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OPINION: ‘Cynical spreaders’ not solely to blame for B.C.'s COVID-19 surge

Are the “cynical spreaders” winning the day right now, or are our rising COVID-19 numbers simply a reflection of how tough it is to combat this virus?
Are the cynical spreaders, i.e. people refusing to follow public health orders, behind B.C.'s recent surge in COVID-19 cases? Photo: Getty Images

Are the “cynical spreaders” winning the day right now, or are our rising coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers simply a reflection of how tough it is to combat this virus?

Cynical spreaders is the title that pollster Angus Reid Institute conferred back in the summer on people who refuse to follow public health orders or protocols or guidelines. They do not keep their social distance from others; they continue to gather in unsafe numbers and situations and refuse to wear a mask for the most part.

Given that much of our steady rise in the number of daily cases was attributed to large gatherings of people at private homes, it is tempting to blame the cynical spreaders for this escalation.

So-called 'cynical spreaders' only 18%

However, Angus Reid pollster Shachi Kurl pegged the cynical spreaders (who tend to be younger, conservative and not highly educated) to represent just 18 per cent of the population. That is a number big enough to cause some trouble, but our worsening situation seems to go beyond their impact.

Just look at how bad November was in this province when it came to COVID-19.

Almost 20,000 people tested positive for the virus during the month (up from about 5,000 in October). About 500 people were hospitalized (about double that in October) and more than 170 people died (compared to 30 in October).

The number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities has more than doubled, going from 24 to more than 50. Most of the deaths in November occurred in those facilities.

Going into last weekend, our daily case count of new cases was about 800 (a rolling five-day average). At the start of the month the average was 270 new cases a day.

Things have been getting noticeably and unmistakably worse pretty well every day, even though a public health order landed mid-month forbidding social gatherings with people outside your personal household.

Surge in cases not unique to B.C.

However, it is important to remember that B.C. is not alone in having this kind of experience. Things are even worse in Alberta and cases keep piling up in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

Around the world, most northern hemisphere countries – particularly the United States and Europe – are experiencing a significant surge in case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a recent briefing the virus is behaving differently now than in the spring, so the public health measures had to be changed.

“Right now, in B.C., as around the world, at least in the northern hemisphere, across this country, and Europe, and other places, we are seeing a much higher level of community transmission,” she said.

“This means that things that were safe using the guidelines we had developed over the last ten months are no longer in that safe zone,” she added. “This is different than what we were experiencing before in the spring, the summer, and even earlier in the fall.”

There is no question those cynical spreaders are a public health nuisance if not an outright threat, but it seems the surge of COVID-19 around much of the world has exceeded their impact.

November was a terrible month for COVID-19 in B.C. Let’s hope December is better on that front, but I’m not holding my breath.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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