Although British Columbia has been commended for its ability to get the spread of the COVID-19 virus under control during the first wave of the pandemic, recent signs are indicating that the province is facing some serious challenges in maintaining its handle on the situation.
Improvements in summer weather in Vancouver coincided with new reopening phases for establishments and travel, lowering case counts, and people tiring of pandemic restrictions.
That all proved to be too much temptation for some, which became evident after Canada Day long weekend gatherings in Kelowna, involving young adults from various parts of the province, led to a wide-reaching outbreak.
News of that outbreak also didn’t prevent further parties from happening throughout the province—and it revealed an overlooked area in B.C.’s COVID-19 strategy, that has been a weakness in other jurisdictions as well.
In the early stages of the pandemic, much emphasis was placed on protecting vulnerable populations, particularly seniors and those in longterm care or healthcare facilities.
Consequently, attention to the behaviour of young adults tended to be neglected over the first wave of the pandemic.
Increasing numbers of young adults
At the B.C. COVID-19 daily update on August 13, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a modelling update. As has been mentioned over the past few weeks, the largest proportion of new cases have been amongst those in the age range of about 20 to 40 years old.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), there have been 1,563 cases among those aged 20 to 39 years old. This amount is 37 percent of all cases, which is an overrepresentation of this demographic group, which represents 27 percent of B.C.’s total population.
Reports that symptoms have not been as severe for those 39 years old and younger may have also contributed to lessened fear of the coronavirus within those age groups.
However, statistics and news reports have since shown that young people do face potential health risks, complications, and longterm effects such as ongoing fatigue or reduced lung capacity. For instance, Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam stated on July 24 that 21 percent of hospitalized cases for that week had been among those 39 years or younger.
Within those aged 20 to 39 years old in B.C., there have been 55 cases hospitalized (10 percent of all cases), with 17 of those cases in intensive care units (nine percent of all cases), according to the BCCDC. But there haven’t been any deaths among those 39 years and younger.
Also both Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix have pointed out that there remain several issues of concern about young adults, including transmission to other vulnerable close contacts of any age. Henry had said on August 13 that some young adults experience increased blood clotting (particularly among men), which could lead to heart attacks or brain injuries, or even a post-viral inflammation of blood vessels.
In addition, much remains to be understood about the virus, and it has the potential to continue to mutate.
Tam had stated on July 24 that she believed that Canadian health officials had missed out on reaching young adults.
“For youth…we do need to do better in how to reach a younger population,” Tam said at a news briefing. “The younger age group needs different messaging, I think, better engagement through different channels. So some of the communication strategies, I think, need to evolve, given the population that we’re talking about and [so] that we can reach them better.”
Social media solution
One of the areas that B.C. hasn’t had a strong presence in, which could have resulted in messages not reaching young adults, is social media.
Henry has previously admitted that she’s not very adept at using social media. Although she has a Twitter account, unlike Tam, Dix, or Toronto’s medical health officer Dr. Eileen de Villa who all regularly tweet out messages, Henry has not used her account since 2016.
Consequently, Henry had asked on July 17 if all British Columbians could be her voice on social media.
Henry also participated in the Pass the Mic campaign in which medical experts took over the social-media accounts of celebrities to spread their messages about COVID-19. Henry took over the social-media account of actor Olivia Munn, who starred in X-Men: Apocalypse and The Newsroom, for one day (June 30).
At the end of July, the provincial government launched Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Good Time Guide, which features a list of key health precaution points to remember when socializing or attending venues like bars or restaurants.
However, parties and infections have continued on since then.
In the wake of several potential COVID-19 exposure incidents at bars and strip clubs in Vancouver, Henry had revised guidelines for bars, restaurants, and nightclubs on July 22.
Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped further potential exposure events from taking place at numerous restaurants and nightlife venues in recent weeks, including Levels nightclub, Ivy Lounge at Trump Tower Vancouver, Pierre's Champagne Lounge, PumpJack, and Score on Davie all in Vancouver and Liquid Zoo in Kelowna.
In the wake of the Canada Day long weekend outbreak in Kelowna and the drumming circle gathering at Vancouver’s Third Beach on July 21, Premier John Horgan had stated on July 23 that he believed the peer pressure would help to spread the message, as who either had to be isolated or contracted the virus would share their messages on social media, and thereby influence others.
UBC psychiatry professor and author of The Psychology of Pandemics Stephen Taylor had previously told the Georgia Straight in an interview in July that he perceived COVID-19 as almost like a “hidden pandemic” because the visible impact of the virus can’t necessarily be seen and most people don’t personally know someone who has been infected.
He also pointed out that many of the symptoms aren’t that much different from colds or flus, which may lead to people underestimating the serious implications of infection.
Premier Horgan also made a public plea at a news conference on August 12 to Vancouver-raised stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and Seth Rogen to help get their messages out to younger demographic groups in British Columbians.
Premier Horgan asked Deadpool to get in touch with him, Reynolds responded with a faux voicemail message to Premier Horgan, saying that he’s not a great source of medical advice (except for plastic surgery, as he claims he used to be Hugh Jackman).
But most of all, he said he doesn’t want young people to kill David Suzuki and his insatiable cougar mom.
Rogen tweeted today that he had direct messaged Horgan.
On August 13, Dix announced that he would be meeting with social influencers to establish a network to spread messages about the pandemic, and to particularly address the problem with parties in the province.
Although Henry had said the rise in new case numbers would be expected as the province forged ahead with its reopening plans, it remains to be seen if the province has done enough as we head into the autumn’s respiratory virus season—or if it has been too little, too late.