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

Winnie Peters, centre, spoke about the loss of two husbands over the years, both of who were murdered. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls event in Hope on May 5, 2021 included prayers for men who have been killed as well. (Jessica Peters/ Hope Standard)
Red dresses hang in Hope’s Memorial Park in remembrance

Group gathers for National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

UBC Sports Hall of Famer Carrie (Watson) Watts (far right, front row) helped lead the UBC Thunderbirds to the 2004 national championship, their first since 1974. She served as assistant coach a few years after graduation. (Photo/UBC)
Agassiz-born basketball star inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame

Carrie (Watson) Watts helped lead the team to their first championship in decades

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

JANGO the police dog helped track down a suspect on Luckakuck Way in Chilliwack. (RCMP photo)
Alleged thief in Chilliwack can’t fool the nose of Jango the police dog

An Edmonton man who allegedly broke into a storage container on Luckakuck Way was arrested

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read