Winkler's maskless issue overblown; vaccine hesitancy about a lack of gov't trust, says mayor

·4 min read

A Carman resident says he was disturbed by the number of maskless people he saw when he recently entered a Winkler business, while Winkler’s mayor said he hopes people in this province can start to better understand why vaccine hesitancy has become such a big and divisive issue in his community.

“So went shopping at Winkler Superstore. What a joke,” Carman resident Ryan Pritchard wrote in a Facebook post on June 30. “Couldn't believe the amount of people walking around thinking they’re more privileged than everyone else by not wearing a mask.”

Pritchard, a Carman-based farmer, gave the Winnipeg Sun permission to use his Facebook post, but did not want to be interviewed.

In the June 30 post he went on to say, “Superstore obviously has a lack of management by allowing this to happen. Hey covid-19 police, where the hell are you? No respect for these people and superstore.”

Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said on Tuesday that although he has heard of people not wearing masks in the Winkler Superstore and other businesses in town, he said he also believes the issue is being blown out of proportion by people posting online.

“I was in Superstore the other day, and you may see three or four people in there without a mask out of the hundreds of people in the store,” Harder said. “But it’s not a situation where everyone is just walking about without masks, and no one is doing anything about it.”

Harder said he believes when people see maskless shoppers in stores and post about it online it paints a picture that most people aren’t wearing masks or following health orders in Winkler, which he said is not true.

Messages to Canadian Superstore and Loblaws for comment have yet to be returned.

But as more and more Manitobans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the city of Winkler and one surrounding community have fallen way behind when it comes to vaccination rates.

As of Monday of this week approximately 27% of eligible residents had been fully vaccinated in Winkler, while in the neighbouring RM of Stanley only 14% of the eligible people have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is the lowest rate of any municipality in the province.

And although Harder has been frustrated with vaccination rates in the city, he said he is now calling on people to try to better understand why there is that hesitancy in his community.

“There is hesitancy in Winkler and I get that,” Harder said. “But a lot of people here come from these backgrounds of dictatorships and communist governments, and they have experienced the worst of controls of government, and if anything they are looking at this from the perspective that this is a very, very slippery slope to control over them.

“And I wish more people would think about that and focus on that, rather than just painting the whole city with this broad brush.”

Harder also claimed he believes large-scale advertising and promotion of the vaccines by the province is actually having a negative effect on vaccination rates in his community and even pushing some residents towards not getting vaccinated.

“You take a look at their advertising, and they advertise a lottery and they do these huge promotional campaigns, and when you saturate the market with these things it just further builds that distrust,” he said.

“It’s like they see it as propaganda and just another example of the government trying to take control, and every time we come out with another push, the pushback just gets stronger, because they don’t trust the government anyways.”

Harder said he wants to see more people get vaccinated in his community, but added he cannot be out there criticizing Winkler residents who don’t get vaccinated or trying to force their hands.

“I am concerned as anyone about the health implications of all of this, but I can’t push people, and the more you push, the more they just push back,” he said.

And along with health implications, Harder said he also worries about the other ongoing effects of the pandemic on his community, as he says he has seen the pandemic tear some friends and families apart, and he believes it has done “generational harm” in his community.

“I have talked to people that can’t see their grandchildren because their kids won’t get vaccinated, and I have seen families not talking to each other anymore because of this,” Harder said.

“As a whole, the fallout from COVID will take generations to get rid of, if we ever get rid of it.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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