A frontline health-care professional at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital is troubled after an alarming encounter with a COVID denier.
“I had a patient refuse treatment here at the hospital because of a belief that treatment I was prescribing for his heart attack was part of a conspiracy between ‘big pharma’ and doctors to make obscene amounts of money and harm the public,” Dr. Jennifer Cochran told the Rossland News.
“And he was angry I was wearing a mask because ‘COVID is a hoax’. I wish I could say this was unusual. These days it isn’t.”
Cochran, a Rossland resident, has heard accounts of many incidents from friends and former patients weary of dealing with COVID deniers, conspiracy theorists, and anti-maskers, and points to a Facebook post on the page Ranting and Raving in the Kootenays encouraging residents to join in a “No mask flash mob” at the Trail Walmart on Jan. 17.
It’s mind boggling for many, as the number of deaths across the globe rise ever day. Hospitals and care homes have been overrun with cases, businesses shut down, people stressed and struggling mentally and physically, with more than 2-million deaths worldwide, including over 1,200 in B.C.
And yet, its surprising who believes resolutely that the pandemic is a hoax.
The pastor of Celebrations Church in the Waneta Mall received a hefty fine for holding a church event gathering without following COVID protocols.
However, according to Trail and District RCMP, since being issued a $2,300 fine for the illegal gathering, Celebrations Church is now following safety protocols.
“That church is now compliant with the Emergency Program Act (EPA) after we conducted a follow up investigation after receiving a second complaint,” said RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich.
Like Cochran’s own encounter, many of the COVID confrontations involve men who walk into retail stores or services and confront employees, most of whom are women.
From a women’s perspective it is scary, and from a healthcare worker’s perspective, ignoring science and following 5G conspiracy theorists and QAnon fabulists is a sure way to catch the virus.
“I’m from Nova Scotia,” said Cochran. “This is definitely a central and western Canada phenomenon. There are much more people here that value individual rights and freedoms over civic duty and doing what is needed for the health and safety of others and the community.”
The RCMP have responded to several calls regarding COVID protocols, and encountered many deniers and anti-maskers.
“We are receiving regular calls about people who are refusing to wear masks inside of businesses or holding social gatherings,” said Wicentowich. “We attend every call and conduct a follow up investigation on each complaint.
“So far, every person refusing to don a mask has left the business when asked without incident and before we have shown up. If someone refuses to leave a store and is not wearing a mask, we will issue a $230 fine.”
In spite of the protests and many incidents of people refusing to wear masks in local businesses, the COVID numbers from Fruitvale to Rossland remain among the lowest in the province.
Which, may be why some are bolder when it comes to defying provincial health orders, but for Cochran, the question is much larger than the virus, and more difficult to answer.
“The question I have is – what is it about our lives here in the Kootenays that draws people to the far right and all the conspiracy theories, anti-science sentiments that goes along with it?”
Trail and district police have issued just two tickets in total, one $230 ticket to an individual at Trail Walmart, and the other for the illegal church gathering.
There could have been more, as the RCMP’s original focus was on education. However, that is changing.
“(That) has now shifted to more enforcement due to the spike in COVID cases outside our area,” said Wicentowich. “Unfortunately, anti-maskers continue to spread misinformation and put themselves and others at risks.”
The province “enhanced” its enforcement measures on Dec. 16. This included tightening COVID-19 fine collections and asking enforcement officers to support police, and increase enforcement, by issuing violation tickets during their normal course of duties or when in public places.
The EPA was extended to Feb. 16, in an effort to curtail the spread. RCMP encourages even those who disagree with the pandemic protocols to abide by them.
“Trail RCMP note that our area has good practices and a high rate of compliance with the EPA,” said Wicentowich. “Trail RCMP are very thankful for this and this shows in our exceptionally low levels of cases in the area.”
“This pandemic will not last forever,” added Wicentowich. “And (Greater) Trail is poised to rebound quickly back to normal life once vaccines roll out.”