COVID-19: ‘Ask someone if they are OK,’ Dr. Henry tells girls at Science World STEAM event

© Provided by Vancouver Sun File photo of Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says most people are feeling stressed out because of the pandemic and advocated reaching out to others to ask if they are OK.

Henry made the comments during a keynote address Saturday morning to more than 1,500 girls, aged 11 to 13, at Science World’s third annual Girls and STEAM event.

This year’s event was the first time it was held virtually. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Henry repeated her “be kind to each other” message to the girls, and suggested they reach out to the nerdy, shy person in their class.

“All of us are feeling really stressed out…Just reach out and ask someone if they are OK,” she said.

“Kindness is about compassion. It’s about understanding.”

During a question and answer session with the participants, Henry was asked if she is OK, and how she deals with the anxiety that comes with navigating this pandemic.

Henry, who said she feels anxious a lot these days, meditates and tries to stay physically active by going for a run. She also said it’s important to connect with other people when she feels stressed.

Henry seemed shaken as she told the girls that these are “scary times” especially given B.C.’s growing number of COVID-19 cases. On Friday B.C. set a daily record with 589 new cases.

She said the pandemic has been very tough for young people, with no birthday parties, or being able to see relatives, and not being able to hug their friends.

“But we need to keep doing what we are doing,” she said, “Who knew we’d be washing our hands so many times in 2020.”

A fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels since she was a girl, Henry told the STEAM event that when she first heard about the field of epidemiology she thought it was really exciting because being a disease detective reminded her of her favourite fictional character.

Her advice to the girls was to to be interested in everything — from science to art — and to read a lot because it “opens our minds to other worlds.”

She said the secret to success is to be curious, open to other people’s ideas, and to “really listen to others.”

Henry, who is the face of Science World’s “The world needs more nerds” campaign, encouraged the girls to help each other out and to celebrate being “nerdy.”

“Find what you think is interesting and be OK with that,” said Henry.

The STEAM event is a free, half-day symposium with the aim of preparing B.C.’s youth for the future. The event opened with Henry, and was slated to close with marine biologist Dr. Sarika Cullis-Suzuki.

Girls and STEAM endeavours to inspire, engage and empower girls to pursue research-focused and technical careers by connecting them with female professionals and learning opportunities in these fields, according to Science World.

“The gender gap in STEAM fields continues to be an issue with only a quarter of jobs today held by women,” said Tracy Redies, president and CEO of Science World.

“While this year’s event may look a little different, we’re hoping that by connecting girls virtually to mentors in these fields, it will inspire them to nurture their love for STEAM-related careers. Diversity is essential to ensuring that all voices and ideas are brought to the table and equally respected.”