When Reverend Dianne Parker is out and about and spots someone under 50 wearing a mask, she often strikes up a conversation.
“I thank them for helping to protect the older generation,” says the 75-year-old who lives in north Halifax.
Nova Scotia recently experienced its highest number of cases and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the province’s latest epidemiological summary released Thursday, it said the median age of death since Dec. 8, 2021 is 81. 50.”
Parker, one of the ministers at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Halifax, is concerned about how the Nova Scotia government is handling the pandemic and the impact it is having on seniors.
At a time when the lack of public health restrictions means Nova Scotians are free to go out and do whatever they want, Parker said that’s forcing older people to stay in and further isolate themselves.
“There really is a lot of fear,” she said.
Parker said she was “a bit withdrawn,” noting that she had turned down invitations to rallies and hadn’t dined out to a restaurant since the province lifted the proof of vaccination requirement. for non-essential activities on February 28.
Bill VanGorder said he hears the same things from seniors he knows. He is the spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Chapter of CARP, formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
“They know they are no longer protected by public health in the same way as before,” VanGorder said.
He said older people have a lot of questions – and they don’t get answers.
“Why doesn’t the government say everyone should wear a mask?” VanGorder said. “Because they feel very uncomfortable going to these kinds of places where many, many people, if not the majority of people, are no longer wearing masks.”
Irregular COVID-19 information sessions
VanGorder attributes the lack of responses in part to officials not holding regular COVID-19 briefings. The last time the province aired a briefing was April 14.
“It was very important for [seniors] and they seemed to feel comforted and encouraged by the fact that these officials, whom they trusted, were regularly telling them what was going on,” he said.
“And ever since that stopped, they feel misinformed and worried because they had all this information that they thought they could use. And now they don’t seem to be getting much at all. Even the information that come out are much more general than the details they were getting before.”
On Thursday, the province’s Chief and Deputy Medical Officers of Health held a media conference call to discuss the latest weekly COVID-19 report. The briefing was not aired publicly, but the province livestreamed its announcement that Halifax and Moncton would host the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship on the same day.
Speaking at the briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr Robert Strang said wearing a mask is not just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting people who face heightened risks of COVID-19 due to their age or underlying medical conditions.
“We must all take the necessary steps to keep these people safe,” he said.
Strang said the elderly should get their second COVID-19 booster shot.
“If you’re 70 or older, take this opportunity and get a booster dose as soon as you’re eligible to get one,” he said.
In a statement, the province said it recognizes the transition to life with COVID-19 can be “daunting” and “unsettling.”
“But respiratory viruses are nothing new — and public health has decades of experience protecting and controlling infectious diseases to turn to,” spokeswoman Marla MacInnis wrote.
Lynette Reid, an associate professor who works in public health ethics in the department of bioethics at Dalhousie University, said it’s understandable that people might be confused by the current messages.
Reid said Nova Scotia is a jurisdiction with a goal of zero COVID-19 and strict public health protections. Now there are no public health restrictions and the focus is on living with COVID.
“I think that’s what’s confusing for people is that feeling, like, ‘I’m more at risk than ever, but we’re supposed to do nothing,'” she said.
Even without restrictions, she said there’s no reason public health can’t do more messaging about the importance of wearing masks, just like the harms of smoking and alcohol.
“They could give a much stronger message to the public…I could walk down the street and see the bus go by with a big sign saying, you know, ‘Masking, it’s not mandatory. But it’s a good idea. Protect Grandma and mask.'”
She said if individuals wore masks, limited their social contact and practiced physical distancing, it would help create “a level playing field” for older or immunocompromised people, and enable them to participate more fully in society.
As Parker worries about the physical and mental toll the pandemic is having on older people, she’s also worried about the interactions older people are missing — and the value they bring to society.
“We have so much wisdom, compassion and experience to share with the youngest [generation],” she says.