Coronavirus: Alberta continues to struggle with public health messages for young adults


More than 50% of COVID-19 cases in Alberta over the past week are among youth and young adults, and questions are being raised about what is being done to better target this particular demographic.According to data from the province, 356 of the 666 new cases – or 53 percent – reported from Aug. 18 to Aug. 24 were between 10 and 39 years old.

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Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Aug. 10 the province is studying what can be done to reach different age groups and better understand what is preventing it from following health guidelines. public.

On Monday, Hinshaw addressed a specific message to young adults.

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“You are less likely to have serious consequences from a COVID-19 infection, but due to the way this virus spreads in your age group, you are now more likely to pass this virus on without knowing it and do it quickly.

“We’re seeing that in Edmonton right now,” she said.

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However, it is not clear whether this message works or if it is falling on deaf ears.

Batyr Ng, 22, is a graduate student at the University of Alberta. He tried to distance himself in public and wear a mask indoors.

He said the province was warning Albertans in general about COVID-19, but not his specific age group.

“I haven’t seen any particular ads or any particular type of information that has been tailored to the young population,” he said.

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Kaitlyn Carter, 21, said she takes the virus seriously, citing an immunocompromised mother and sister, but she can’t say the same for other members of her demographic.

“I think some people still don’t fully understand the severity of the disease or the portability of the disease,” she said.

Teens say they are not sure that the messages the government specifically sends to them have been effective.

“I have the impression that they don’t really speak to us. I feel like young people are talking to young people, ”said Charlotte McInulty.

“There have been a few messages that have been sent to us, but they also make us ashamed, for example, going out and spending time with our friends,” said Vianne Amini-Arthurson.

Gary McCarron, associate professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, said public health messages may have worked when the country was in the initial stages of the pandemic, but it may have worked. be changed as the economy began to reopen.

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The difficulties in disseminating public health advice to young people are not new. McCarron said that historically there have been challenges in getting messages to young people during the HIV / AIDS crisis. He also referred to more recent issues in warning this age group of the opioid crisis.

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McCarron said young people are generally more resistant to authority, citing a theory called psychological reactants.

“People tend to resist when they feel that their autonomy, their individual freedom or their freedom is being violated by some kind of expertise or some type of authority,” he said.

McCarron added that it appears strongest in two-year-olds – hence the “terrible twos” – and in young adults.

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He explained that the messages addressed to young adults should therefore not be too harsh or didactic.

“It has to be organized in such a way that it has an inherent appeal to young people. It’s like removing some of the informational content and focusing more on the affect – creating a message, in other words, that has a little more emotional resonance.

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Messages were sent to young people about how they could spread the virus to other more vulnerable Albertans. McCarron said it can be difficult for this age group to understand as well, especially because they are more likely to be motivated by fear of loss than the prospect of gain and because many are believe invulnerable.

“It’s a harder message to get across when you talk about illness… seeing yourself as someone who is a source of transmission is something intellectually harder to think about.

“I think that’s where it becomes more and more difficult to change people’s behavior.”

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Dr Peter Ryan, assistant professor of public relations at Mount Royal University, said message fatigue may have set in among young people. Ryan said it was difficult for this age group to stay home after months of loneliness, especially if they were not living with vulnerable people.

“These young adults, adolescents, have the most unsupervised social mobility of all ages, but they may not have the most up-to-date information to make the most informed health choices,” he said. declared.

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Ryan said conflicting messages may have played a role in young people following public health guidelines, citing initial confusion over whether masks should be worn.

He added that young adults were struggling with the idea that they might spread the disease to those at risk.

“Adolescents and young adults weigh it against who they go to see, especially if they are already living alone. They make decisions about who they hang out with, who they see and they might not be so worried if their friends act the same, ”he said.

Lauren Holmes, 22, of Ontario, founded the website after learning about the social media activity of young people getting together and partying.

The website, which launched in June, explains what the meeting restrictions are in the various provinces and aims to help young people meet safely during the pandemic.

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Holmes said she started the website because she didn’t think provincial governments were doing well in resonating with young people.

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“I think it’s a reactive response rather than a proactive response, which is a problem,” she said.

“Young people won’t listen to people telling them not to get together, not to party at all. It just will not happen and it has not happened.

Holmes said governments were for young people rather than them.

“They… tell them they’re irresponsible and tell them it’s all the youngsters’ fault. It doesn’t go well with people who are blamed, I don’t think so, in any demographic age, ”she said.

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She said it would be important to change or correct messages for young people before school resumes.

“They will have more free time because the lessons are mostly far away. Children, again, want to see their friends. They want to have something to do. With all the free time, there will be house parties, people are going to go out, ”Holmes said.

Possible solutions

Ryan, the public relations professor, said it will be important to strengthen public health messages as the province enters this fall, which could lead to a second wave.

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He suggests using social media influencers, celebrities, or sports figures, such as hockey players, to convey important public health messages to young people. He said parents and employers of young people can also play an important role in strengthening public health guidance.

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Hinshaw warns of large gatherings as Edmonton conducts COVID-19 business

McCarron, the SFU communications professor, said messages to young people are complicated by the fact that they don’t watch, listen to or read mainstream news media. He said social media might be a better way to reach this age group.

“What makes it more effective, of course, is that it tends not to be heavy on information, heavy on teaching. It is not a modality or a system that lectures people.

“It tends to make memes more. Those short memorable videos or slogans – these are the things people remember, ”he said.

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“If you can get a message that goes viral, it’s much more effective than having a health worker standing on a platform, instead of a TV camera when, frankly, the demographic you’re trying to reach does not even look.

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