‘We could handle this better’: expert says B.C. needs to beef up COVID-19 message to youth

'We could handle this better': expert says B.C. needs to beef up COVID-19 message to youth
WatchThe province is seeing a rapid growth of COVID-19 cases in people in their 20s and 30s. Many are blaming the youth, but others say the government's messaging so far has failed young people.

British Columbia has gone from the envy of the country, to dealing with some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections the province has seen since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, 78 new cases were reported, Wednesday, August 12th saw a whopping 85 cases.

That’s the third-highest number of cases so far, only topped by March 23rd with 88 cases, and the peak of the pandemic on March 25th with 91 cases.

Health experts say this week’s numbers reflect exposures that happened a week to 10 days ago. Many of them are attributed to large parties and out-of-province travel over the long weekend.

And while the spike is concerning, something else is too. The typical COVID-19 demographics is shifting towards one age group.

Right now, the number of cases among 20 to 29-year-olds now make up the majority of confirmed cases in the province.

And many young people, say while they’ve let things loosen up over the summer, the recent spikes has them rethinking their behaviour.

“Honestly, ya, I was being a little bit careless, but especially with cases going back up it’s really important for everyone just to make sure they’re doing their part,” said 17-year-old Alex Wauthy, who is heading into university in the fall.

For a while, teens and younger adults were thought to be spared from the worst of the infection, but new research opposes that.

So does Kyla Lee.

“If you think that just because the death rate for young people is relatively low, that you’re going to escape COVID unscathed you are absolutely wrong,” said Lee, a young Vancouver-based criminal lawyer, who battled COVID-19 in March.

Lee was young and healthy before catching COVID. But now, months after ‘recovering’, Lee still faces flareups at random — a high fever spiking unpredictably, for days. Even breathing and walking her dog is a struggle.

“I can no longer walk and talk on my phone at the same time because I will run out of breath,” said Lee.

As a lawyer, Lee primarily defends impaired drivers. When bars and restaurants are open, work for her, is busy.

But after battling COVID-19, and now facing months of lingering symptoms, she says the infection shouldn’t be taken lightly by any age group.

And although having bars and restaurants open, is what she relies upon to make a living, Lee is suggesting that bars and restaurants close to limit the spread of the virus.

“Allowing these spaces to operate and allowing people to gather in those places is putting the public at risk,” said Lee.

But one psychologist says British Columbians shouldn’t point the finger too quickly at the youth, or their chosen nightlife.

“If COVID is in a meat-packing plant or seniors home, we tend not to blame the people who catch it,” said Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, a professor and psychologist at the University of Victoria.

“Kids, we just blame them.”

Leadbeater, who has conducted focus groups studying youth’s response to COVID-19, says like the rest of us, most young people are trying their best.

“It’s important to recognize this problem matters to them. That they’re under huge amounts of stress, in terms of not having jobs,” said Leadbeater.

“Demonizing them, or pointing to small groups of youth groups who are in trouble is not helpful. We could handle this better. Make rules. Make it clear. Tell them what is a group.”

“Like at a basketball court, how many people are supposed to be there in that space? I don’t see too many signs targeting youth so they can really be clear what the recommendations are specifically for their spaces.”

B.C. health officials have increased their messaging to young people in recent weeks by creating a “good times” safety guide online.

On Wednesday, the premier called out to some famous Canadians to get the word out to the younger generation.

“A call out to Deadpool right now. Ryan, we need your help up here, get in touch with us, my number is on the internet. Seth Rogan, another outstanding British Columbian, we need to communicate with people who aren’t hearing us,” said Horgan.

B.C.’s Health Minister also hinted towards a new social media COVID campaign dissuading private parties.

“We’ll be starting a series of meetings with people to build out a network of social influencers to communicate with people on various platforms who may have not heard our message, or who need to hear it again,” said Dix on Thursday, August 13th.

“We have to engage, more and we’re going through that process.”

Leadbeater says the new campaign should be led by youth, who know the influencers and channels first hand which are most watched, and most respected, and the formats that are the most-watched.

Until then, Leadbeater says for the young people of British Columbia, it’s COVID confusion.


Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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