Workers at an ice cream shop wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 at Steveston Village, in Richmond, B.C., on Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Workers at an ice cream shop wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 at Steveston Village, in Richmond, B.C., on Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Horgan’s COVID comments towards young people unhelpful, unfair: B.C. professor

Many in younger age groups are frontline workers, or parents of young children who are in school

A B.C. professor says he found comments made by the premier on Monday “quite startling and disappointing.”

Scott Lear, a health science professor at SFU, said that Monday’s press conference speaks to both how important proper messaging is and reveals how B.C.’s leadership is still not understanding how to communicate with the population.

Lear said the press conference, where officials unveiled a series of new restrictions, saw “a lot of talking but not a heck of a lot said.”

Premier John Horgan placed the blame for a recent spike in COVID-19 cases squarely on the shoulders of millennials.

“The cohort from 20 to 39 are not paying as much attention to these broadcasts and, quite frankly, are putting the rest of us in a challenging situation,” Horgan said.

“I’m asking, I’m appealing to young people to curtail your social activity.”

Horgan then continued with: “My appeal to you is do not blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbours and others who have been working really, really hard, making significant sacrifices so we can get good outcomes for everybody.”

Lear, who is also the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital, said the comment came across as tone deaf.

“On what planet would that actually work?” he asked

“Sure, there are people, young adults in that age group, who may be skirting the message guidelines…. that’s also prevalent in all age groups, as well. We just don’t hear hear about it as much.”

And for many other young people, Lear said, the reality is that they’re not able to simply stay home.

“They’re also the people who are in jobs that have very little financial stability, they’re in jobs that have actually been keeping the service industry and the economy afloat during this pandemic.”

Many of these jobs do not have paid sick leave and younger people, who are less likely to show serious or easily identifiable COVID symptoms, are forced to make a choice between staying home and getting a paycheque.

And even those who can stay home may be making difficult choices about whether or not to send their kids to child care or school, increasing the chances that they’ll expose their entire household to COVID.

READ MORE: B.C. should help 20-39 year olds ‘just like we did for seniors’ amid COVID surge: Furstenau

That approach, Lear said, doesn’t end with the premier. He pointed to a self-care bingo card released in February that featured activities like making blanket forts, dancing and for the free spot, crying.

“All of those things are good for self care and it probably would have been great for the communications department to put that out maybe early on in the pandemic last year, when people were sad,” he said.

“But after (so long), people are contemplating suicide, we’ve seen opioid poisonings go up. The province doesn’t support counselling as part of provincial health care and building a blanket fort is not going to help those people who’ve been dealing with mental health challenges for 10 months.”

Lear said he understands the premier’s frustration but that comments like those made Monday don’t help, but rather continue to miss the very group Horgan is targeting: young people who don’t listen to COVID briefings that happen while they’re likely at work.

The press conference also revealed, Lear said, another reason why pandemic fatigue is only growing. Although Horgan prefaced his diatribe with a statement saying “the directions from Dr. Henry will be quite clear,” they were not always so. While the closure of indoor dining, indoor group fitness and indoor church services was clear – although not foreseen by those industries – new guidance around masking were not.

“We are going to be updating our K-12 public health guidance to support mask wearing for all students down to Grade 4 in schools across the province,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday.

“We know that this needs to be done in a way that supports children to wear masks at all time when they’re in school settings and to make sure that we are doing that in a way that is positive and supportive for children.”

The provincial government website did not provide additional information, saying only that “public health guidance for schools has also been amended to support and encourage students down to Grade 4 to wear masks while at school.”

READ MORE: B.C. announces amendments to school mask mandate amid COVID surge

More than 24 hours later, the province had yet to clarify whether Henry’s comments were guidance or an order. However, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, which has been pushing for increased mask wearing in B.C., called the new mask guidelines a mandate.

“Despite some vague wording, we have been assured by the Ministry of Education that today’s announcement equates to a province-wide expansion of the orders that were introduced in Surrey over the weekend,” said president Teri Mooring. “Our sincere thanks go out to the many teachers and parents who have advocated tirelessly to get this safety measure in place as an added layer of protection for teachers and students.”

Lear said the press conference left him confused.

“Is that a public order, or just saying we really, really, really want you to wear masks?” he said. Prior to Henry’s announcement, school kids in Surrey were the only ones who had to wear a mask at all times, except for when eating or if they had a disability that prevented them from doing so. In the rest of the province, middle and high school students had to wear masks except for three scenarios: when students are at their own desk or workstation, when they are eating or drinking and when there is a plexiglass barrier between them.

“The way (the change) comes across is not like, we’ve always believed masks to be an important layer and ow we think it’s the time that everybody wears masks,” Lear said. “It’s more like months or weeks of actually being against mandatory mask use, and then all of a sudden, changing.”

That, Lear said, just contributes to pandemic fatigue, reflected in flippant comments being posted online.

“People ask, okay, so masks weren’t protected for us before, but they are now? Before it was fine to go out to restaurants and now it’s not?” Lear said.

“And some of that most likely is based on where they’re seeing transmissions. But again, they’re not communicating that.”

READ MORE: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusJohn Horgan

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

BGC Cranbrook will renovate a facility to relocate 24 existing spaces and add 24 new spaces with support from the Trust. Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust.
Grant funding to help create new childcare spaces in Cranbrook

Columbia Basin Trust providing $10,000 to BGC Cranbrook to help renovate new facility

Earlier this spring, the City of Cranbrook started positioning components of the Stormceptor system to carry storm runoff to Elizabeth Lake from the Innes Avenue neighbourhood. Photo submitted
Stormceptor will bring clean run-off to Elizabeth Lake

The City of Cranbrook is installing new infrastructure to handle the Innes Avenue neighbourhood, but go easy on Elizabeth lake

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read