Things were finally starting to look up for Chandra Mayor and nine-year-old granddaughter Bellamy.
It's been nearly two years since they have sat together in a movie theatre or wandered together through the Manitoba Museum. Just as the Winnipeg pair were gearing up to weave such activities back into day-to-day life, the newest rollback of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions has given Mayor, 47, new pause.
"I'm really disheartened that they removed the vaccination requirement for places where children go," Mayor said Wednesday. "They kept it for places children can't go — like the racetrack — but removed it for places I would otherwise take her, like movie theatres or museums."
Manitoba plans to throw its gates wide open Saturday morning, allowing most activities to return at near full swing without mask mandates or vaccination requirements. While some may feel excited for a return to normal, many — especially those with young children — are angry, preparing to hunker down once again to avoid renewed risk.
"I think they are so irresponsible, absolutely reprehensible. I think removing the mask mandate is almost incomprehensible; I think particularly it leaves kids unprotected," Mayor said.
When Diana Leslie’s proof-of-vaccination card arrived in the mail, the mother of two started wrapping her head around taking her five-year-old daughter to the movies or museum or to shop for a birthday present in store. She said those hopes were dashed by this week’s announcement.
"I was expecting some loosening of restrictions, but my heart just sank when I heard that they were simultaneously going to make masks optional, do away with capacity limits and, it seems, do away with the vaccination cards," the Winnipegger said in a phone interview.
"All these things I was looking forward to doing I can’t risk it now because the province decided the fear that the unvaccinated people have of getting the vaccine is more important than the fear that parents have of their child contracting COVID-19."
Such moves put Leslie in the unfair position of needing to "retreat back to evaluating the safety every time we go out of the house" to keep her family safe.
"I’m dumbfounded and angry," she said. "This didn’t have to happen now, and it didn’t have to happen all at once. It’s setting us up for failure."
Those feeling cautious owing to the province's fast-tracked reopening plan are not alone.
Dr. Steven Taylor, professor of clinical psychology in the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, said any kind of substantial change is bound to cause anxiety for some parts of the population. Those fears are only heightened by the uncertainty of a fourth COVID wave and the inconsistency of public health messaging, he added.
"Reopening is complicated and messy. There are a lot of people who just can’t wait to get back to socializing, group events, stadium concerts and such, but there is a substantial group of people who are very anxious right now," Taylor said in a phone interview Wednesday.
"In an ideal world, health authorities would be consistent with their guidelines, they wouldn’t be easing mask restrictions and putting them back in place; that suggests that you’re not in control of the situation... and that’s just the way pandemics are, but it creates confusion for people."
In Winnipeg, Mayor Brian Bowman has opted to hold the line on mask mandates at civic facilities — at least for now.
"As we’ve done previously as a municipal government, we’re waiting for the health orders to be released to review to determine how they will impact city operations," Bowman said Wednesday.
"There’s no immediate changes to the requirements, including masks to enter city facilities and riding transit," he said, reminding football fans taking Winnipeg Transit to the Blue Bombers’ 2021 CFL home opener Thursday night to wear a mask.
Not everyone is feeling renewed hesitancy.
Jesse Harder said his friends are "young and healthy" — and vaccinated — and ready for this opportunity. The Winnipeg-based programmer was most looking forward to having more than a handful over to his house and not having to wear a mask at work.
While he knows the virus could rear its head again, Harder said: "You have to get back to normal at some point."
Taylor said a pandemic will often create three groups: those who are anxious but working to risk assess and cope; those who are excessively anxious; and those who are not concerned at all or don’t take the threat seriously.
For some, the psychology professor said, anxieties can be eased by re-emerging at your own pace, deciding when and where to stop wearing masks, or where you’re comfortable visiting based on individual risk tolerance.
If anxieties are pushing toward an unhealthy re-isolation, Taylor suggested taking a look at ways to treat the anxiety, but added a certain level of caution is necessary to keep one another safe.
"We all obviously affect one another: if you’re out there treating this as no big deal, you’re going to make the more anxious people even more anxious," Taylor said. "We all need to think about other people, rather than thinking about ourselves."
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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