Pandemic Diary, May 17th, 2021: Living in the Epicentre

It’s official: as of yesterday evening, Manitoba has the highest per-capita incidence of COVID-19 in Canada, even beating out Alberta. We also have more infections per capita than any of the 50 states in the United States. Three-quarters of those cases are my home city of Winnipeg. I am now living right in the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Manitoba now has the highest COVID-19 case rate in the country, more than twice the national average. Manitoba just passed Alberta. Manitoba’s rate is double Ontario’s. This was entirely avoidable, had the government followed the science and implemented the right public health measures last month (image source: tweet by Tom Brodbeck, Winnipeg Free Press)

Manitoba’s healthcare system is stretched to the limit, despite promises from the provincial government that this would not happen again. CBC reports:

In the middle of April, when COVID-19 case counts were rising exponentially in Manitoba, the deputy public health officer promised this province wouldn’t allow the third wave of the pandemic to get out of control.

Dr. Jazz Atwal pledged Manitoba would not suffer the same fate as Ontario, which failed to enact measures early enough to prevent its own case counts from rising to the point where Toronto intensive care wards struggled to treat record numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Ontario, you know, when you look at how the case numbers went up, they likely waited much too long,” Atwal said at a news briefing on April 16. 

“We’re not going to go down that road, I could assure you that.”

One month later, Winnipeg intensive care wards are struggling to treat record numbers of COVID-19 patients. A record 71 COVID-19 patients are being treated in Manitoba ICUs. Hospitals are now doing everything they can to divert patients of all sorts from intensive care.

Some of the more stable COVID patients have been sent home, where they’re given oxygen and monitored remotely. Others have been sent to long-term care homes, most of which are no longer death traps, thanks to vaccinations.

Hospitals are placing acute-care beds anywhere they can, knowing the number of COVID-19 patients that require intensive care is expected to keep rising until sometime in June.

“Right now, it’s fair to say that from a physical capacity, we’ve expanded dramatically to all kinds of corners of the hospital and we’re almost working one bed at a time. Where’s the next patient going to go? Where can we move?” said Eric Jacobsohn, a Winnipeg ICU physician and anesthesiologist.

“We are sort of just running day by day, expanding where we can. And from what I’m told is … we’re going to make physical space, we have the equipment, but the issue is human resources. Where do you find the people, particularly nurses, other front-line staff, physicians, to look after these patients?”

All of this could have been avoided if Brian Pallister and his government had listened to the experts, who warned that this was coming. They ignored that advice, yet again. It could be that the third wave of COID-19 infections and deaths will be even bigger than the second wave in November and December last year. Hospitals will face an unprecedented crunch for space, resources, and staff over the next month.

This is NOT the time to get sick…any kind of sick. Don’t get into a car accident, don’t fall off a ladder, don’t have a heart attack. And above all, don’t get infected with COVID-19.

My anger at my incompetent government is percolating higher every day. I dearly hope that Manitobans remembers this absolute clusterfuck when the next provincial election rolls around in 2023. Pallister has to go, and the sooner he leaves, the better.

Pandemic Diary: November 19th, 2020

Today is officially Day 249 since I began working from home for the University of Manitoba Libraries due to the coronavirus pandemic. I am still on holidays this week; I “go back to work” on Monday (while remaining in self-isolation in my apartment).

Today, the Manitoba government added further restrictions to those already put in place on November 10th, when a province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown was announced. The new rules ban any gatherings at private residences and restrict retail sales to essential items only.

What is considered essential? Well, according to the “enhanced restrictions” document released by the Manitoba government today, essential items are:

 food, beverages and food preparation products;
 personal care products such as soap and dental care products;
 health-related products such as prescription drugs and vitamins;
 mobility or assistive devices;
 baby and child-care accessories such as diapers and formula;
 household cleaning products, safety devices, batteries and lightbulbs;
 outdoor winter apparel such as jackets and boots;
 personal protective equipment for the workplace;
 pet food and supplies;
 postage stamps;
 cellphones and cellphone accessories;
 parts and supplies for all types of motor vehicles and watercraft;
 major household appliances;
 hunting, fishing and trapping supplies;
 tools and hardware;
 materials for home maintenance, repair or construction; and
 property maintenance products such as shovels.

Non-essential items refers to any good and products not set out in the orders. This includes jewelry, flowers, perfume, consumer electronics, sporting equipment, books and toys.

Also, the document takes great care to note that “liquor and cannabis stores may continue to open and sell products” (you don’t want to have to deal with people going through withdrawal on top of everything else that’s going on, I guess!). And it looks very much like there will be no Black Friday sales in Manitoba next weekend.

CTV News reports:

New restrictions in Manitoba will limit the number of people allowed to gather in private homes to further halt the spread of COVID-19.

The enhanced orders, announced on Thursday by Premier Brian Pallister and chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, will take effect on Friday, Nov. 20th.

The orders come one week after strict public health measures were put in place to get Manitobans to reduce their contacts. Roussin has made repeated pleas for Manitobans to stay at home and has warned of stretched hospital capacity in the province.

“Despite that, we saw people gathering at rallies, we saw crowded parking lots at big box stores, we saw people continue to go out for non-essential items — so we are left with no choice but to announce further measures to protect Manitobans to limit the spread of this virus,” said Roussin.

Under the new orders, gatherings at private residences, including homes, cottages, and other vacation properties, are restricted, and nobody is permitted aside from the people who live there. There are some exceptions to allow for child-care, health-care and home-care services, tutoring services, construction, repairs, and emergency response services.

The new orders also prohibit people from gathering in groups of more than five people at any indoor or outdoor public space. This includes the common areas of a multi-unit residence with the exception of a health-care facility or critical business that adheres to public health measures.

The new rules also allow for people who live alone (such as me) to have one person from outside their household visit their home. If I were pressed to choose, that person would probably be my best friend John, but we communicate regularly using Face Time on our iPhones, and I am satisfied with that.

Yesterday, I went and did my grocery shopping on the Walmart website, and first thing this morning, I donned an N95 facemask, got in my car, and drove to the grocery pick-up parking spaces at the rear of the my neighbourhood Walmart store, where someone wearing a mask wheeled out a cart with bins, and loaded up the back of my car, and I drove away. Thankfully, the Shopping Cart Gods smiled upon me, and there was a wayward shopping cart in the vicinity of my apartment, which made for only two trips ferrying my groceries between my car and my home. I am now stocked up on enough food to last me at least two months. I have also just had all my prescription medications renewed for another three months and delivered from my local pharmacy to my doorstep.

I have zero plans to set foot outside my apartment, unless it is to throw out the garbage or to go for masked, socially-distanced walks in my neighbourhood. As I barely leave my apartment as it was, the latest restrictions will not affect me very much. It does mean that I not be able to visit my mother and stepfather in their seniors life-lease condo, but I did pay a visit to see them the day before the Nov. 10th restrictions came into effect, and it was good to see them (again, socially distanced).

My mother wants me to commit to coming over for supper on Christmas Day, which she considers an iron-clad tradition, but I only told her that we would have to wait and see what happens between now and then. The way things have been going lately, I will not be surprised in the slightest if I spend Christmas alone in my apartment. At our face-to-face last week, we discussed Christmas presents. Mom usually gives me gift cards, but she worries that she will land up buying me gift cards for stores that will go belly-up because of the pandemic. We agreed that cash would be an appropriate gift instead, which relieves my mother of at least that one worry.

At the moment, as I write this, I am sitting in a Zoom meeting, my microphone and video muted, listening to my faculty union executive report on the results of the most recent round of bargaining with my employer, the University of Manitoba. This virtual meeting will be followed by a ratification vote over the next 24 hours by the 1,200 union members: professors, instructors, and librarians (again, this will be conducted securely, remotely, and online). So the results of the ratification vote will not be known until late Friday evening. There exists the possibility that I will be out on strike come Monday.

I am learning—trying to learn— to become more comfortable with all the uncertainty swirling around me, and I am working, every day, all day, to make sure that I do not allow my circumstances to drag me back down into the bottomless black pit of clinical depression. Some days I feel as if I am drowning.

So I take naps, and go for walks, and sit cross-legged in obliging patches of warm sunshine on my bedroom carpet. I go hide out in Second Life, or Sinespace, or Sansar, and find places to visit, and people to talk to. I take my antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescriptions, and I talk with my psychiatrist on the phone, and chat with other safe, supportive people, both in real life and in my many virtual worlds. I binge watch shows on Netflix. I read books. I cook. I clean. When I cannot sleep, I brew a pot of black coffee, get up and sit in front of my computer, and I blog.

I do whatever it takes to get me through the day, one day at a time. That’s really all I can do, all that anybody can reasonably ask me to do.

Tomorrow will be Day 250 since I started working from home, and it will be a day much like today, with its uncertainties, fears, and worries. I will get through it.

COVID Feel Good: A Free Self-Help Virtual Reality App to Treat the Psychological Stress Caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic

The homepage of the COVID Feel Good website

A new, free virtual reality app aims to help those struggling with pandemic-related stress to get their symptoms under control. VRScout reports:

There’s no question about it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has us going through a roller coaster of feelings right now. Not only have we been cut off from normal social gatherings such as family gatherings, concerts and after work hangouts, but it’s preventing us from traveling, putting a damper on many holiday travel plans. 

Thankfully, we have now have access to an extensive array of VR technology that allows us to escape our dreary reality. A recently published research paper shows that using VR to hang out with friends through socialVR platforms, go to concerts, play games, or “visit” other parts of the world actually has a positive impact on your level of happiness.

Italian researchers worked with 400 participants over a three month period as part of this in depth study. Users were encouraged to view 360 photos and videos of other countries, visit virtual gardens and beaches, spend time with other VR users in platforms such as VRChat or Mozilla Hubs, and isolate themselves in a virtual location referred to as the “Secret Garden” to reflect privately.  

Here’s a link to the research paper mentioned in the VRScout article, written by Dr. Giuseppe Riva, a professor of general psychology at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, and titled How Cyberpsychology and Virtual Reality Can Help Us to Overcome the Psychological Burden of Coronavirus (which was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, volume 23, issue 5, 2020).

The paper states:

To help our readers to discover the well-being potential of VR, we suggest the use of a freely available VR tool: ‘‘The Secret Garden.’’ It is a 10-minute 3D 360-degree video (4K resolution supported) that can be found here (https://www.covidfeelgood.com/), designed to combat stress and counter the disappearance of places and communities generated by the coronavirus.

Recently developed in Lombardy, the Italian region at the center of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak by a group of Italian psychologists (https://become-hub.com/en/), it has been designed keeping in mind that providing psychological relief to so many (Lombardy population is >8 million inhabitants) over such a large geographical area would be complex. In fact, to experience it, any smartphone or tablet/PC will work. However, to fully experience the psychological benefits of being in a digital place, a cardboard headset is also necessary, including those sold for 15–30 USD in different digital marketplaces.

Here’s a three-minute YouTube that outlines the process and the app:

The app comes with a detailed, 19-page protocol; instructions are available in a variety of languages, including English:


To start the self-help experience you need:

For more info about the rationale of using VR and the science behind the protocol, you can check the different links provided.


The app is unfortunately only available via cellphone-based VR, not the Oculus Quest or any other VR headsets. For further information, please refer to the COVID Feel Good website.

This project is yet another example of how virtual reality can be used as a way to treat people who are struggling with mental health issues. an area where more and more research is being conducted every day at universities around the world. If you are interested in Dr. Riva’s work, he has also written the following research article:

Riva, G., Mantovani, F., & Wiederhold, B. K. (2020). Positive technology and COVID-19. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(9), 581–587.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Pandemic Diary: April 18th, 2020

So I snapped a selfie on my way to the nearest garbage bin at my apartment complex this morning:

I am wearing one of the cloth masks that my Mom made for me (she also knitted the scarf I am wearing in this picture). I really miss going to my Mom’s for Sunday dinner.

It has now been a full month since I started self-isolation in my apartment, having received permission from my employer, the University of Manitoba Libraries, to work from home since Monday, March 16th.

How am I doing? Well, not well. But not badly, either. I’m still slipping back and forth between a few uncomfortable emotional states: anxiety, depression, anger. I am taking Lorzepam for the anxiety, but I know that I can’t keep relying on it when my nerves are bad, because I could become dependent upon it, and my psychiatrist tells me that I could suffer rebound anxiety as a result of using it too often. So I reserve the Lorazepam for when I feel especially anxious, which has happened a few times this week.

As for my depression, I can usually judge how bad things are by how many unwashed dishes I leave on my kitchen counter. At the moment, I have a week’s worth of dirty dishes piled up on the counter. It’s a sign that I am not doing so well, when I start to put off chores like that. So I need to pull my socks up.

I know that I am not the only person who is struggling. This week I read an article from SELF magazine, titled 17 Totally Normal Things to Feel Right Now, According to Therapists, and I could relate to a whole lot of them. Here’s the list, along with some quotes from that article:

  • I feel burned out. “Think about it: Every aspect of adjusting to a “new normal” demands energy from you, whether that’s the bandwidth you’re expending keeping up on the news or the weird learning curve of doing your job remotely. Meanwhile, so many of the ways we typically recharge are off the table right now: seeing friends, hitting up happy hour, going to the gym, or whatever self-care activity of yours that the pandemic has derailed. ‘There are so many more things draining us than things fortifying us right now…That’s a recipe for burnout right there.’”
  • I feel angry. “You probably don’t need me to tell you that there are a lot of things to be angry about right now, whether you’re frustrated at people who aren’t taking this seriously enough or have a lot of feelings about how the pandemic is being handled on a structural level.”
  • I am spiraling about what might happen: “The uncertainty of the pandemic—and the long-term impact it will have on both a personal level and a larger scale—is one of the most common themes the therapists I talked to have come across in their work. That should come as no surprise to anyone going through a ton of anxiety right now; there is just so much we can’t predict…’Anxiety rises due to the fear of the unknown, and right now, many things are not known…I have been hearing people worrying about running out of food or supplies. People are afraid that they will lose their homes or cars due to being out of work.’ The list goes on. The important part to remember is that most people are grappling with uncertainty right now, and it’s normal to feel terrified.”
  • I am struggling with working from home. “Transitioning from a typical work setup to working from home has caused a lot of stress, angst, and frustration for a ton of people.”
  • I am mourning canceled events. I miss my monthly arts and entertainment group meeting (although we are scheduling a Zoom meetup on Sunday). I miss the older gay men’s dining out group. I miss being at work and being around my coworkers and the students and faculty at my university.
  • I want a hug. As someone who is self-isolating alone in my apartment, I can’t even remember the last time someone touched me.
  • I feel guilty about my relative safety, security, and privilege. I was much more physically and logistically prepared for this pandemic than most people I know. I have a couple of months of food on hand, and 3 months’ worth of all my prescription medications. I don’t need to leave my home for anything except absolutely essential trips or emergencies. But I do feel guilty that other people, who wouldn’t, couldn’t, or didn’t prepare, are struggling, perhaps even suffering. Hell, there are people on this planet who are facing this pandemic without access to clean, running water.
  • I am grieving. “While it’s true some people undoubtedly are dealing with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, therapists are noticing grief in other ways too. Most people are grappling with some kind of loss…whether that’s the loss of a job, your freedom, your feeling of safety, or your vision of how your life should be going. All of that can trigger a deep sense of grief, though many people don’t recognize it for what it is.”
  • I am feeling inadequate about my productivity. “‘One issue that I’m seeing is people feeling guilt about not being productive enough while at home in isolation..From day one after lockdown orders, many clients felt that they were wasting time and failing miserably at the transition to working from home. There is also pressure to learn languages, take courses, master finances, and do all the things. Productivity porn is very loud right now.’ That noise can be difficult to drown out, so don’t feel bad if this is something you’re struggling with. ‘We live in a nation in which many of us are accustomed to engaging in activities centered around thriving…Unfortunately, much of that focus must be shifted to surviving right now. Be kind to yourself as we shift and refuse to be guilty for not being productive.’
  • And sometimes, I just feel numb. “With everything going on, it might alarm you to wake up one day and realize you feel…nothing at all. That’s to be expected too. Even in the most chaotic of times, it’s impossible to be on emotional high alert 24/7. ‘I think of it in terms of adrenaline…You can only have adrenaline coursing through your veins for so long until the body has to reset and simmer down.’ Same goes for emotions, especially the longer this goes on.”

On top of everything else, I feel exhausted, and I have been struggling with insomnia. Once again, a night of restless sleep detached and inactivated one of my expensive LibreLink blood sugar sensors, so I have had to replace it before it was due to expire in 14 days. This is the second time this has happened since I started using this system, and it is frustrating.

Even just writing this blogpost seems to have brought me down, by making me realize just how much I am trying to cope with. Small wonder I am struggling. It would be overwhelming to anybody.

So I am just going to keep on keeping on, using this blog as my pandemic diary. I know that I have supports in place (anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, talk therapy, my social network) to keep me safe, grounded, and sane. We don’t know how long this public health emergency will take to pass. We don’t know when the restrictions that have been placed on all our lives will start to be lifted.

But we do know that this will not be forever. I have to hold on tight to that belief, putting my faith in all the doctors and scientists who are working to create a vaccine to end this nightmare.

Stay safe, and stay healthy!