Cultus Lake docks at Main Beach on July 20, 2020. (Submitted to The Chilliwack Progress)

OPINION: We’ve reached a Sophie’s Choice decision in COVID-19 pandemic

Young people can’t handle much more isolation but the alternative is a terrible second wave

A second wave is coming, make no mistake about it.

This past weekend the entire population of the Lower Mainland was at Cultus Lake. Yes, all 2.8 million of us were swishing around in the cool water, some being dragged behind overloaded power boats, the rest jammed shoulder to shoulder at Main Beach, Entrance Bay, Maple Bay.

All of us in one place. So, so fun.

It was the first hot weekend of the summer, which aligned with an easing in pandemic restrictions, which itself coincided with younger people suffering from a growing “lockdown” fatigue.

As Chilliwack locals, we all know that Cultus Lake is to be avoided on summer weekends. We have to share with the rest of the region.

But I did go up Sunday morning with the family, deciding to put the canoe in the water for the first time this year. By 11 a.m., every parking spot in every day-use area was claimed, coolers unloaded, vehicle car lighters being used for the only thing they are useful for: Pumping up pink flamingo inflatables.

Paddling on the lake was great, and a great way to escape the crowds.

But it was when we left that I was (naively) shocked. Again, as a local I should know better but as a local I don’t usually go there on summer weekends so I don’t see this. Was it “normal” whatever that means anymore? Driving out from Maple Bay we passed car after SUV after pickup truck. By the time we got to the roundabout at the waterslides, the vehicles heading in to the already jampacked Cultus Lake area was bumper to bumper.

That line of traffic heading to Cultus was solid down to the Vedder Mountain Road roundabout, across the Vedder Bridge, all the way up to South Sumas Road. And I’m quite sure it was the same through Yarrow, maybe worse.

What’s that you say Dr. Bonnie Henry? Gatherings of more than 50 people aren’t allowed in British Columbia?

OK, so obviously it wasn’t the “entire” Lower Mainland at Cultus Lake, but the numbers were remarkable, particulary given the public health crisis we are in. Vehicle after vehicle, boat after boat, and beach after beach was full of groups of families and groups of young people, groups of all sizes.

Here’s the thing: Many people are literally going crazy, many of them unemployed, most at least underemployed. The sun is shining. Some haven’t been out of their Metro Vancouver condos to any wide open spaces for weeks.

How can we blame them?

But given the mini-spike in cases in B.C. two weeks after Canada Day (14 days being the high end of the COVID-19 incubation period), and more recent spikes in infection numbers, I don’t think it takes a public health expert to predict we will see even higher numbers of cases in coming weeks.

READ MORE: Lockdown fatigue, ‘invincibility’ causing more COVID-19 infections in young people

Just a few days ago experts were warning that the increase in infections in the 20-to-29 age group could create the potential for a severe outbreak.

An attitude of invincibility coupled with pandemic fatigue among young people – and even healthy middle-aged people – is growing, in part because many who get the virus have mild symptoms. Some might not know they have COVID-19 at all.

“I think that contributes to potentially, some complacency,” Toronto associate medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said recently.

When I refer to young people, I mean those in their 20s. They are adults, and free to make their own decisions.

A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute found, among other things, that half (51 per cent) of Canadians think the economic damage of an autumn or winter second wave would be worse from the first.

Make no mistake, if weekend after weekend through August we keep seeing what I saw at Cultus Lake this past weekend, it’s hard to fathom how a second wave won’t come at us hard, despite all the good work we’ve done in this province.

And if we drop our guard out of frustration too much, if the mental health burden of restricting our behaviour becomes overwhelming, we are going to infect grandpa and grandma, and the cycle of sadness from this pandemic will only grow deeper.

• READ MORE: COLUMN: The call for full-scale economic reopening is an argument to cull the herd

“Temperatures are rising across the country and public health officials are intensifying their messaging in attempts to keep Canadians, especially those under the age of 40, committed to their social distancing practices amid the COVID-19 outbreak,” was the lead sentence of the Angus Reid press release.

The study found that an overwhelming majority say a second wave would be difficult from a mental health standpoint. Twenty-eight per cent said it would have a “very negative” impact on mental well-being.

This is not good.

This is becoming a public health Sophie’s Choice scenario. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, but damn, we’ve got to be careful.

I don’t have answers, I wish I did.

But stay safe. Stay sane. And if you wear a mask, keep smiling, we can still see the twinkle in your eyes.

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