Today the World Health Organisation tells us it took 67 days from the first reported case of Covid-19 to reach 100,000 cases. But it took only 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. 

The acceleration in the numbers infected which the experts feared and predicted is now happening. 

Of course we are much better placed to deal with this pandemic than with the SARS outbreak in 2003 or with Spanish Flu which claimed the lives of 55,000 people in Canada just over a hundred years ago. 

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 is often cited as the closest parallel to what we are getting with COVID 19. The flu anniversary was marked by a raft of articles and broadcast documentaries that I missed. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time. 

The very idea of a global contagion on that scale happening today seemed preposterous.

We know better now. 

The fascinating CPAC documentary – Unmasking Influenza - looks back at the devasting impact Spanish Flu had on communities across Canada. It also takes us into the present-day pandemic command centre in Winnipeg where they do all the contingency planning. Of course, it is now for real.

Waiting for a vaccine

In 1918 they didn’t have a vaccine - but, then again, neither do we. 

However, we know about the importance of social distancing. That didn't figure in people's thinking back then.

But that said, a very few places escaped the Spanish Flu completely by going into lockdown

Some lucky people got the virus and lived to tell the tell but can't explain how they did it.

A survivor of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, José Ameal Peña, now 105, pulled through after being prescribed vapours of boiled eucalyptus.

Not something I have in my pantry.

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The British PM, Boris Johnson, has just ordered a restrictive stay-at-home policy to be enforced by police.

From the Toronto Star: After this, will Public Health funding still be cut?

 Boris JohnsonEvery day brings a new set of screaming headlines.

Just moments ago I learn the death toll in Italy has increased by a shocking 16% in just 24 hours.  

And earlier today I read the chilling report from the expert team of epidemiologists at Imperial College, London which predicts in an unmitigated epidemic

“approximately 510,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2.2 million in the United States, not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality.”

Fortunately, in countries around the globe - including here in Canada - steps are being taken to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. Today Ontario declared an emergency.

But why are schools still open in the UK when every other country in Europe (other than Belarus) has closed theirs. What am I missing here?

This glaring loophole must surely be closed soon. 

Keynes famously observed that: 

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?”

It seems some dummies carry on regardless.

I include in this category Boris Johnson’s high risk 79 year old father, Stanley, who vows to ignore advice and go off to the pub if he wants to. 

The Imperial College report estimates that 24.3% of 70-79 years olds with symptoms will require hospitalisation. And, of those, 43.2% will need critical care. For the over 80s the figures are even more alarming. 

Someone should whisper in Stanley's ear. 

COVID 19 is nothing to joke about. 

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Newmarket saw a healthy 6.1% increase in new jobs between 2018 and 2019 with our southern neighbour Aurora lagging with 3.4% growth. 

But over the decade from 2009 - 2019 Newmarket has trailed Aurora substantially in employment and business growth (see graphics).

This fascinating information comes from the employment survey of York Region's nine constituent municipalities. But these arresting little nuggets do not appear in the parent document: York Region's 2019 Employment and Industry Report.

Remarkably, this information is not shared outside York Regional Council.

It is kept in a locked drawer at the Regional Administrative Centre - unless you ask and are persistent. (You can see the snapshots for Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury by clicking the link at the bottom of this blog.)

Too embarrassing

A few years ago our Regional politicians decided the publication of employment survey sheets for each of the nine constituent lower tier municipalities risked embarrassing comparisons being made and so they instructed officials not to circulate the data. They received their own personal copies in a brown envelope, under the desk.

This is, of course, an absurdity. For years I've been pointing out the lunacy of "open data" municipalities keeping statistics secret to avoid giving offence to politicians.

Clearly we should not allow politicians to decide which statistics are good enough for the rest of us to see. If there is no merit in providing these individual municipal snapshots then why do the boffins at York Region continue to produce them?

In Newmarket we generally get a commentary on the Region's annual Employment and Industry Report which gives a local perspective on the Region-wide figures. Unfortunately, we don't have a commentary yet on the latest report. But we have one for 2018 which says this:

"... Also in 2018, Newmarket welcomed Market & Co at Upper Canada Mall which is expected to bring 200 additional jobs to the Corridors (ie Yonge Street and Davis Drive) and the relocation of Celestica's manufacturing facility to 213 Harry Walker Parkway began after a substantial effort by multiple Town departments. these jobs will be reflectedin the 2019 job numbers report which is scheduled to be released in December of 2019." 

This goes some way towards explaining the big hike in employment in Newmarket last year but I am looking forward to getting the full picture in due course.

Estate Agents lead the way!

Overall, York Region is an economic powerhouse. The service sector has grown at an annual average rate of 3.2% over the past decade. I learn that real estate is the fastest growing sector since 2009 with an average annual increase of 7.8%, increasing by 12,050 jobs. The report goes on:

Educational services sector has doubled in the number of jobs since 2009, adding over 20,040 jobs in the last decade, an average annual increase of 7.1%

The professional, scientific, and technical services sector has added over 9,400 jobs over the last decade, an annual growth rate of 1.8% 

Finance and insurance sector has increased at an average annual rate of 3.5% of over the last 10 years adding approximately 9,700 jobs 

Health care and social services sector had an average annual growth rate of 5.4%, adding over 18,290 jobs since 2009 

Manufacturing and goods producing sectors have grown at an average annual rate of 2.2% over the decade.

Manufacturing continues to hold the largest share of employment in the Region at 14%. The 2008-09 recession impacted the manufacturing sector and lowered its growth rate over the last ten years, however manufacturing employment still increased by 7,900 jobs over that period 

The construction sector has demonstrated strong growth since 2009, adding over 17,600 jobs to the Region, growing at an average annual rate of 4.9% 

I've often wondered where all these construction workers come from. They are absolutely everywhere.

Apples with apples

But - back to my main point - we need the figures for our own municipalities, coupled with the usual health warnings about comparing apples with oranges. We don't want information that is available to be witheld from us on the grounds we may draw the wrong conclusions.

Elsewhere...  the Region has decided to abandon this annual employment survey. It will now take place every two years. This means the next set of figures will be reported to York Regional Council in 2022.

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It was quite a shock to discover that our Mayor, John Taylor, was being tested for coronavirus and is now at home in self isolation. 

He tells Newmarket Today:

“I have been experiencing shortness of breath, nausea and fatigue. As a result, Public Health decided, based on our interview, that I should be tested for COVID-19. I was referred to Southlake Regional Health Centre to be tested. Southlake Regional Health Centre asked me to wait in my car until a negative pressure room was available. After waiting approximately one hour, I was taken directly to that room where I waited for another hour or so. I was tested and sent home. I am currently in self-isolation as directed by Public Health and am awaiting results.”

We hope he recovers completely - and soon. The captain is needed back on the bridge.

The fact that the Mayor had to wait at Southlake for two hours before being tested surprises me. But I guess Southlake, just ike the rest of us, is getting up to speed on this new contagion in our midst.

Our local MPP - and Minister of Health –  Christine Elliott tells us yesterday in her latest newsletter (click link below) that the Government is establishing dedicated assessment centres and that our nearest one for Newmarket-Aurora is Mackenzie Health. 

I see it is not open yet but we are told it will be up and running on Monday evening.

Personally, I feel we are all in safe hands.

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From the Toronto Star: Are we testing enough for COVID19?

Update on 16 March 2020: Taylor gets the all clear.

Will the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, press ahead with a major restructuring of the public health system in Ontario when health professionals see it as a major distraction from the main job – keeping people well? 

York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, Karim Kurji, (photo right) could soon become a household name if the novel coronavirus: COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic and takes off here on our doorstep.

Dr Kurji – like the rest of his colleagues in the GTA - will be in the thick of it. 

Coronavirus could be around for a long time.

I learn today (Monday) that a woman from Newmarket has contracted the coronavirus and we pray she gets better soon. 

The last thing Dr Kurji needs is a huge destabilising reorganisation which expands York Region Public Health up to Muskoka.

Damaging to the residents

On 16 January 2020 Dr Kurji was blunt with members of York Regional Council:

“Unfortunately… the (reorganisation) exercise has resulted in a lot of time being diverted away from our work and being used to try and counter some of the proposals that we know will be damaging to the residents of York Region.”

In the middle of this coronavirus contagion should Doug Ford be asking Dr Kurji and his colleagues to spend time on pointless destabilising reorganisations? 

No practical advantage

York Region’s Health Commissioner, Katherine Chislett, sees 

“no practical advantage”

in the proposed changes in governance and structure. 

I’ve lived through countless reorganisations of the National Health Service in Britain and they’ve always promised more than they delivered. Is it any different here in Ontario? 

York Region’s response to the Government’s 2019 Consultation Paper tells us:

“Following release of the Provincial Budget in April 2019, the Ministry stated the geographic area currently covered by York Region Public Health would be combined with the Simcoe County portion of the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit. 

In June 2019, the Region took a position that our geographic area should remain as is and communicated this to the Ministry. Realigning boundaries to consolidate Simcoe County or any other municipality or geographic area with the public health catchment area of York Region would result in an overly large and cumbersome entity.” 

I agree. 

Province plans cuts in health spending

The Health Minister, Christine Elliott, is also our local MPP for Newmarket-Aurora. And while her newsletter boasts of increased grants to local organisations she is silent on the fact that health spending is planned to be cut with municipalities expected to take on an increased share of the cost. The Region tells us:

“York Region funding is forecasted to increase to 42% ($34.5 million) by 2022 due to the proposed new Provincial funding model which would require large municipalities, such as York Region, to contribute 40% of the cost-share beginning in 2021. An increase to the municipal cost-share for public health is not sustainable without impacting front-line services and/or large property tax increases. 

Municipal governments should not be expected to make up for reductions in provincial funding to deliver provincial programs. While a cost share of up to 70:30 based on actual costs could work for York Region based on historical contributions; a 60:40 cost share is not sustainable.”

Christine Elliott’s health reorganisation is all about saving money at a time when Dr Kurji and his colleagues at York Region Public Health should be focussed laser-like on saving lives.

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York Region's response to Government proposals on paramedics is here. The presentation from Katherine Chislett and Dr Kurji to York Region's Committee of the Whole on 16 January 2020 is here.