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Painful Truth: We need better COVID-19 messaging

If the message isn’t getting out to everyone, change the message

Last weekend, the Vancouver Police rousted more than 70 people and handed out thousands of dollars worth of tickets to a bunch of numbskulls who thought going to an illegal, maskless party in a converted penthouse was a good idea.

Didn’t they hear that we’re supposed to be calm, be kind, and stay safe?

Of course they didn’t. You can’t hear a message that’s not aimed at you.

As we pass the one-year mark on COVID-19’s arrival on B.C.’s shores, I’m starting to despair of the province’s single-minded approach to getting out the public health message.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry has been a great ambassador for one approach to the pandemic. She’s done tremendous work in this field! But acknowledging her successes does not mean that we should ignore the people who are not being reached.

Who are those folks?

Well, just judging from the stats and the recent news – parties in penthouses and at Whistler – the people we haven’t convinced are some combination of young, reckless, and extremely extroverted.

They aren’t going to be kind because they’re selfish. They aren’t going to be safe because they think they’re immortal. And they aren’t going to be calm because they want to party.

So why isn’t the B.C. government putting out a few other messages?

All we get are the sober updates on case numbers and a few cracks from Premier John Horgan about coming down on health order violators “like a ton of bricks.”

C’mon guys. Where’s the propaganda?

I mean propaganda in the positive sense, here. Rosie the Riveter and Loose Lips Sink Ships and all those Buy War Bonds messages from the Second World War were propaganda, and the folks making those slogans knew that. They were trying to convince people to do something difficult, for a long time maybe, and that required a lot of different messages, some soft, some sharp, some incredibly blunt.

So where are the commercials showing a party being raided by the police, participants getting ticket after ticket, complete with cash-register KA-CHING! sound effects?

Where are the true life testimonials from British Columbians in their 20s who got really, really sick and almost died, to bring home the reality of COVID-19?

Where’s the commercial where a chain of people dramatize the route of infection – from a crowded party, to a sibling, to the sibling’s friend, to the friend’s mother, who works in a care home, where it kills a dozen people?

We’re going to be dealing with COVID-19, conservatively, for another six to 10 months, and that’s if we vaccinate effectively and broadly.

Why leave anything on the table in the home stretch? Why not make some more ads and get those ads out there, in newspapers and on Facebook, on drive-time radio, on YouTube and during Canucks games.

No campaign is going to convince everyone. But if the choice is between making ads that might seem crude or tasteless, and letting more people get sick or die, which one would you choose?

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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