From Vickie’s perspective, there are two viruses to look out for and both are highly transmittable in social spaces.
The first is a novel form of RNA virus, otherwise known as COVID-19, and the reason we can’t have live fans at Canadian NHL venues.
The second is the virus of misinformation about COVID pumping through the veins of social networks both online and physical.
Vickie— a 65-year-old Vernon woman with underlying conditions who asked that her last name be withheld — has been the victim of both this past year.
Her first understanding of the novel coronavirus was one of mistrust, having been fed misinformation through Facebook and family relationships. The two information channels may be more intertwined than is often realized. Friends and family members were telling her things they’d read on Facebook, reiterating what she herself had already seen online.
“I was into conspiracy theories on Facebook, not believing people … until all of that happened with individual friends and family members.”
It was a gathering among family members in Vancouver back in September 2020. Vickie’s niece and her husband attended the outdoor backyard party, which featured a live band in front of people at tables. One of them video-taped the revelries.
“I spent the weekend (in Vernon) watching it on film,” Vickie said, not knowing then that the footage had captured the invisible spread of the virus among her loved ones.
“Then after the event there were about nine of them who got infected with COVID, all family down there,” she said.
She realized with a jolt of alarm that the theories she’d been believing — that COVID-19 was a hoax, or that it was part of a governmental conspiracy on a global scale, that many of the people she knew were in fact ‘sheeple’ — were false. Now that her family was recovering from or still in hospital with respiratory illness, she was no longer a non-believer.
An affected family member, a cousin, works as a bouncer at a bar, coming into contact with scores of people back before more rigorous restrictions around service were in place. He needed hospitalization.
Now he’s back at work, and wearing a mask.
On Feb. 5, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the extension of many ongoing restrictions around travel, events and gatherings. The curve is being flattened, she said, and if the province can reduce its cases over the next month, it may start seeing the health orders ease.
Vickie says she’s lucky her family members all recovered well, and that her former beliefs didn’t lead her to become ill, especially given her age and pre-existing condition (dialysis).
In fact, her pre-existing condition only reinforced her past beliefs that the virus was a hoax, by way of a deadly case of confirmation bias.
“I’m a high-risk person and I thought, well, I haven’t even caught it yet. And I kept thinking, I’m going to wait until the end of the year and then I’m going to call it a hoax.”
It’s been an especially long journey to traverse from being a COVID non-believer, to the shock of having family members in hospital, to updating her views based on new information, and finally, to spreading factual information among those close to her.
“Now I’m really believing it, because a lot of people I know are getting it, and it’s scary now.
“I hope it changes some people’s minds.”