Masking Skeptics Take Part in Board of Health Meeting

On Wednesday, a couple of U.S. states cancelled all COVID-19 restrictions to allow businesses to re-open to 100 per cent capacity and to no longer require mask mandates. That was speaking the language of one delegate at Wednesday’s Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Board of Health meeting who said that mandatory masking at area schools was “abuse” and “violates our basic rights.”

Mark Paralovos was the one delegate appearing a Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, and his concern was the supposed harm that mandatory masks are having on area school children.

“You’ve created a situation where basic rights don’t matter and authority figures are telling parents through public orders to harm their children, and they’re compliant,” Paralovos said referring to the Milgrim Experiment, a 1960s psychology experiment that many people cite as overwhelming proof of people’s susceptibility to authoritarian rule. There have been some criticisms of the conclusiveness of the experiment’s results in recent years.

“The guidelines around self-isolation are not appropriate and would constitute abuse or neglect in another context,” Paralovos added. “Parents have followed this advice because they were told to by an expert, and the threads on Twitter are awful. If you don’t act, and act soon, who will? Who can?”

Paralovos asked to be presented with proof that masking worked, and proof that the development of children was not being impeded by masking. Although he was presenting as a Guelph resident and a father, it’s worth nothing that Paralovos was the People’s Party candidate in Guelph in the last Federal Election, and People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has taken a prominent role in the “End the Lockdown” Caucus, a group of politicians who believe COVID-19 restrictions are an infringement on civil liberties.

After Paralovos’ presentation, the Board members asked no questions, and Dr. Nicola Mercer responded with a simple, “I appreciate your honesty.”

“The impacts of the pandemic on our children should be and are a serious consideration and deserving of attention,” Mercer said in a statement to Guelph Politico after the meeting. “Like every public health measure, masking for children involves serious considerations of the benefits and risks before implementation.

“Public Health has continued to work with local school boards on masking requirements – an approach that our local boards have supported,” Mercer added.

There was a curiously large number of people on the Board of Health Zoom meeting, which usually only attracts the Board of Health members, relevant WDG Public Health staff, and a few reporters. Many participants did not take part with their cameras on, but a few others occasionally had their cameras on like one person named “Nina” who appeared on camera with a white face covering, and what looked like a white surgical cap.

Another person, who’s name according to Zoom was “Eric”, interrupted once by vocally opposing the passage of the Board of Health minutes from the previous meeting. On camera, Eric was in a dark room, wearing a mask, and what appeared to be a red “Make America Great Again” hat favoured by supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Eric was also seen vigorously shaking his head and giving a thumbs down to a question from Board member Guy Gardhouse for Dr. Mercer about making efforts to get racialized members of the community vaccinated. He then shut off his camera and left the meeting shortly after.

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Vaccine Update

As with her presentation to Guelph Committee of the Whole on Monday, Mercer explained how WDG Public Health was keeping pace, if not exceeding pace, with the rest of the province on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’m presenting to the provincial task force on COVID vaccination, and talking to them about the WDG program, and how we’ve managed to get ahead when it comes to over 80s, as well as our community partnerships,” Mercer said. “In this particular case they are most interested in our partnership with Linamar and rolling out our vaccine program in collaboration with a private sector entity.”

On the local distribution of vaccines, Mercer said that vaccinations of residents and staff at long-term care and retirement homes is “nearing completion.” Vaccinating area hospitals is going, but going a bit slower because of the difficulties in moving vaccine vials. Hospitals need to make sure that they line up between six and 10 people to get a shot at the same time so no vaccine goes to waste.

“Sometimes we’re able to substitute if there’s a staff member that’s needing a second dose, so we try and combine them, but essentially this is something that takes a bit of time and it can’t be done on a day-by-day basis because the vaccines can’t be moved,” Mercer explained.

“Our highest priority healthcare workers are hospital and acute care staff, medical first responders, and all of our people who work on COVID floors, and those are well in progress,” Mercer added. “Headwaters Hospital is substantially complete because very early on they made sure they released all their staff to get it done. The Guelph General Hospital, our largest hospital, is also substantially complete. They were releasing hundreds of staff to attend our clinics, so that worked well.”

With the region’s vaccination rollout firing on all pistons, Mercer was asked about the implementation of the Government of Ontario’s own vaccine registration system that’s expected to open on March 15.

“They’ve asked if we want to continue with out system in order to ensure that the Province’s capacity is not overwhelmed,” Mercer said. “We have all of those things in place already with our booking system, so I’ve made it clear to the Province that we will not be moving to the provincial system while remembering that all of our data gets uploaded into COVax, so we are not operating as an island.”

COVax is the data collection system being used by Ontario’s Ministry of Health to monitor and track the province-wide vaccine rollout, an endeavour that will offer further progress, and further complications, with the arrival of the newly approved Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, which can be stored in regular fridges and is more easy to ship and distribute.

“That’s why it’s so important that all the data goes into the COVax provincial system, so when people come back six months later and want their second dose because they forgot, we’ll know what they got, and when they got it,” Mercer said.

While the Board of Health meeting was happening Wednesday afternoon, the Provincial government announced that the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine will be launched in a pilot project where select pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex will be able to administer shots starting next week.

“The pharmacies will use their own booking system, is what we’ve been told. And they [the province] are looking into those options to have that flexibility,” Ontario Pharmacists Association President Justin Bates told CTV News.

***Updated with additional comment from public health. 

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