A server wears a protective face mask as he passes a coffee to a customer in Vancouver, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

What happens if B.C. re-enters a COVID lockdown? Psychologist says we’ll be OK

UBC professor says cooperation between health officials, politicians has kept pandemic messaging simple

As health officials ask British Columbians to begin restriction their social interactions, a psychologist believes the province can handle another semi-lockdown.

“I think there will be a grumbling acceptance. People will say ‘okay, we’ve got to do this,’” said Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor at UBC.

“Most people will; there will inevitably be a small minority of people who are going to not adhere to this.”

Taylor said people shouldn’t be surprised to hear health officials ask them to shrink social circles they may have expanded this summer. B.C. hit a record 124 COVID-19 new cases on Friday, and 294 over the weekend, even as cases began to level off this week.

READ MORE: 1,100 active COVID-19 cases in B.C. following continued surge over weekend

Speaking Monday (Aug. 31), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. was entering a new stage of the pandemic.

“The increase in the number of new cases we have seen over the past few weeks remains a concern for all of us,” Henry said.

She said that while the summer months – which saw B.C. loosen restrictions and allow non-essential travel for the first time since March – were good for people’s mental health, it was time to slow down again.

“We’ve talked many times that we will likely have a second wave,” Henry said, adding that it would likely coincide with the annual cold and flu season.

“As the cooler weather arrives, we all have to be ready… as we step into our offices, our workplaces, our schools, we need to take a step back from some of the social interactions we have had this summer.”

Taylor said that although recent events – like a controversial back-to-school commercial with Henry – may have undermined public trust a bit, British Columbians are still largely understanding of their message.

READ MORE: Teachers’ union slams B.C.’s return-to-school plan; says ad with Dr. Henry is ‘unrealistic’

Unlike the U.S., where the pandemic has become a political issue, the psychologist said that here politicians have moved in lockstep with public health officials, rather than against them.

“The whole issue of adherence to public health measures has become a politicized, from wearing a mask to whether you should open up the community… in the United States, you’ve got this whole ‘give me liberty or give me death’ approach,” Taylor said.

It’s also important to remember that health officials shouldn’t be idolized.

“We put health officials like Dr. Bonnie Henry up on a pedestal,” he said. “We regard them as infallible superheroes, which they’re not; they’re just experts trying to do their best under conditions of uncertainty,

But the way B.C.’s health officials present the new lockdown will be key.

“If they make this more predictable and controllable, then that’s what makes things less stressful,” he said.

“You know, something like ‘the more more you adhere to this, the better our chances of getting over this.’”

For people concerned about cutting off social interactions, especially as the weather worsens, Taylor said to remember that B.C. has gotten through this before.

“None of us want to be here… but it won’t be foreign territory.”

That should help people avoid some of the pitfalls of the first lockdown – panic-buying toilet paper and baking supplies – while providing a template for what did help.

READ MORE: Amid COVID-19 panic, B.C. psychologist urges shoppers to not clear out grocery stores

“People should ask themselves ‘what went well in lockdown last time? What didn’t go so well?’” Taylor said, while reminding themselves that while getting together might seem like a good way to blow off steam, it will only hurt in the long run.

“It’s going to be wintertime. If people choose to go out and party, it will be in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces which is just a recipe for the spread of infection… that’s just going to prolong the pandemic and prolong lockdown for everyone.”

Taylor said routines, planning activities, getting outside and staying active will all be essential to getting through the next months.

“We focus on how badly people are doing, or how anxious or irritable or depressed they are,” he said. “Some of us may be distressed or bummed out… but those feelings should pass for most people. People tend to be very resilient.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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