Ontario’s mixed messages on coronavirus lead to mistrust in province, experts say
While this is somewhat symptomatic of the ever-evolving science behind the virus, ensuring that changing messages are delivered and received correctly “doesn’t seem to be the right priority,” said Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist and professor. associate at the University of Ottawa.
“Communicating in public health is not as simple as posting tweets and press releases,” he said.
“It’s a complex and nuanced endeavor that involves relationship building, trust and authenticity as well as fragility. One way or another, we are acting from the political playbook of projecting a position, more than allowing a relationship in communication.
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When the coronavirus shutdown was ordered in March, the message was simple: stay home and don’t leave home except to shop at essential businesses or do essential work. Despite their difficulty swallowing, the instructions were clear.
Fast forward four months and the businesses have started to reopen. This is where mixed messages started to spread across all levels of government, which made it difficult to decipher what is allowed and if it applies to you.
And it’s only getting more confusing, according to Deonandan.
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The “hammer and dance” phase, as described by Canadian infectious disease experts, has made it difficult to keep up with rapidly changing rules and restrictions. As policymakers balance controlling the virus with reopening economies, what a person can do now varies by province, region, and in some cases, specific communities or “areas.”
Often times it can seem completely out of sync. October was a vivid example.
First of all, there was Thanksgiving.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has advised Canadians – especially those in hard-hit Ontario and Quebec – to “stay in their immediate social circles” during the holidays. However, social circles were no longer in place in Ontario since October 2 and some regions of Quebec had already banned visitors between households.
When asked if he would visit extended family on Thanksgiving, Premier Doug Ford said he would only see 10 people, but later. clarified on Twitter that he would only meet with those of his household.
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A day later he admitted that messaging is not “as clear as it should be” and that “we all have to do a better job, even myself”.
Deonandan agrees. While there is “no perfect solution,” he said risks need to be better defined when governments roll out or reverse guidelines.
“I think we have to show our work. Show how we define risk. That based on those metrics, we think these activities are low risk, they are high risk, and this is how we would change those activities, ”he said.
“We’re missing that at the moment.”
Recently, the sticking points in communication have focused on Halloween. Tam and his counterpart have said there is no need to reverse the tradition, as long as policy makers respect the new realities of the pandemic.
Most provinces agreed, but others did not. In New Brunswick, what you can do for Halloween depends on the area in which you live. In Ontario, children in COVID-19 hotspots are encouraged not to do tricks or misfortunes.
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Conflicting views were separated online, where negative reactions were swift. A tweet résumé like: “Not confusing at all!” “
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“This is a place where the federal government shouldn’t be complaining about this. It’s an entirely local decision – what does your community tolerate? Deonandan said.
“We need to be as transparent as possible, especially about what we don’t know. We need to explain that because we don’t know, we are going to sin as a precaution for your safety.
But that’s the inherent challenge, according to Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg epidemiologist.
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Community spread is not the same everywhere, she said, so what appears to be an inconsistency may simply be an attempt by governments “to find a way to live with the virus and respond if necessary.”
“It assesses risk reduction and suggests strategic approaches,” she said.
“With the changes underway, it’s hard to always get the exact right message. The best way is to describe what we know, what we do, why, and what you need to do. If this was still the structure of public health messages, people might understand better. “
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In Ontario, the final source of confusion relates to dance studios.
Studios located in parts of Ontario designated as coronavirus hotspots may reopen with certain restrictions, including obeying indoor gathering rules by not allowing more than 10 people to enter the time.
But, just two weeks ago, health officials banned indoor fitness activities in these areas due to the risk of transmission indoors, where distance is harder to maintain and masks difficult to maintain.
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The province’s move would have the effect of aligning dance studios with activities like swimming and other sports, which are still allowed to continue during the new restrictions.
He’s put another dose of “confusing messages” rhetoric into motion online.
Deonandan sees part of Ontario’s reasoning. Dance studios can be like schools, where the same number of people are in the classroom each time, he said, so the number of exhibitions is “constant.” Also, if it is not a high stress situation – “just the basics” – then there is a lower exhalation level, which the virus can spread more easily.
“The confusing part is, is dancing an exercise?” And if it’s exercise, why isn’t it categorized as a gym? ” he said.
“It is better to categorize them by the nature of the risk rather than the nature of the activity. These decisions are based on the size of the venue, the intensity of the activity, the number of exposures per event, the rate of cases in your community, et cetera, et cetera.
In other words, people need governments to “show your work”, he said, that is what was missing when the decision was announced.
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The provincial government told Global News in an email that fitness settings, unlike dance studios, are on a “walk-in / one-off / episodic” basis, which makes contact tracing more difficult and higher exposures. Since dance lessons “effectively cohort” participants, “the fundamentals and techniques… can be safely imparted when public health measures are followed.”
Ford said on Wednesday the province would also be reviewing fitness studios.
But Carr said the decision still needs more clarity for the general public.
“We now know the high risk situations. Indoor spaces, recycled air, without mask, exercise or effort. Dance studios seem to meet these criteria, ”she said.
“It’s hard for public health to respond in real time, both by making these decisions and communicating them. We see it here.
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What needs to be improved?
Now that the pandemic is unfolding differently in different locations, federal and provincial authorities should “defer to local public health leaders where possible,” Deonandan said.
There also needs to be more clarity on the data and metrics that drive those decisions, he said.
Officials guiding Canadians through this pandemic must realize that without transparency, there is an increased risk of “depriving a paranoid population”, which risks reinforcing misinformation and distrust of authority, did he declare.
“We need to be as transparent as possible, especially about what we don’t know, so that people don’t accuse us of hiding things,” he said.
“We have to explain that because we don’t know, we are going to err on the precautionary side to keep you safe.”
– with files from the Canadian Press
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