Alberta MLA falsely claims 'worst of COVID-19 health pandemic' over
Experts say political pamphlet is adding to 'infodemic'
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin's latest political mailer isn't much different than most.
It dutifully lists the government's economic plans, boasts about actions and accomplishments and shows pictures of Rosin in her riding.
Readers in her district, however, might not get that far — Rosin's striking opening statement may stop them cold.
In the pamphlet that landed in mailboxes this week, Rosin writes to her tens of thousands of constituents, "With the worst of the COVID-19 health pandemic behind us, it is critical we take a confident and optimistic step forward into our future…"
The worst of the pandemic is not over by a long shot. Alberta has record caseloads of COVID-19, record hospitalizations and record ICU admissions.
Much of Rosin's district falls under enhanced measures. Even as her political pamphlet was landing in mailboxes, cases were rising in Banff-Kananaskis.
"The 'infodemic' is almost as bad as the pandemic," said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.
Saxinger said misleading information is undermining efforts to get Albertans to follow public health advice and turn the tide on rising infection rates.
"Streams of misinformation are kind of cutting through the population and causing a situation where it might be impossible to actually get to that place," she said.
Rosin's statement is contradictory to repeated warnings from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, who has said the province's infection rate is growing at an alarming rate.
"If we do not change our trajectory, the implications are grim," Hinshaw said on Wednesday.
On Thursday there were 1105 new cases in the province, and 1155 new infections Friday — both new records.
Even Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — who has taken one of the least interventionist approaches in the country, counting on Albertans' personal responsibility to tame the virus — is evolving his message, if not instituting widespread lockdown measures.
"COVID is starting to win," Kenney declared a little more than a week ago from self-isolation after possible exposure to the coronavirus. "It's almost certain that we've not yet seen the peak of the current increase."
Within days of that, constituents of Banff-Kananaskis were getting Rosin's political flyers saying the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
Confusion can have consequences, expert says
It's not the first time an Alberta government politician publicly disregarded COVID-19 facts and public health advice.
In September, more than three months after the World Health Organization recommended the use of masks, Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson sowed doubt about mask usage as "virtue signalling."
Getson also mocked Edmonton and Calgary for passing mask mandates.
"The same people who typically make up the rules about what to do with your dog poop in the park are now taking it upon themselves to tell you what you should do with your health," Getson told a town hall in his district. "You know, wear a mask if you think that will help. It's not going to hurt. Maybe, depending on who you talk to."
The idea that mask use can be harmful to your health is baseless and has been repeatedly debunked.
Edmonton resident Alex Flores is keenly aware of confusing messages.
"There's a lot of contradictory information throughout the whole pandemic," he said with his mask fogging up his glasses in sub-zero temperatures.
"There has been different narratives, different discourses. I'm not really sure what to believe anymore."
Legal scholar and medical ethicist Juliet Guichon of the University of Calgary said that confusion can have dire consequences, especially for those who end up believing the wrong information.
"We're seeing cases in South Dakota that are reported where people are actually dying and they don't believe they have COVID because of mixed messaging. That's an extreme case, but it is helpful if authority speaks with one voice," Guichon said.
CBC News contacted Rosin's office, the office of chief medical officer of health, the health minister's office and the office of the UCP caucus for information and to comment on this story. None responded with a statement.
With files from Trevor Wilson