"We all know here in Brandon that we are fighting a pandemic, so any information that we get will not cause us to panic. It will only give us more awareness to continue to keep ourselves and everyone in our community safer, and perhaps give us more reason to be extra cautious when out in our community. So when (Dr. Brent Roussin) states he does not want people to "panic" as an excuse not to release information that can be useful to us, he maybe needs to keep in mind that we ... are not a bunch of yahoos running around screaming "the sky is falling." He needs to give us far more credit than that!"
"If there were honesty, trust and transparency there would not be the need for calling out and needless paranoia. No one expects perfection and we all know there will be illness, we need to know."
"I think if it’s a health service then they should be transparent."
"Why not be transparent at least with the location of cases and # of cases. Let the public decide. There is no reason to name names or shame, just be honest."
— A selection of comments to The Brandon Sun this week
More than a week ago, the Sun newsroom received a succession of phone calls from then-current and former Daughter on Call employees who were concerned a case of COVID-19 that had stricken one of the staff members was being hidden from the public.
We heard Manitoba Health was involved in some way, and that workers who were potentially exposed to the virus were nervous about coming into work. There was enough information coming in for us to be concerned about public safety, and we were obliged to investigate.
As Daughter on Call is a health-care business that sends home-care workers into the community in Brandon and Westman to care for seniors, it was especially concerning. Overall, the majority of COVID-19 deaths in this country have been linked to seniors homes.
Ultimately, we reported this past Wednesday that the health-care aide with Daughter on Call had tested positive on May 10 for COVID-19, and that another staff member tested negative for the virus after coming into contact with the person who was ill at a private residence. It’s unfortunate that the owner denied the COVID-19 case existed in her conversations with the Sun.
The experience of companies such as Sobeys and Maple Leaf Foods, which have also been struck by cases of the coronavirus, seems to suggest that the public does not carry any ill-will toward organizations that are up front and transparent about their situation, especially when they show the steps they have taken to mitigate the situation and protect public health. If anything, they have increased their respectability in the eyes of their customers.
What is the most concerning out of this situation, however, was that what we were hearing from the employees was not reflected in the messaging coming from the provincial government. Private company or not, the organization works directly with seniors in the healthcare field. But the province did not mention this fact.
Back in early April, the province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, announced nine people at the Betel Personal Care Home in Gimli were being tested for COVID-19. That same day, he also said he was aware of a case of the Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg. And just last Tuesday the good doctor announced that an employee of a Walmart in Winnipeg had tested positive for the virus.
Yet when it came to the cluster of cases identified at Paul’s Hauling Ltd.’s Brandon-based Oak Point Service maintenance shop and the case at Daughter on Call, the province didn’t announce the cases publicly. Dr. Roussin’s reasoning in these cases was that by divulging the locations, Manitoba Health would only increase public fear, helping the virus spread even further.
We have said before on this page that Manitobans can handle more information about the dangers in their own backyard. Rumours and fear thrive when the public does not have a clearer picture of the truth. If nothing else, that has become very clear over the course of the last two months.
But the story isn’t over yet. In today’s paper, we report that Daughter on Call has now been fined more than $5,000 for failing to comply with a public emergency health order – namely the state of emergency that the province finds itself under right now due to COVID-19.
According to the provincial list, which is published online, the fine was issued for failing to comply with a May 14 Medical Officer of Health’s health hazard order. This happened to be the same day that the province announced it was stepping up enforcement of public health orders, a framework it called Operation Safe Apart. It included recruiting volunteers to help with public awareness and giving hundreds of provincial personnel authority to enforce COVID-related public health orders and issue tickets for non-compliance.
Clearly there is more to this story that the province is not telling us – a spokesperson on Friday with Manitoba Health did not provide more information than what was in the department’s protection reports.
We don’t doubt Dr. Roussin’s veracity in terms of wanting to keep the public safe. But the lack of accountability here is worrying, and it seems to have roots in a government’s desire to control the flow of information.