Confused and conflicting information from the Ontario government on how people should act in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is leading the public to distrust the province’s advice, according to several experts.
The more precise and concise messages at the start of the pandemic became increasingly convoluted, they say, leaving some people frustrated as cases escalate.
“It seems like they’re making up as they go,” said Laura Babcock, owner of communications firm Powergroup Communications.
This appeared to be the case at the provincial COVID-19 press conference on Friday, when reporters repeatedly asked if families should gather for Thanksgiving next weekend.
The press conference came just as the province issued a press release saying it was “suspending social circles” and advising Ontarians to “allow close contact only with people living in their own households.”
Instead of echoing that advice, Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and other health officials all gave answers that seemed to contradict him.
WATCH | Ford introduces further restrictions:
Elliott said to keep the gatherings “as small as possible”. Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has told people to “take precautions” and “step back, choose yours carefully.”
“Keep your circles tight, I think that’s what he means,” Ford said of Williams’ comments.
Babcock says some information about the size of the collection didn’t make sense, especially as bars, clubs, banquet halls and even casinos are still open across the province and people are allowed to congregate there – albeit with physical distance measures in place.
“They are trying to do everything, and what it does is create massive confusion,” she said. “It’s painful. They just made it worse.
“I’m trying not to use profanity here. It’s a guide dog breakfast.
The province defends the strategy
The province says Ford and others are doing all they can to communicate with the public through a multitude of platforms.
The government’s experience with the first wave of the virus has shown Ontarians understand what needs to be done to once again contain the growing number of cases, Ford spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.
Notably, Ontario’s numbers only declined after widespread lockdowns that affected many sectors of the economy. Ontario hit a new one-day high on Friday with 732 new cases, and infections have risen steadily in recent weeks.
Yelich said Ford and health officials continue to educate the public, in addition to public health advertising campaigns on TV, radio and online.
“As we face the second wave, we will do what we have from the start: count on all Ontarians to do what is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 as we take decisive action and implement our $ 2.8 billion fall readiness plan to keep Ontarians. sure, ”Yelich said.
Dr Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, says it’s high time for the public to hear directly from the panel of health experts advising provincial officials, to whom Ford and other officials have repeatedly referred to it at press conferences.
“Saying we have a fall readiness plan, we know what we’re doing and we’re good to go, but not having clarity as to what the benchmarks are, what the goals are… leads to confusion, ”Warner said. CBC News.
“It’s the building of that sense of mistrust that’s going to permeate this second wave and make it much more difficult for the government to ask us to do things that are inappropriate – that are difficult.”
Critique of the medical officer of health
A sticking point for some has been Williams, who regularly gives lengthy answers at hard-to-understand press conferences. When asked on Friday whether the province would start releasing data to support the decisions it makes, Williams spoke at length, but ultimately did not answer the question.
Williams was appointed by the previous Liberal government in February 2016. He was previously the Medical Officer of Health for the Thunder Bay District Board of Health.
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, has called for Williams to be removed from office.
Dr Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, also says Williams must resign.
“There is not enough attention to the damage [on the messaging and scientific front] he does… and I’m not the only one to say it. It’s absolutely crazy, ”Furness told CBC News.
“It’s a disaster. His term ends in February. The best we can hope for is that he feels he has to go.”
Asked about Williams’ ability to clearly communicate information about COVID-19 measures to the public, Yelich said he and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the deputy medical officer of health, “continue to brief the public on a weekly basis.”
Ford defended Williams at a press conference in September, saying he “worked around the clock”.
“This man is not sleeping. He is protecting people and the numbers speak for themselves,” the prime minister said.