Writing On The Wahl #028 — Stop the blame & shame response to COVID-19

Last night, August 16th, 2021, The Cheif Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Sharon Belmar-George, was the gest on Choice TV’s program “SoLucians.” I tuned in but was instantly triggered by the host’s opening remarks, which are best described as a pressure campaign of “blame & shame.” They continue to use fear-based narratives to gaslight the public into believing they are the problem, that they are the cause of the spread and why we continue to live under draconian restrictions of our constitutionally protected rights, freedoms, and liberties.

“For this weekend alone, from Friday to Sunday, we reported 25 4 cases. So for the month of August, we have recorded over 750 cases, and we are only halfway through the month. That,s just too many, and people are still hanging out at the beach on a Sunday like it’s 2018, no mask, no social distancing, no cares in the world.”

“Some of you might not be taking this seriously, but every time I talk about COIVD-19, it gets a little scarier. Every time the reports have come in this month, I wondered what we are doing wrong. When we look at the stats from Dominica, one wonders if we are in the same region. Dominica must be on another side of the world, and their numbers are low, no deaths so far, a positivity rate of 2%. What are they doing right? That is until recently. Their recent stats also show 227 active cases. Have Dominicans become like us, complacent. Thinking it’s now ok to go back to the old days? Complacency is that what we see happening with us? We were doing great; we seemed to have this under control in the last three months, but now we see people walking around with no mask, we see Rodney Bay packed with people on weekends as if we have no threat of a super contagious virus in the country. The numbers keep growing; what is the solution? We have been talking about COVID-19 for over a year now. We know what it is; we know how it spreads. We have talked about prevention, protocols, and what to do to protect yourself and others. We have discussed vaccines over and over again. We discussed the deaths, the strain on our health resources. We know how to control this. We will continue to talk about this until we have this completely under control.”

This opening diatribe turned an open-minded viewer off to even listening to anything else. If this happened to me, who generally has immense patience for ignorance, what do you think it would do to the primary targets of the government’s new outreach campaign?

While I did watch the rest of the show this morning when I was able to skip the opening, I will still focus on the host’s comments because I believe it highlights the fundamental problem with the communications strategy regarding our pandemic response.

First, we will start with the end. Anybody who thinks we can completely control this virus and its many variants are delusional. Setting themselves, and by extension, the nation, up for failure. While man has dominion over the earth, no man is above natural law. The folly of attempting to control nature is what has most likely placed us in this predicament in the first place. The once conspiratorial lab leak hypothesis has gained mainstream credence as new evidence emerges regarding the virus's origins. Gain-of-function research may very well be the cause of this pandemic. Man playing God thinking they not only can control nature but make it conform to their will.

The suppression of the lab leak hypothesis is the perfect example of why there is so much distrust of the mainstream news and medical professionals leading the global response. The mixed messaging caused by their desire to control the public is also a big part of the problem. When they first said that masks are not recommended because they do not work or could cause more spread was a lie because they want to control the public and preserve stock for the frontline workers. They are then putting mandatory orders punishable by law to wear masks.

The truth is masked do work; they help reduce the potential for spread and decrease the viral load if transmission occurs. But no commercially available mask is not 100%, especially not the cloth, one-size-fits-all face coverings. The “95 in “N95” means it’s 95% effective but only if it is well fitting and has an excellent perimeter seal. The mask’s efficacy drastically reduces when you get to the cloth variety to under 50% and almost 0% when only a face shield is used, which is legal according to the COVID ACT.

Therefore trying to blame people for increased spread because they are “people are still hanging out at the beach on a Sunday like it’s 2018, no mask, no social distancing, no cares in the world.” is revolting to me and many others. We could wear a mast 24/7, and while it would help, it is far from a guarantee that we would not have seen an increase in cases. Furthermore, the risk of transmission doors, specifically on the beach with its blazing sun and the brisk breeze, is drastically lower than in a stuffy, unventilated, air-conditioned environment where artificial light illuminates rather than the virus kill ultraviolet rays on the natural sun.

Moreover, Vitamin D levels in the body significantly impact both the chance of getting infected and the severity of illness after infection. The sun is our primary source of Vitamin D. It is also a notable factor in what is known as “sessional affective disorder,” which affects people who experience reduced exposure to the sun during winter. According to the CDC, anxiety and fear-based disorders are the second-largest indicator of whether an individual will have severe illness or death. We should be encouraging health behaviour, not publicly shaming it on national airwaves.

We are social creatures, and human interaction is essential, so as much as we could reduce contact with strangers, it is unreasonable to eliminate it. How does the host know who is and is not family or naturally close contacts when she sees images of people on the beach? To what degree does she expect people to isolate themselves, and for what duration?

As for complacency, They told two weeks to flatten the curve. It turned into two months of lockdowns and now seems to become two years of unconstitutional restrictions. We must have a greater understanding of the frustration this has caused. The host may be better able to follow every protocol to a Tee, but many amongst us cannot and need to be out and about to make money the system requires them to maintain an undignified livelihood. These comments demonstrate a disregard for the plight of the ordinary person and contempt for individuals who nobody by God knows what they are going through.

Lastly, to compare our figures to Dominica expecting parity further demonstrated the host’s lack of understanding. Merely being within the same region does not mean we will have the same or nearly similar experiences. Our population and terrain are different. Our exposure to the outside world through tourism is not the same. How does the host know the testing is identically conducted or the data tracking and reporting, for that matter? Using Dominca’s numbers as a stick to beat Saint Lucians with is deplorable. Aside from what I have already mentioned, several other factors could contribute to the disparity in figures, which I believe is irresponsible to put forward on national TV.

We need proper education, not indoctrination. We need mutual respect, not moral suasion or coercion. If the government wants people to take personal responsibility, they must start treating and talking to the nation like the adults and not the children they think we are. Yes, there will be a level of ignorance and noncompliance, but that is unavoidable. My advice to the CMO and others involved in the public efforts to disseminate information is to take a different stance regarding their communication strategy. Stop the blame & shame and start promoting healthy dialogue through mutual respect. Stop the fearmongering and start showing people a light at the end of the tunnel we can work together towards reaching.

If the host reads this and manages to get to the end, please understand that my critic is not personal. We have all had a hard time dealing with this situation, so I aspect you are also frustrated. I know it isn’t easy to see the reports every day, hear stories, and not feel a type of way. But you are in a position of responsibility and must take that seriously and be vigilant of the unintended consequences of your words.

I will check out the virtual event hosted by the CMO on the 19th and do my utmost to make a report on it for the Friday blog.

Until then.
Be strong, stay safe, and God bless Saint Lucia.




Social commentary & political analysis of current affairs and the news worldwide — focusing on implications for Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians in the diaspora.

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Jody A. von Wahl

Jody A. von Wahl

Social commentary & political analysis of current affairs and the news worldwide — focusing on implications for Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians in the diaspora.

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