rip. Or it could be that people want a more honest, sincere type of political leader, reminiscent of the Warren Beatty character from Bulworth (without the hiphop). When you stop worrying about winning, it’s easier to have integrity. 

There were a couple negative comments in the mix, though. Some questioned the numbers and how many died of Covid as opposed to with Covid. I responded,

In the past year, there were 1,570 hospitalizations of children in Ontario for Covid and 13 deaths. How many is enough to start taking simple, effective, and easily available precautions? It’s been confirmed that “schools are significant sites of Covid transmission,” and kids bring it home to affect other family members.

By comparison, in Ontario, anaphylaxis took the lives of 18 children over 17 years (1986-2003),  and now we ban nut products in schools. Unfortunately it was a death in a school that pushed that corner. Otherwise, would we have continued to ignore it?   

A few other commenters were quite sure that it’s the vaccinations that are killing people. That can’t be sufficiently addressed in 280 characters. To understand the misunderstanding of stats in headlines like this: “Triple Vaccinated have developed AIDS & are now 5.1x more likely to die of Covid-19 than the Unvaccinated,” requires a few math lessons, and some guidance in reading peer-reviewed academic journals. This misleading information is dangerous as it stops many from getting vaccinated, and children are prevented from accessing vaccinations by loving parents doing their best to protect them. In many places, public health isn’t stepping up with comms control over the narrative, various government officials are adding fuel to the fire, and social media sites spreading it benefit from the clickbait.

So schools have to be the stopper in this mess. That’s all that’s realistically in our control. We need to overtly teach kids about this misinformation (after we teach the teachers and admin), so it can be unravelled in front of their eyes, giving them the necessary clarity to understand why wearing a simple mask can save lives. We need to let them ask difficult questions and be able to answer them thoroughly and repeatedly. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok allow misinformation to circulate for financial gain, but schools shouldn’t be enticed (or coerced or forced) to bow to political pressure that can bring lasting harm to children. Right?!?

Worse than cautions to reduce my Covid info-tweets, is this piece of advice I got from several directions: “Don’t say specifics on your position about any issue. Get in first, and then you can change things.” It’s a common political practice. It’s just what’s done. However, it’s not only underhanded, denying the electorate pertinent information to make an informed choice, but it also ignores the reality of how little one person can do to affect real change once they’re in office. 

A trustee can offer policy suggestions if they can get a majority of trustees to agree to it, but can’t provide operational guidance. So the most I could do is encourage providing more education and facts about Covid at least in order to reduce bullying against kids currently being ostracized for wearing a mask. That part alone requires that I find six other trustees who agree, and, based on prior meetings where a motion to discuss masks couldn’t find a single supporter, it’s unlikely to get passed that very first stage. It’s so much easier to believe that it’s over despite hospitalization rates staring us in the face than to actually take the bull by the horns to deal with it. There’s an existential despair that keeps some from being able to even think about it anymore. I get that. But turning a blind eye will exacerbate the situation. We’ve been able to dramatically reduce rates of pregnancy and STIs through education campaigns (not that mandating condom use would be possible). Surely we can educate our way out of this mess as well. 

But if I got through that step, convincing them we need to educate staff and students, then it would be in the board’s hands how to implement that. I would have no input into what types of information to include. I’d love to see a simple fact sheet like this  (printable version): 

Covid didn’t end! → It’s still here, and hospitalization rates are at a very high rate.

    • It’s airborne, moving like cigarette smoke as people exhale, talk, or cough. It can cross a room in minutes, infect outdoors at close contact, and stay in the air for hours – so even an empty room could contain the virus.
    • It’s not a flu, which is respiratory. Covid gets in the bloodstream and can make micro-clots that travel everywhere, causing diabetes, brain damage, neurocognitive decline, heart attacks, and stroke.  
    • There are many variants, so you can get it over and over again, and getting it more than once increases health risks
    • Vaccinations don’t help prevent transmission significantly or Long Covid due to so many variants, but they can help to keep you out of the hospital. 
    • You can feel great and still have and spread Covid. You could be asymptomatic (like 31% of all cases). Even if you tested negative on a rapid test, there’s a 50% false negative rate in the first five days.  
    • Not wearing a mask puts other people’s lives at stake. You might not know if anyone around you has a fragile health condition that could be made fatal with Covid. Show you care with a mask!

Is there even any point in trying to stop it??   → YES!! But we have to do ALL THE THINGS!!

    • A good mask (N95 or better) that fits tight to your mouth and nose WILL significantly reduce your chance of getting Covid, working like an electrostatic field, not a sieve. They are far more effective if people around you wear them too! You should be breathing through the mask, not around the edges. Keep it on to talk and sing, too. 
    • Ventilate the room and add in filtration. Use a CO2 monitor to watch how much CO2 is in the air (which can be a marker of how much Covid is in the air). If it hits 700ppm, then open a window! Run a Corsi-Rosenthal box (or several), and/or get a portable air filter for your own desk.
    • Find a way to eat outdoors and distanced. Covid can infect in minutes. 
    • Please stay home and isolated if you’re sick for as long as possible. It’s contagious for up to 14 days, so wait for two negative tests, 24-hours apart before returning. And get more rest than you think you need!    

School admin and parents won’t like having kids at home for two weeks at a time. And everybody hates wearing masks. Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube on that one, it will be hard to get back in, so all my efforts for education might end up looking more like this: 

Remember to keep washing your hands! And please be kind to those who continue to wear a mask. 

That’s the reality of the situation. I’m not confident that I’ll be able to do more from the other side. I continue campaigning just in case, but parents en masse might shift things better than a top-down approach. We really need both working together. The other hope is that one expensive lawsuit could change everything, like when a waitress was awarded worker’s compensation after getting cancer from a carcinogen (cigarette smoke) circulating widely in her workplace, which provoked smoking restrictions. Or the federal Westray Bill that was created after employees raised safety concerns at their workplace but were largely ignored until 26 died in an explosion. The legislation created makes it a legal duty for people “directing the work of others” to ensure the safety of their workers and the public. Ontario has lost 13 children this year, but we’re still in that hazy place, unable to prove that transmission happened specifically in a school (which is harder to prove now that mandates have been lifted everywhere, including transportation, which might be why they were lifted everywhere).  

This is a problem not with democracy, but with bureaucracy, as Hannah Arendt explains in On Violence,

“…the forms of government as the rule of man over man–of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy. Today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody. . . . Rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current world-wide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control.”

We’re operating in a rule-by-nobody system that goes around and around in circles with everyone avoiding responsibility for anything. Reasoning behind decisions is unclear and subversive. It’s why something as simple as getting factual information across to employees and clients takes so long that the information is often no longer relevant by the time they get it. Except at this rate, a Covid fact sheet will be relevant for years to come. Winning or losing this election two weeks from now just determines where and how I work, not whether I’ll continue trying to protect children from Covid.