Opinion: Burnaby parents deserve better than bungled coronavirus messaging

Chris Campbell

The pandemic that is causing panic around the world comes with many names now – coronavirus, novel coronavirus and, lately, COVID-19.

The World Health Organization giving it the official name of COVID-19 might serve to only confuse people even more than they already are about this virus.

Trying to quell the panic isn’t easy when many people are looking to sketchy sources for information. Some dark forces are deliberately spreading misinformation to further enflame the situation.

So there’s that.

But in Burnaby, the situation for parents was not helped by clumsy messaging from the B.C. Ministry of Health.

As detailed by ace NOW reporter Cornelia Naylor in this story here, the ministry reversed its coronavirus message to parents in Burnaby and around B.C.

At the beginning of the month, the Burnaby school district sent out a letter saying the health ministry had “advised and confirmed that individuals returning from affected regions do not need to be isolated at home or kept home from school.”

A few days later, however, the ministry and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had done an about-face.

“Given the changing dynamics of the outbreak in China and globally, and recognizing we are in the midst of influenza season, we ask anyone here in B.C. who has been in Hubei province to consider staying home and keeping their children home until 14 days have passed from their last visit to Hubei,” Henry said at a press conference on Feb. 4.

The Burnaby school district posted the updated information and has worked hard to keep parents informed. But the damage was done with the mixed messaging. Those few days after telling parents it was OK to send the kids to school produced a lot of hysteria in parents, especially online. It also made the situation difficult for teachers and school administrators possibly being confronted by parents worried about other students attending school after an overseas trip.

Henry told the NOW since then that she and the health minister directed a joint statement specifically at parents and guardians after getting “a lot of questions from schools and schools boards.”

“Things were changing quite a bit and there was a lot of information out there about people who were returning from China and so there was a lot of concern in the school system in particular about what about children who are returning, and we wanted to be sure that everybody had the same message about what our recommendations were on that,” she said.

Hopefully this more consistent message will filter through and reduce the panic, but I have my doubts. Parents need to stop getting their information people gossiping on social media and stick with official sources on a regular basis.

Yes, the ministry stumbled a bit, but it’s a fluid situation and they are a better source than Facebook.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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