Social media images of large parties in Vancouver’s downtown on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 2020.

Social media images of large parties in Vancouver’s downtown on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 2020.

How to combat COVID fatigue: experts say clear messaging, safe social options needed

Just a small minority of Canadians skirting the rules due to COVID fatigue could be detrimental

With COVID-19 cases rising in parts of the country, tightened restrictions are causing some Canadians to abandon the safety precautions they’ve been obeying for months.

While it’s not ideal timing to surrender to COVID fatigue — British Columbia and Ontario both reported record-high case numbers this week — experts aren’t surprised to see attitudes ranging from apathetic to angry as people respond to restrictions.

In Vancouver’s entertainment district for example, nightlife revellers were criticized by police for openly flouting rules last weekend, while business owners in hot-spots have recently been pushing back on COVID-related closures, with gym owners in Quebec even threatening to disregard public-health directives.

READ MORE: Halloween crowds gather in Downtown Vancouver despite B.C. top doctor’s plea to avoid parties

“It’s human nature, right?” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease expert with McMaster University. “At the beginning of (the pandemic), we had our own personal fears that were motivating us.

“And now, cases are rising and it’s discouraging and there’s a breaking point for some people where they want to get out and they want to be normal again.”

The longer the pandemic lasts, the likelier that constraints aimed at slowing the spread of the virus will be cast aside by those who believe they’ve already sacrificed so much, Chagla says. And having even just a small minority of Canadians skirting the rules due to COVID fatigue could be detrimental.

“It’s a hard message … and one that we really haven’t (dealt with),” Chagla said. “It’s just been this open-and-close, open-and-close mentality and we’re not actually giving people the opportunity to still have some social connection without exposing them to a high level of risk.”

Dr. Vincent Agyapong, a clinical professor and director of community psychiatry at the University of Alberta, says that as cases rise, some may be feeling their efforts to curb the disease were futile.

So they may have decided to gather for a group dinner or attend a wedding reception despite public health warnings, or they may start questioning safety directives like mask-wearing if they don’t perceive them to be working.

Agyapong says the recovery rate of COVID-19 may also be desensitizing people to the actual dangers of the disease.

“They don’t particularly see it as a serious condition compared to how they viewed it initially when there were so many unknowns,” he said. “There were images of people dying in Italy, and in the U.K., and in Brazil, but they’re not seeing the same kind of alarming death rates here in Canada.

“So they may not attach that level of seriousness when they judge restrictions against how it impacts their own quality of life.”

In other instances, some may be getting desensitized to daily COVID news altogether and tuning out new directives as they come.

Still others may be turned off by the negative language surrounding restrictions.

Danielle Gaucher, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, says she’s noticed a shift in how people discuss shutdowns, focusing on the word ‘restrictions’ rather than presenting them as safety measures.

And that could be triggering what’s referred to as “reactance.”

“It’s that unpleasant arousal that happens when people experience a threat to their free behaviours,” Gaucher said. “This unpleasant motivational state can result in behavioural and cognitive efforts to re-establish one’s freedom and it’s usually accompanied by the experience of strong emotions.”

READ MORE: B.C. adds another 299 cases of COVID-19, three deaths

Business owners feeling hardships from forced closures may be experiencing reactance — like the gym proprietors in Quebec who last week threatened to reopen their facilities amid extended lockdown measures in the province.

Reactance can also be seen in anti-mask protests. One such rally planned for this weekend in Aylmer, Ont., led the town to declare a state of emergency on Tuesday.

Judith Versloot, a behavioural psychologist in Mississauga, Ont., says some people will engage in their own risk-assessment before committing to safety measures like mask-wearing, for example.

First, she says people need to believe that masks work. But they also need to see the virus as serious enough to cause harm — even if that’s not what they’re experiencing in their own community.

“If you don’t see anybody with COVID, or if you do and they get better, you might think ‘I can handle that. Why should I wear that mask?’” Verslooth said. “So authorities need to make very clear (the reasons) for wearing masks. … And people should feel that it’s important to them.”

Verslooth says messaging needs to be consistent and include positives when possible to motivate people to continue with restrictive measures.

“Somehow, (safety precautions) need to feel good to you,” she added. “You need to feel your actions are helping.”

Chagla agrees that inconsistent messaging from public health and government officials may be fuelling COVID fatigue in some.

He used Thanksgiving as an example, saying when people are told they can eat dinner in a restaurant with 100 people but not host 10 of their family members at home, they become aware of that contradiction. And the longer the pandemic goes on, the less patience people have for fluctuating messages.

“Those inconsistencies stick out; they cause more distress and people harp on it, especially as new restrictions come down,” Chagla said. “People will look back and say: ‘Well, I could do this before. What’s different today?’”

One solution, Chagla says, is making sure leaders offer safe alternatives to risky behaviour rather than cancelling them outright. Asking people to modify the way they socialize is better than telling them to stay home altogether.

While he acknowledges that harsh Canadian winters will make it harder to take social situations outdoors, Chagla says we need to embrace that this year.

“I’m not saying go out in a blizzard, but get a warm winter jacket, get gloves, get all that stuff,” he said. “A walk in the park with some coffee is not a terrible thing.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park, fall 2020. Photo: Submitted
Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park. fall 2020. Photo submitted
VIDEO: Kootenay youth climate group works to protect Nelson’s water supply

Youth Climate Corps members spent five weeks thinning forest in West Arm Park

A Midway RCMP officer and a Grand Forks Search and Rescue volunteer ready a tarpaulin-wrapped burglary suspect for an airlift by a military helicopter Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of Grand Forks Search and Rescue
Grand Forks, Okanagan search and rescue teams helped RCMP at Bridesville airlift

Twelve volunteers provided frontline assistance, according to Grand Forks Search and Rescue

There are few details but neighbours a Second Avenue house in Chilliwack say a huge police presence descended on the home after shots were heard. (File photo)
Robson search warrant yields fentanyl and weapons

Search warrant was part of an ongoing drug trafficking investigation

Boundary Community Food Bank President Mike Wakelin thanked Grand Forks’ first-responders and city employees who donated food last week. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Boundary Food Bank see recent uptick in clients after CERB runs out

President Mike Wakelin said demand plummeted while the benefit was available to working Canadians

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Stock photo courtesy Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca.
Double-murder trial in case of Cranbrook couple killed adjourned until January

The trial was adjourned following an application from the defence related to COVID-19

Most Read