Pandemic Diary, December 15th, 2021: Six Hundred and Forty Days Later

On March 16th, 2020, I began working from home for my full-time paying job as a science librarian at the University of Manitoba. A week later, my library colleagues were all sent home to work and the entire campus was shut down during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Manitoba was lucky to have been spared the brunt of that first brutal and frightening wave; we were unfortunately not nearly so lucky on successive waves. At one time, in May 2021, Manitoba had the worst outbreak in all of North America (Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico), and had to airlift patients to neighbouring provinces and states as our hospital ICUs were overwhelmed.

The New York Times, May 27th, 2021

Today, December 15th , 2021, a full 640 days after I first started working at home, is officially my first day back on campus, the beginning of what is planned to be my permanent return to the office.

Note that I did come into my office on a few Mondays over the summer and autumn of 2021, but I am now expected to show up in person every day rather than work from home. I am the last of the librarians in my library to return to full-time work in the office; our returns have been staggered over the past few months. I asked to be the last librarian to return, because I have several underlying health conditions (obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and asthma) that put me at risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I were to become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Ever since news broke about the Omicron variant in southern Africa, I have been scouring the daily headlines, desperate to glean what updates the doctors and scientists could provide. The news is not encouraging. It would appear that cases of people infected by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant are doubling every two to three days in various countries, such as the U.K.

Even more worrisome, fully-vaccinated people are becoming infected; a triple-vaccinated Israeli cardiologist got Omicron at a British conference, and passed it on to another triple-vaccinated doctor! Even though most of the cases reported to date have been relatively mild, the fact that so many people are getting sick means an additional strain on an already overburdened healthcare system.

I will be receiving my third booster COVID vaccination at my local pharmacy next Monday, and this science librarian is profoundly grateful for the researchers whose pioneering work on mRNA vaccine technology made this possible. TIME magazine has named four of those vaccine scientists as its Heroes of the Year for 2021 (and quite frankly, they should have been named People of the Year instead of Elon Musk!).

Kizzmekia Corbett, Barney Graham, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman

While my university has made plans for a full return to normal, on-campus classes and other activities starting in January 2022, I believe that COVID still has the possibility of upending those carefully-laid plans! Already I am reading news reports of Canadian and American university campuses with outbreaks (for example, over nine hundred cases at Cornell University), leading in some cases for in-person final exams to be abruptly cancelled, and switched to an online, virtual format. Yesterday, I tweeted:

So I am feeling particularly anxious. Between the recently-concluded faculty strike (which lasted a full five weeks and broke the record for the longest strike in the history of the University of Manitoba), and this rising new wave of the pandemic, I must confess that I am utterly exhausted. Stretched to the limit. Burned out.

Thankfully, my Christmas holidays start next Monday—the same day I get my third booster shot—and I am looking forward to two weeks of vacation. I still plan to continue my December vacation from blogging, even though all the metaverse news and announcements are coming fast and furious! Now more than ever, there is no shortage of things to write about. But I need to take a break.

Stay safe and stay healthy in these challenging and stressful times!

Get vaccinated—and if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot as soon as you are able!
(Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash)

Pandemic Diary: May 21st, 2020

Well, according to the calendar, I am now in day 67 of my self-imposed isolation in my apartment, working from home for my employer, the University of Manitoba Libraries. I have not set foot in a supermarket since March 16th, and I have not set foot in a pharmacy since January 30th, choosing instead to have my groceries and prescription medications delivered when I come close to running out. Aside from a few short trips to my office at the university to pick up some papers, my office chair, my Oculus Rift VR headset (as an emergency backup), and my keyboard and wireless mouse (also as backups), I have stayed at home and helped flatten the curve.

I consider myself fortunate to live in a province (Manitoba) where, to date, we have only had 290 cases of COVID-19 so far, in sharp contrast to the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, and the sea of red that is the United States:

We here in Manitoba have truly benefited from the fact that we live in a relatively geographically isolated area of North America, while the coronavirus pandemic hit other parts of the world first, giving our provincial and city governments valuable time to prepare and implement strict social distancing restrictions. While Canada’s chief public health officer has admitted that they should have closed the borders sooner, Canada is in a much better position overall than many other countries, particularly the United States, Russia, and Brazil, which have seen a surge in cases due to haphazard or even non-existent government responses to the crisis.

I have already explained, via this blog, that I have several underlying health conditions at the age of 56: I am significantly overweight, and I have hypertension, type II diabetes, and asthma. All four conditions (which, of course, are interrelated) put me at much higher risk for a severe, possibly even fatal, case of COVID-19 if I should become infected with this novel coronavirus. And it means that I will probably be among the last group of University of Manitoba Libraries employees to return to the campus. I could be in self-imposed lockdown until there is a vaccine.

I have made peace with this fact, and I have now settled into a kind of routine in working from home, becoming more comfortable with virtual staff meetings held in Webex and Microsoft Teams (our university seems to have largely abandoned its use of Zoom).

The librarians of the Sciences and Technology Library are currently hard at work developing a for-credit university course in information literacy for undergraduate science students, which is to start in September 2020. The University of Manitoba has announced that all its classes in the fall term will be taught remotely, and the head of our libraries system has told us that she does not expect us to return to our physical library offices before January of 2021. The science librarians had been originally planning to deliver our information literacy course in-person and in the classroom, but we are now pivoting to package and deliver the course remotely using Webex.

As part of my little one-man crusade to destigmatize mental illness, I have been honest and up-front with my blog readers about my own struggles with depression and anxiety during the pandemic. In addition to taking antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescription medication, I also have biweekly sessions via telephone with my psychiatrist. On the whole, while I still have some bad days, I am doing pretty well.

You might be interested to learn that, in addition to the above-mentioned supports, I have also entered into a peer mentor/support relationship with a friend of a trusted friend, who has experience as a peer counselor in a healthcare setting and has worked as a volunteer at a telephone crisis hotline in the past. We actually meet up every couple of weeks or so in my Linden Home in Second Life!

I log in as my avatar, she logs in as her avatar, and we have a conversation using voice chat. This is an opportunity to get things off my chest and gain another person’s perspective on my mental health issues, and where I can even talk how I sometimes use Second Life to cope with my self-isolation, without having to provide the kind of contextual, background explanation I would need to make to a real-world counselor! I can also ping her via Discord anytime I feel I need to vent in a safe, supported space.

This person is currently considering setting up a peer listening/support service in Second Life, and I am a sort of guinea pig for her, a test to see how well that would work. She’s also pretty new to Second Life, still working her way up the steep learning curve and getting her bearings, and I have shared many of the things I have learned from my 14 years of experience in SL with her—like the concepts of alts, furries, Gorean role-play, and the absolutely critical importance of ankle lock 😉 .

So, how are you holding up during the pandemic? Feel free to join the Discord server, where we have a fairly active -chat channel, or just leave a comment to this blogpost. I’d love to know how you are doing!

UPDATED! Coronavirus Pandemic: What You Are Feeling Is Grief (And What You Are Seeing Is Plagiarism)

I make no secret of the fact that I have been struggling emotionally during the coronavirus pandemic, which is why I found the following five-minute YouTube video to be comforting. Psychologist Dr. Sarb Johal tweeted it with the following comment:

We feel the world has changed, and it has. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. Here’s what’s going on and what you can do.

Now, this is not something that I haven’t already heard from my psychiatrist and other people. But there’s just something about the way Dr. Johal puts it.

If, like me, you are struggling, you need to set aside five minutes and watch this:

Thank you, Dr. Sarb Johal! I thought the least I could so is repost this video, since at the moment it has a criminally low 44 views! So get out there and share this. Thanks!

UPDATE 10:45 p.m.: One of my regular blog readers, Brinlea, just shared with me the following article from the Harvard Business Review: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, an interview with renowned grief expert David Kessler (thanks, Brinlea!).

Hmmm, this article was written March 23rd, over three weeks ago, and Dr. Johal posted his YouTube video just six hours ago. And the HBR article is pretty much the exact script of what Dr. Johal said in his YouTube video, right down to the examples used. Even the text of Dr. Johal’s tweet (which I quoted up top) is lifted verbatim from the article.

Hmmm… I think at the very least, the good doctor should have credited where he got his information from. Read the Harvard Business Review article and then watch Dr. Johal’s video and you’ll see what I mean. And I wouldn’t even have known about it if it weren’t for Brinlea.

So I will take back my earlier praise. This is still useful information, engagingly imparted, but this is also plagiarism. Dr. Johal basically lifted, almost verbatim, what David Kessler said in his interview with the Harvard Business Review. As a librarian who teaches proper citation style to university students, this is a major no-no.

Not impressed. If you’re going to steal another person’s words, then have the guts to cite your sources. (Do not fuck with the librarians, we will catch you out!)

And if you are looking for some properly cited sources of information about mental health during the pandemic, here is a blogpost I keep updated—to which I have now added two excellent articles from the Harvard Business Review.

The Public Health Agency of Canada/Health Canada Launches a National COVID-19 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Someone just posted this to Twitter. I will transcribe the letter she attached, which is a picture. It looks as though this was sent out to the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP), but I don’t know which other groups of people have already received this letter.

Here’s the text of the first few paragraphs of that letter:

“We are writing to you today to enlist your urgent support. As you are aware, we are at a critical point in the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. As part of our efforts to flatten the curve and respond to COVID-19, we are seeking help from across the country and we believe your members would be well placed to assist.

There is an urgent need for people to augment capacity at provincial and territorial levels for surveillance and monitoring of COVID-19 cases. More specifically, we need assistance in detailed case reporting/analysis and contact tracing to help quickly identify cases and and break chains of transmission by isolating and monitoring close contacts.

Additionally, to prepare the health care system for the surge, there is a need to augment health care human resource capacity across all disciplines.”

You can look at the attached picture to read the rest of the letter.

They are looking for people with highly specific qualifications (although there is an “other skills” question at the very end). I put in an application out of curiosity, just to see what the screening questions are (I then deleted the application). They are as follows:

  1. We are recruiting volunteers to assist with COVID-19, these are not federal public service jobs. Please confirm your interest to be considered as volunteer. (Yes/No)
  2. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Community Health?
  3. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Community Medicine?
  4. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Computer Science, Information Management and Information Technology?
  5. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Emergency Management?
  6. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Epidemiology?
  7. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Infectious Disease?
  8. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Laboratory (Viral, Bacteria, etc.)?
  9. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Mathematics and Statistics?
  10. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Medicine?
  11. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Nursing?
  12. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Public Health?
  13. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Public Health Inspection?
  14. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Surveillance?
  15. Are you studying or do you have a degree in Veterinary Medicine?
  16. Do you have knowledge of communicable disease prevention and control, specifically understanding of modes of transmission and public health management of communicable diseases?
  17. Do you have knowledge in using information management tools or databases to facilitate detailed reporting?
  18. Do you have functional and content expertise in Clinical experience?
  19. Do you have functional and content expertise in Communicable Disease Prevention and Control (specifically modes of transmission)?
  20. Do you have functional and content expertise in Communications?
  21. Do you have functional and content expertise in Emergency Management?
  22. Do you have expertise in Personal Support Work / Resident Care Work/ Nurse’s Aide/ Health Care Aide?
  23. Do you have functional and content expertise as a Physician?
  24. Do you have functional and content expertise in Public Health?
  25. Do you have functional and content expertise in a Laboratory (Viral, Bacteria, etc.)?
  26. Do you have functional and content expertise in Surveillance?
  27. Do you have functional and content expertise on Quarantine?
  28. Are you able to work variable work hours? (Preference for Shifts: Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Late Evening/Other)
  29. Are you willing and able to travel, if necessary?
  30. Do you speak English?
  31. Do you speak French?
  32. Are you bilingual (English and French)?
  33. Do you have capacity in languages other than English or French? Please indicate in which other Language(s) you have capacity in, including Indigenous languages.
  34. What is the longest period you would want to be considered for? (Options to Select: 1 to 3 weeks; 3 to 6 weeks; 3 months; 3 to 6 months; 6 to 12 weeks; > 6 months; All)
  35. Do you have any other skill(s) that you would like to list?

Here is the link to apply online to volunteer for this critically important work (if you have not already done so, you will have to create a Government of Canada Jobs account). The deadline for applications is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, April 24th, 2020. Please reshare this message widely to all of your social networks! Thanks.