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

Melissa Milligan is working to build a disc golf course in Port Hardy. (Submitted photo)
Port Hardy’s disc golf survey results are in

138 people in total took the survey, with 94 per cent voting yes.

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations in Gold River area

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Mya Servatius and Marilyn May handing out gift baskets to seniors. (Michelle Tremblay photo)
NISS students practice kindness by giving gifts to seniors

This project wasn’t part of a class at NISS, or for any extra credit.

Port Hardy Fire Rescue map of controlled burning.
Controlled burn happening this weekend on Highland Drive

No unauthorized persons, including media, will be permitted within the “Hot Zone”.

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read