ZYTARUK: Public health, economic health, and the mixed messages in between

If you sometimes feel like you’re running Hell’s Gate on a pool noodle, you’re not alone

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So let it be written…

The Surrey School District is the largest in B.C. It’s also the city’s largest employer, with 11,731 staff members serving 73,948 students in its 101 elementary schools, 20 secondary schools, five student learning centres and three adult education centres.

We are advised, as schools have now re-opened, albeit with certain safety measures, that elementary and junior secondary students are being divided into “cohorts” of no more than 60 children and staff, and 30 in the case of students in grades 10, 11 and 12.

It’s therefore puzzling that Health Minister Adrian Dix on Friday trotted out a catchy new government slogan, “Stick to six,” advising British Columbians to limit their social bubble to six people as the number of COVID-19 infections hit a new daily record of 139 cases.

There are two competing forces at work here, simply put, and they are public health versus the need to keep the province’s socio-economic machine running. This dilemma is not unique to B.C. – it’s global.

You’d have to be an insufferable Pollyanna to believe the government hasn’t factored in what it considers to be a predictable sacrifice to COVID-19 as it forges ahead on its path of reopening, phase by phase, despite the increasing numbers of infections.

You may recall a local battle involving government that also was fought at the microscopic level, in 2007, after residents of Surrey and Delta living near busy River Road began sweeping black gunk off of their sundecks and balconies.

A group called Gateway 30, representing a network of 30 community groups south of the Fraser who opposed the massive South Fraser Perimeter Road project, raised an alarm after the government’s own literature indicated cancer rates would rise in Fraser Heights, Royal Heights, North Delta and Ladner – with children and the elderly being the most seriously affected. The culprit? Diesel particulate matter, 2.5 microns and smaller.

The data acknowledged that “close proximity to a major roadway has a higher cancer rate and has higher respiratory disease rates.”

According to Volume 7, page 50 of Gateway’s own reports, the short-term health effects of diesel exhaust inhalation include headaches, eye, nose, throat and bronchial irritation, fatigue, stomach aches, nausea and compromised pulmonary function. “There is growing epidemiological evidence that increased cardiorespiratory mortalities follow increased ambient concentrations of diesel particulate matter,” it noted.

Dark by any standard. But hey, there was some good news – and I’m being facetious here: Vol. 16, p. 39 of an Environmental Assessment Office report stated that “with increased air pollution there can possibly be increased employment (eg. in the health sector) because of the economic activity associated with correcting the results of its impacts.”

Anyway, the road got built.

Meantime, in 2020, while you are out shopping for your necessaries, you are not alone if you sometimes feel like you’re running Hell’s Gate on a pool noodle.

You’re dealing with people who ignore occupancy limits. Octopus people who touch everything, everywhere. Pandemic deniers. And those who invade your personal space like moths drawn to a porch light.

Let’s face it, some people are as thick as a brick. As for the rest of us, let’s use our common sense.

While many people consider the provincial health officer to be their COVID-19 messiah, you must also keep your own counsel where personal safety is concerned.

Be kind, but speak your mind.

Sometimes people need to be told to back off. Too much is at stake.

So let it be done.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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