Editorial

There is very little likelihood — almost none, in fact — that the subjects of this editorial, the segment of the population that most urgently needs to receive its message, will ever read it.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen </p>

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

Health Minister Cameron Friesen

And therein lies the rub, not just for publishers of newspapers, but for purveyors of all traditional forms of communication. Young people connect and interact and communicate in forms and on platforms that are largely foreign territory to those who create, distribute and consume information on such "old school" media as newspapers, television, radio and even some of the more recently antiquated venues for information sharing, such as social-media dinosaurs Facebook and Twitter.

As such, the voluminous messaging related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, intended to inform the public about the urgency of the coronavirus situation in Manitoba and the steps needed to rein in its currently burgeoning second-wave spread, stands very little chance of reaching the youthful constituency whose behaviour is a major contributing factor to the alarming daily rise in COVID-19 case totals.

Young people in general are not getting it, plain and simple. And until they get the message and alter their behaviour in a way that limits the spread of the novel coronavirus within their social population, there’s very little chance Manitoba will be able to re-flatten the curve it seemed to be addressing so well back in the spring.

Scofflaw students ditching masks

Click to Expand
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Some high school students say they’ve noticed physical distancing ends when the school bell rings. Weekend ‘bush parties’ are also taking place despite the pandemic, students say.						</p>
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Some high school students say they’ve noticed physical distancing ends when the school bell rings. Weekend ‘bush parties’ are also taking place despite the pandemic, students say.

Posted: 07/10/2020 4:00 AM

High schools are enforcing strict new mask-wearing and physical distancing policies, but frustrated teenagers say not all students are following the rules when teachers’ backs are turned.

“(Some students) throw away the rules completely after school ends,” said one Grade 9 student at Grant Park High School, who was waiting outside with a handful of masked friends on a recent afternoon.

Read Full Story

Despite tightly enforced restrictions in classrooms and hallways, some high school students "throw away the rules completely after school ends," a Grant Park student told the Free Press this week. Close unmasked contact, ignoring cohort-mandated school-day segregation in order to maintain friendship connections, and large-group gatherings, including weekend "bush parties," are among the potentially transmissive transgressions cited by various observers.

During a media briefing last week, Health Minister Cameron Friesen acknowledged the importance of getting the COVID-19 message to Manitoba’s youth. He did not, however, offer an inkling of how the province intends to attend to this most urgent of public-information needs.

When asked about the possibility of creating informational content for video-sharing platforms such as Snapchat or TikTok, which are hugely popular among youth, Mr. Friesen said he doesn’t have an account "but we do need to think about how we reach that younger crowd."

The time for "thinking about" reaching youthful spreaders of viral infection has long since passed. The messaging should be well in motion, reaching youth in the online communities they share and informing them, in language and presentation they understand, but in no uncertain terms nonetheless, that altering their behaviour is a necessary element in containing the virus in a way that will protect them, their friends, their parents and their grandparents.

When asked about the possibility of creating informational content for video-sharing platforms such as Snapchat or TikTok, which are hugely popular among youth, Mr. Friesen said he doesn’t have an account "but we do need to think about how we reach that younger crowd."

JENS KALAENE /DPA FILES

When asked about the possibility of creating informational content for video-sharing platforms such as Snapchat or TikTok, which are hugely popular among youth, Mr. Friesen said he doesn’t have an account "but we do need to think about how we reach that younger crowd."

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr, founder of EPI Research Inc., said the creation of short, sharable videos might be an effective tool, particularly is they make young people feel they are part of the solution as opposed to the problem.

"Kids need to do their part, both within the school environment and outside the school environment, because the virus is always looking for a chance to spread," she explained.

Relying on traditional media to spread the public-health message — which seems to be the sum total of the province’s strategy to date — is a losing strategy in the current COVID-19 fight. The province should capitalize on the knowledge and reach of Manitoba’s many young entrepreneurs in new-media fields — gig-economy startups, digital disrupters and social-media influencers — to enlist their support in getting the message to the audience it must reach.

Because they aren’t going to read it here.