Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg is no stranger to controversy. Just last November, he made headlines when he supported the demolition of two affordable housing buildings on Cote-Saint-Luc road. A developer planned to replace them with a 10-storey, luxury condo building – but a hard-fought battle by the tenants forced a referendum. In the end, close to 70% of the 862 residents of the town who voted, were against the project. Fast forward to May 2020 and Mayor Steinberg is back in the spotlight.
This time he is saying the ‘Covid-19 virus is less deadly than the flu’, along with other questionable claims.
In a message on the Town of Hampstead website, ‘COVID-19 insights: Mayor’s Message’, Steinberg does offer some good information about the Covid-19 virus, for the most part – but he also makes claims about the virus that are highly questionable, such as stating the Covid-19 virus is less deadly than the flu. The message was also posted on his and the Town’s Facebook page – it brought forth plenty of comments, with some supportive and others clearly disputing his claims.
The Mayor’s claims were based on a Zoom conference he had with the President and CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg. Steinberg states, “the mortality from COVID-19 is about 0.5% while from the flu it is 1% – 3%”. However, the World Health Organization says, “mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza. While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%.” It gives one pause to question the Mayor’s numbers.
Steinberg also writes, “the value of the swab testing for COVID-19 is minimal. The false positives and false negatives are not insignificant. In addition, a negative test result today does not mean you won’t catch it tomorrow…”. Yes, it is true that swab testing is not 100% accurate and that someone can contract the virus afterwards, however the tests have proved to identify a significant numbers of positive cases, which in turn helped to isolate people and form the measures put in place to help stop the spread of the virus.
He also asks the question, ‘Should I wear a mask?’ and says that “My wife and I do not wear masks when walking around Hampstead but we always wear masks when going inside stores or walking in heavily congested areas, even outside.” In his decision to not wear a mask while walking around Hampstead, he writes that “Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Chief provincial health officer of BC, has stated that your chance of catching COVID-19 outside is ‘infinitesimally small’. I have heard the same from many other doctors and scientists.” Steinberg does state that ‘Masks are mainly effective in protecting others in case you unknowingly have the virus. Nevertheless, they do provide some protection for the wearer. I see so many people wearing masks but they pull them down and then raise them again or fiddle with them. This leads to touching the face and increasing the chance of being infected. If you wear a mask, put it on and leave it alone until you come home’. However, his decision to not wear one is in contrast to what most of our politicians and community leaders are doing, by setting an example and wearing masks in public – after having asked everyone to do the same.
The Mayor ends his message starting with another question, ‘Should I stay home as much as possible?’ The older you are, or if you have underlying vulnerability, the more advisable this is BUT you can go for walks. You can meet people outside as long as you maintain the 2-metre distancing. There are risks in life. Individuals choose to ride motorcycles, skydive and smoke. All are risky but each of us needs to balance the risk benefit equation and make his/her own choice. Be safe. Be well, Bill’.