By Pauline Kerr
While COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our health-care system, the numbers game associated with it is becoming more confusing as days go on.
It brings to mind the famous statement attributed to Mark Twain, who himself attributed it to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”
The number of Canadians vaccinated against COVID would seem to prove that almost 90 per cent of us trust the science, while about 10 per cent do not.
Nevertheless, that 10 per cent seems to be sucking up a huge proportion of our health-care resources – the exact amount is open to debate.
Consider the recent news story stating 70 per cent of the COVID patients in the intensive care unit at Toronto General were unvaccinated.
Most of us realize there are hospitals that are not treating the most seriously ill COVID patients – they transfer them to a hospital like Toronto General. Numbers can be misleading.
What we do tend to agree on, is that the majority of COVID patients who end up extremely sick belong to one of two groups – those who have other conditions such as diabetes, and those who are not vaccinated.
While there are no statistics on the number of people who die because of delayed surgery and other treatments, there is little question that some people do.
There has always been a very thin and ill-defined line between the ability of medical science to treat illness, and the resources to provide such treatment. While the limits of the former continue to expand at such a phenomenal rate that they seem infinite, the limits of the latter are woefully finite.
In many countries, the answer is simple – those who can pay for treatment, get it. In Canada, the answer is more complicated. Need comes strongly into play. However, when health resources are in desperately short supply, as they are now with COVID, ethics tends to take a back seat to statistics – if a decision must be made on who gets treatment, many factors are considered, including the number of productive years a person could expect to live.
In other words, if you are elderly and not in great health, you had better be vaccinated because you know you will not be the one to get that ventilator.
Numbers are both easy and impersonal. Scientists like them. So do governments. The general public? Not so much, especially when we do not understand where they come from.
Right now, government tells us the rate of COVID infections is on its way down. Where the numbers come from remains a mystery – they would seem to be based on a mixture of self-diagnosis, absenteeism, extrapolation, wishful thinking and sewage, with the latter being the only one with any claim to scientific accuracy.
We have been told that if we have symptoms, use a rapid test if we have access to one, and if we do not, assume COVID and stay home, even though the symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, influenza, and seasonal allergies. Schools, which do have access to rapid tests, no longer report the number of COVID cases.
If we are to believe the latest COVID wave has peaked, we want to know what the information is based on. Otherwise, we will stay with what we do know. That phone call telling us surgery has been cancelled due to COVID is chillingly real.
The human tendency to lay blame is also chillingly real. When we see people who have complied with public health regulations and been vaccinated, sent to the back of the health-care line, while someone who declines, for whatever reason, the opportunity to be vaccinated gets COVID – and treatment – the result is anger and frustration. Both can easily erupt into violence.
There has been too little clarity from government, too many last-minute changes, and too many … statistics, used in the Mark Twain sense of the word.
The antidote would seem to be reliable information on the government’s part, and compassion on our part.