Change COVID-19 messaging for young people as cases rise in B.C.: retail council

·3 min read

VANCOUVER — Criticism of young people by British Columbia's premier could be replaced by better ways of educating them about the risks of COVID-19, a retail group says.

Greg Wilson, a director for the B.C. division of the Retail Council of Canada, said he understands Premier John Horgan's frustration as cases rise, but social media or other channels may be a way of reaching youth rather than hour-long briefings.

Horgan asked those in the 20-to-39-year-old age group not to "blow this for the rest of us" as the province introduced new pandemic measures Monday, saying the higher infection rates are putting everyone in a challenging situation.

"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," Horgan said during a briefing with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Among her orders, Henry banned indoor dining and group activities at gyms for three weeks and also closed the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, where infections had risen exponentially.

Vancouver Coastal said Tuesday that 1,120 cases were recorded in the Whistler community between Jan. 1 and March 28, with 83 per cent of infections among those aged 20 to 39.

Wilson said young workers in the retail sector have generally been pleased with the COVID-19 response in B.C., where stores remained open while some other provinces have imposed restrictions.

"If I were a 20-to-39-year-old, I'd be insulted. But you know, I have to look at the broader picture. And the broader picture is that for retail workers in B.C., we've had a much better pandemic experience because the government has protected retail shops."

The premier's office said in a statement that social media has been used and will continue to be a significant part of its approach to communications during the pandemic.

"However, there’s no question that (Monday's) public health orders will be the clearest signal to all British Columbians about the importance in following the rules as we roll out vaccinations."

The BC Centre for Disease Control said that while 20-to-39-year-olds make up 28 per cent of the population, 42 per cent of COVID-19 cases as of this week have been among that age group.

Henry said last week that younger people are being hospitalized and ending up in intensive care units just as the older population is getting vaccinated.

She also said workplaces are a source of transmission and employers should put every necessary precaution in place.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said there have been a number of COVID-19 cases among staff at restaurants that have been forced to shut down.

"He's calling a spade a spade, so I totally support him on that," he said of Horgan's comments. "What I hope now we do is take those words and put them into action and let this industry influence its workforce to do the right thing, to really understand it's important for jobs."

Tostenson said greater numbers of vaccinations seem to have given people the false impression that they could become more liberal with precautions and socialize in ways that are spreading COVID-19.

His message to young people who work in the restaurant industry is to stick with regulations barring social gatherings for everyone's benefit.

"We can't withstand too many more three-week closures. There's going to be too much damage done."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press