When Mieke Ruth van Ineveld got sick with COVID-19 earlier this month, it happened fast.
She was at work and started feeling short of breath.
“Nothing was wrong before work and three hours later I couldn’t breathe,” said van Ineveld, 26.
At this point, she still doesn’t know how she caught the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. She said out of concern about contracting or spreading the illness, she’s worn a mask, sanitized and has kept contacts to a minimum outside of her restaurant job.
“I’ve been pretty conservative in the risks I’ve taken around the pandemic.”
That’s why some of the comments made by Premier Brian Pallister at a news conference earlier this week didn’t sit well with her.
“It’s frustration, disappointment — like, resentment, right? It’s just everything negative kind of boils up immediately,” said van Ineveld. “It feels so obvious that they’re just shifting the blame.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Pallister said many Manitobans have chosen not to obey public health orders and then become sick.
He also said there were people not taking the time to get vaccinated or get tested.
“Too many of those people didn’t even bother to get tested for COVID, which means they placed other people in jeopardy. We need to change these behaviours,” he said Tuesday.
Van Ineveld says found out she was positive for COVID-19 two days before her appointment to get a vaccine, and she was told to go to a hospital before she even had a chance to get tested.
When she began to experience symptoms, she left the restaurant where she works — before her shift was over — and called her dad, who is a physician. She said at first they thought it was an asthma attack, but when she woke up with flu symptoms the next day and called Health Links, she was told to go to hospital.
“Their assessment was that I should have gone to the hospital the day before, when I couldn’t breathe at work,” said van Ineveld, who received a COVID-19 swab while in the emergency room undergoing other tests.
On Thursday, Pallister acknowledged that some took issue with his comments.
“The instant that I went hard on people that were disobeying the rules I was suddenly characterized as blaming people who get COVID, so you see the delicate balance,” he said.
Shame can discourage testing: U of M prof
A professor at the University of Manitoba who specializes in health risk communication says shaming can actually prevent people from being tested.
“They might be afraid that they’re going to be blamed,” said Michelle Driedger.
“Maybe they had a lapse in judgment or maybe they didn’t follow the guidance as strictly as they needed it to be … so they don’t want to get into trouble.”
It’s important to make sure people feel comfortable coming forward so they don’t withhold information from contact tracers or public health officials, Driedger says.
As well, she says being more transparent about why decisions are being made is a good way to communicate messages to the public about the pandemic, pointing to British Columbia as a jurisdiction where epidemiological and mathematical modelling has been shared more consistently.
“That, I think, is a good model that we all could learn from,” said Driedger.
“I’m not saying that in criticism of what our public health response has been … but there is still always room for improvement.”
‘It panned out in a horrible, horrifying way’
Van Ineveld says rather than using blame, she’d like to see the province take responsibility for some of the decisions that have been made.
Several doctors had called for more restrictions before the province tightened public health measures this month, she points out.
“There are things that could have been done that would have prevented cases like mine from happening that we didn’t do, and now we’re living with the consequences,” she said.
“Let’s be honest about that. Please … let’s own up to the fact that we took a risk and it panned out in a horrible, horrifying way.”
She would also like to see more generous sick leave benefits so people are able to stay home when it’s too risky to go to work.
“We as a society should be taking care of everyone.”