Social distancing includes remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gathers and maintaining approximately two metres distance from others when possible.
But some people are not following public health recommendations, and are instead carrying on life as usual including going to bars and parties.
On Saturday, the University District near Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., was crowded with students as they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day — despite warnings from public health and local police for students not to attend the parties.
Aoife Gray, an Irish communications professional living in Toronto, said her social media feed was full of local people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at bars over the weekend.
“I was appalled looking through Instagram stories,” Gray said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people were ignorant and just didn’t educate themselves as to how rapidly the virus can spread at a social gathering or at a bar — and bars are cesspools on the best of days.”
The novel coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, can spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be passed on through close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, Health Canada says.
Gray said she messaged some contacts on Instagram who posted photos of them partying and asked them why they were still going out when there’s a social-distancing advisory in effect.
“I was like, ‘Please, you’ve no idea how much viruses thrive in social interactions and … just because we don’t have a lockdown right now doesn’t mean you can’t make a socially responsible decision to stay in. Please think twice next time,'” Gray said.
How to talk to friends about health measures
As news about COVID-19 continues to evolve, conversations with friends and family about health measures are important, said Kate Mulligan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
It can be upsetting or angering to see friends post photos or videos of them partying amid the outbreak, Mulligan said, and that reaction is normal. The key, however, is how you react.
Mulligan said it’s important to remind friends that even if they feel OK, the purpose of social distancing — or physical distancing, as Mulligan calls it — is to protect vulnerable members of society, like seniors, health-care workers and those with weakened immune systems.
“It’s also to protect the capacity of our health-care system to respond, because if too many of us get this at the exact same time, we won’t have enough health-care resources to deal with it,” Mulligan said.
For Serena Lalani, posting educational information on her social media feed was a way to help inform followers, many who went out this weekend to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, she said.
The Mississauga-based media producer said she started posting Instagram stories with facts about why it’s important to practise self-isolation or social distancing — even if people are not “required” to — after reading news stories about the impact of COVID-19 around the world.
Some people responded to her health posts by telling her not to “police” their lives, while others, she said, were more receptive and changed their behaviour.
Lalani said she pointed out there’s a difference between people who have to go into work or fulfill important commitments, and those who choose to go out for fun.
“You’ve really been able to see who is willing to make a very, very small sacrifice to protect the safety of our communities and our country and who would much rather just go to a party or go out for dinner,” Lalani said.
Use stories and graphics
Mulligan said that the people who ignore health advisories may think the virus doesn’t affect them, especially if they are young and healthy, so it’s important to remind them of what is happening in other countries, and why protective measures are important.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Sunday that if people don’t stay home in an effort to “social distance,” the virus will spread so quickly that too many people will need urgent medical care at once.
The country’s “window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow,” she said.
“I think those images are really, really important for people as are the stories of what happened in South Korea and in Italy to demonstrate that this is no joke and that we have to get it right,” Mulligan said.
Avoid shaming and anger
Shaming or blasting someone for going out is not the best approach, as it often makes people defensive and less likely to hear you out. It also isn’t a particularly helpful communication strategy, Mulligan said.
Instead, try to share information from reliable sources like government sites and news organizations with friends, Mulligan said.
Also try to practise compassion and check in on your loved ones. During an anxiety provoking time, it is normal for emotions to heighten, she added.
“It’s very common to feel depressed, angry, irritable, all those kinds of things,” Mulligan said.
“But what will help you through this is having a good social network, being able to talk to people, being connected, knowing that you can offer help to people, and knowing that there are people who will be able to offer help to you.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
Visit full COVID-19 coverage on Global News.