A Winnipeg epidemiologist says it's time provincial officials provide some clear benchmarks for life returning to normal, in order to encourage vaccination and give much-needed hope to North America's COVID-19 epicentre.

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A Winnipeg epidemiologist says it's time provincial officials provide some clear benchmarks for life returning to normal, in order to encourage vaccination and give much-needed hope to North America's COVID-19 epicentre.

"With ongoing uncertainty, there is a significant increase in anxiety," said Cynthia Carr. "Any layer of concrete information will feel like certainty."

Early this month, Saskatchewan released what it called a reopening roadmap, with three phases of restrictions lifting based on when certain age cohorts reach 70 per cent vaccination.

This past week, Ontario launched its own three-step roadmap, with each step pegged to the percentage of adults with one- and two-vaccine doses.

For example, Ontarians will be able to get haircuts starting July 5 — for the first time in three months — if 70 per cent of adults have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 20 per cent of them have received two.

Carr said public-health experts know that a lack of clarity wears people down to the point that they stop paying attention to the messaging.

"This has been a challenge, this ongoing uncertainty and escalating anxiety — and then people start just doing their own thing. Because people need things to cope."

Carr said offering people a clear sense of what they can do and when they can do it will give them a sense of control and motivate more to get vaccinated.

"We need to be social, or go to the gym, or go to church or whatever it is that helps you cope."

The province did not have an immediate response to the idea Friday.

Carr also argued the current third wave might not have spun out of control if Manitobans had a concrete sense of the goals they were working toward.

"It would have been ideal to have that message out there early, in association with public-health orders that said: this will be our place until this proportion of the population has been vaccinated," she said.

"Let's show (the public) that math, of what's going to happen, especially if we lollygag, and we let these variants of concern take over — which is what we did.

"Now it's even higher and higher and we're going to be restricted longer and longer."

Carr said Manitobans need to understand that getting back to something resembling normal means immunizing an adequate percentage of the population. And that level rises with the number of COVID-19 cases, especially with more-contagious variants.

"It comes back to math, public-health policy and messaging," she said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca