Pandemic Diary: October 31st, 2020

No trick or treating this year! (source: Government of Ontario)

Normally, on the evening of Hallowe’en, my best friend John and I have a regular routine to avoid the pesky little trick-or-treaters going door-to-door in our suburban neighbourhood. Instead, we leave our homes (carefully turning off our entrance lights to indicate that no one is home and zero candy is forthcoming), and we both decamp to a local restaurant for a leisurely meal and some conversation over a beer or two. We’ve been doing this for years,

Unfortunately, this year, there will be neither the trick-or-treaters nor the restaurant meal. Yesterday, the provincial health department reported a surge of 480 new cases of COVID-19, almost all of them occurring in and near the city of Winnipeg:

The latest COID-19 statistics from Manitoba (source)

Three more seniors have died from COVID-19 at Parkview Place, one of several seniors homes, hospitals, and schools where outbreaks are currently taking place. While the five-day testing positivity rate in the province as a whole is 8.6% (that is, of all COVID-19 tests conducted within the past five days, 8.6 out of every 100 people have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus), the 5-day positivity rate in Winnipeg itself is higher, at 9.7%.

Effective Monday, the province has established an emergency, code-red lockdown in and around the city of Winnipeg (affecting approximately 780,000 people). What this means is:

  • Hospitals and healthcare services will continue to offer urgent and emergency surgeries, procedures and diagnostic services, but elective and non-urgent surgery and diagnostic services will be postponed. All hospital visitation has been suspended, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and delivery, and in pediatrics.
  • Public and private gatherings (both inside and outside) are restricted to a maximum of five people. “Limiting contacts outside the household is strongly encouraged.”
  • All restaurants and bars are closed, except for take-out, drive-through, and delivery.
  • All indoor and outdoor sports and recreational facilities, group sports, bowling alleys, etc, are closed. Gyms and fitness centres are restricted to 25% of regular full capacity, and all exercisers must wear masks.
  • Non-essential retail stores will be allowed to remain open at 25% of regular full capacity (or 5 people, whatever is higher). Grocery stores and pharmacies will operate at 50 per cent capacity. “eService, pick-up or delivery [are] recommended whenever possible. Encourage limiting the number of people from each household who go shopping.”
  • Casinos, arcades, gaming establishments, VLTs, movie theatres, concert halls, museums, galleries, and libraries must close (this includes the three libraries that have reopened at the University of Manitoba).
  • Community, cultural and religious gatherings will be limited to 15% capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.

Notable in its absence from this list is shutdowns of K-12 schools, where the provincial advice is to continue blended (in-person and online) learning, and to ensure as much physical distancing as possible between students when in class. However, given the way things are going, I will not be surprised if the lockdown is extended to both public and private elementary, junior high and senior high schools as well. (One Winninpeg chool, Centre Scolaire Léo-Rémillard, now has 14 coronavirus cases, has 4 classes in self-isolation as a precaution, and has already decided to move its Grade 12 classes completely to remote learning.)

All the leaves have fallen from the trees, there is a cold westerly wind, and the sky is overcast and grey. There is already snow on the ground, and below-freezing temperatures. November, December, and January are going to be difficult months for us here in Manitoba.

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Pandemic Diary: October 28th, 2020

Today is Day 227 of my working from my home in self-isolation for my university library system. I am nearing the end of a three-month period where I have been frantically working days, evenings, and weekends to meet several project deadlines, and I can almost see the finish line of November 1st, 2020. I am cranky, utterly exhausted, and most definitely not in a Hallowe’en trick-or-treater mood.

Here are the latest provincial stats, and they are not encouraging. Pandemic fatigue has settled in, people are getting sloppy, and COVID-19 infections are rising sharply:

While these numbers may appear small compared to the absolute clusterfuck-dumpster-fires taking place just south of the border in North and South Dakota, for a province of only 1.3 million inhabitants (mostly in and around the Winnipeg area), this is not good news. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that our hospital system is bring pushed to the brink:

Record high hospitalizations are ringing alarm bells for health care professionals. With outbreaks in three units at St. Boniface Hospital and two units at Victoria General Hospital, physicians and nurses are worried about the rising strain on the health care system.

In a Facebook post Saturday, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital wrote that, “Without a turnaround, we are within days of being at the limit of ICU capacity.”

“Resources are getting strained. ICUs are full. We are on the brink. This is what happens when we let our guard down, have too many contacts, relax and go out with too many people,” Dr. Phillipe Lagacé-Wiens wrote.

Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, noted health care professionals have been warning of a rapidly approaching crisis point for a while.

“Not only are we seeing increases in case numbers, we’re seeing increases in hospitalizations, we’re seeing increases in people being admitted to intensive care units, we’re seeing increased fatalities,” he said Sunday.

Today, the first death from COVID-19 was reported at Victoria Hospital, a stone’s throw from where I live, in an outbreak of 19 staff and 19 patients at the facility,

Parkview Place personal care home in downtown Winnipeg (where my grandmother and grandfather lived) has 29 staff and 92 residents who have become infected with COVID-19. Seventeen residents have died, and angry families are demanding answers. I can only thank God that my grandfather and beloved grandmother died in the 2000’s, well before this outbreak.

On Monday, I went to my local pharmacy to get my flu shot. It was the first time since March 16th that I have been part of a large group of people (mostly seniors, all masked, and all trying to keep 2 metres apart, an increasingly impossible task as people kept arriving).

A hastily-assembled makeshift flu clinic had been set up in the electronics department, but it was clear the pharmacists and assistants were overwhelmed with the demand. Shouting matches broke out between a few of the people waiting for flu shots and the staff, when it was announced that those who had booked appointments earlier in the day would be processed before the “first come, first served” crowd who had gathered. “If you don’t like it, LEAVE!” shouted one stressed-out pharmacist at a particularly angry and accusative old woman, who had not stopped complaining from the moment she arrived.

It was a unsettling, dispiriting, and dehumanizing experience, being treated like an assembly on some machine line, perched on a chair for 30 seconds for a jab in the upper arm, with the chair then being thoroughly wiped down with disinfectant and ready for the next person (I believe the proper term for this is “hygiene theatre“).

As I walked out the pharmacy, I saw my best friend John, masked and standing in a long line of sombre people, all approximately 2 metres apart. The lineup started at the entrance and snaked back and forth between the cars in the pharmacy parking lot. I told him that there were probably 60 or 70 people ahead of him, and that he would probably be waiting at least an hour for his flu shot, if not longer. It was a shitshow.

After I came home, I carefully removed and threw out my N95 mask, washed my hands and my glasses thoroughly, popped three Lorazepam and lay down for a long nap to try and forget the whole unpleasant experience. If this is what getting the flu shot is going to be like, what it is going to be like when there’s an actual COVID-19 vaccine that has to be distributed?

I have one final lecture to deliver tomorrow for my class—delivered remotely and online via Cisco Webex—and then I am going to collapse, after three months working non-stop overtime. I have been sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours at a stretch lately, and I am still exhausted.

My apartment is a Red Cross disaster area, with dust bunnies, dirty dishes, and canned goods and Clorox wipes piled high in the corners of my apartment. The office chair I had to bring in from work has worn a big hole in the carpeting in front of my home computer workstation, where I sit and work most of the day. (So much for my damage deposit.)

I have had exactly one person touch me in SEVEN. FUCKING. MONTHS, and when it happened (my best friend John touched my arm to make a point in conversation over a summertime dinner on an outdoor restaurant patio), I almost leaped out of my skin. I can’t even remember the last time somebody hugged me.

This pandemic is beating the absolute shit out of me, and the end is still nowhere near in sight. I’m trying to find a positive note to end this blogpost on, and you know what? I can’t. Not today.

Sensorium Galaxy: A Brief Introduction

Sensorium Galaxy is a yet-to-be-launched social VR platform with its own cryptocurrency (called the SENSO Token), which has recently signed deals with major DJs such as David Guetta and Carl Cox:

Earlier this year, Sensorium Galaxy announced their partnership with French DJ and global superstar, David Guetta, who will also produce a series of music events in the VR platform. 

Through the new collaborative partnership, Cox will call upon his experience working with festivals and events such as Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland, and Glastonbury to design his virtual shows. The globe-trotting DJ has previous experience performing for a virtual crowd, including AltSpaceVR’s Burning Man 2020 as well as Glastonbury’s virtual Shangri-La festival on Sansar.

Here’s a teaser video for the music venue, which is called Prism:

The virtual world of Prism is the epicenter of music within Sensorium Galaxy. In this virtual setup, you can attend multiple grand shows by the world’s top electronic music artists. The brutalism of the Prism environment is balanced by the musical harmony and the performance of a digitized DJ. The production and scenography are prepared in partnership with renowned performers, producers, and organizers of the world’s top concerts and electronic music festivals.

There’s also a spaceship simulation called Starship Sensorium:

The first group of virtual space travelers embarked on a year-long journey to Sensorium Galaxy. And today, you can also jump aboard the starship. During the flight, guests are entertained with live performances of DJs and unimaginable galactic views. For a comfortable trip, each passenger is offered personal cabins, various activities in the lounge area, and walks in the open space. Virtual bartenders also offer heavenly drinks, while our flying camera captures the brightest moments of the adventure.

In addition, there is something called Motion World, which describes itself as “an underwater world of perpetual motion and dance”, with creatures called Omojas:

Illustration for Motion World

There’s really nothing to see here yet, except for a Windows tech demo you can download here. It looks like you will need to shell out at least $8 in SENSO Tokens (which apparently are not rolling out until the first quarter of 2021) to get an avatar from their store (the credit card and PayPal payment options don’t work). So there’s already a store with cabins, avatars, and avatar clothing for sale, but as yet no way to buy anything.

VR Scout reports:

One investor who is really excited about the future of music in VR is Mikhail Prokhorov, former owner of the Brooklyn Nets and Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal, who has helped attract more than $100 million in investment money for Sensorium Galaxy.

And—this was bound to happen sooner or later—Somnium Galaxy is the first social VR platform that I have encountered where my desktop gaming computer does not meet the minimum specifications: a i5-7500 or Ryzen 5 1600 CPU, and a GeForce GTX 1080 or RX Vega 64 GPU (I have the GeForce GTX 1080, but my CPU is only an i5-6600).

They are aiming squarely for the high-end PCVR crowd here, users with an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift S (and Facebook has already announced that they will be suspending sales of the Rift this coming spring). This is not a platform you will be able to visit on your wireless Quest headset! And, as the teams building the old High Fidelity platform and Sansar have each discovered to their detriment, aiming for high-end PCVR might just be a tactical error.

As always, I issue the following warning: Do every single shred of your homework before investing a penny in ANY blockchain or cryptocurrency-based project! Do not be swayed by the names of famous deejays attached to this project; as we have already seen before with Staramba Spaces/MATERIA.ONE, celebrity endorsements alone are not a guarantee of a viable platform.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sensorium Galaxy, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and LinkedIn.