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

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

The TNRD is undertaking a Master Trails Plan for the community of Blue River. (Darcy Lawrey / Pexels Photo)
TNRD to develop trails plan for Blue River

A survey is available for public input on the TNRD website.

From left: Councillor Lucy Taylor, Councillor Barry Banford, Councillor Bill Haring, Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Councillor Lynne Frizzle, Councillor Lyle Mckenzie and Councillor Shelley Sim. (District of Clearwater photo)
District of Clearwater council approves tax rate increases for 2021

The 2021 tax rate bylaw will see adoption May 6.

Ian and Roger Nadeau are shown in front of one of their Thompson Valley Charters coaches. (TVC photo)
Hwy 5 Kamloops to Edmonton bus run delayed until May 20

Thompson Valley Charters delays start of new route to abide by BC Health travel advisory

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The White House says it is making plans to share up to 60 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 11,075 since the pandemic began

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Most Read