Pandemic Diary, May 1st, 2021: Yearning for a Crystal Ball

The view of the woods behind my apartment

Today is officially Day 412 since I began working from home in self-isolation for my university library system, since my world was upended. I’m sitting on my patio in my apartment, looking at the newly-budding trees in the woods behind me, and it feels as if Spring has finally arrived here in Winnipeg. I hear the birds chirping, and smell that one of my neighbors is barbecuing.

While I am enjoying the sunshine, maskless, a neighbour barrels around the corner of my building, also maskless, taking a shortcut around the building to find me sitting here. She briefly passes within six feet of me on her way to the garbage dumpster. Shit. It just goes to show how you can never be too careful. (My neighbor gives me a wide berth by following the sidewalk on her return trip. I would wave, but she resolutely refuses to make eye contact.)

My neighbourhood was recently added to the list of provincial COVID-19 hot spots, and therefore anyone over 17 who lives or works in the neighborhood can now go get vaccinated. I got my first shot (Oxford/AstraZeneca) on March 18th, and I am due to get my second shot in July. I take some comfort from the fact that even just the first shot will be enough to protect me from serious illness or death (at least, according to the scientific research published about the current variants of the coronavirus), but I still worry whenever there’s a slip up, such as my neighborhood getting within 2 meters, as brief as it was. I still worry. I find it hard to shut off the worry sometimes.

Last night I text chatted with my brother in Alberta, two provinces to the west, which had recently reported a worrying increase in cases (in fact, they now have the highest per-capita rate of positive COVID cases by far). I was greatly relieved to hear that both he and my sister-in-law, who are in their fifties, received their first COVID-19 vaccinations yesterday at a local pharmacy.

I find that often lately, I am anxious and distracted, having to force myself time and again to quit doomscrolling on social media and the news media, go sit outside, and relax. I listen in on countless Clubhouse rooms about the catastrophe currently happening in India, and I feel so helpless. I read about anti-mask rallies in cities all across Canada, and I get enraged.

This pandemic is taking an emotional toll on me, at a time when I should be feeling more optimistic about the summer to come. I pray that we will not see anything like the crisis and chaos erupting in south-east Asia. I hope that the increasing pace of vaccination will protect us all, and that our lives can return to normal.

Oh, what I would give for a crystal ball, to be able to see the future!

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev on Unsplash

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, April 26th, 2021: You Can’t Fix Stupid

Hundreds of mostly-maskless, non-socially-distanced Manitobans crowded the grounds at The Forks in Winnipeg on Sunday, April 25th, 2021, in protest of COVID-19 restrictions (Source: Global News)

Today is official Day 376 since I first began working from my home for my university library system on March 16th, 2020. Today, and every Monday (at least until the government announces a third lockdown which I feel is inevitable), I am working in my office, weeding the reference collection of the agriculture library, which remains closed to faculty, staff, and students until further notice. I am making slow but steady progress in determining what to keep in reference, what to move to the circulating collection, what to upgrade to a full-text electronic version, and what to throw away.

Yesterday, hundreds of Manitobans gathered to protest the current COVID-19 restrictions at the Forks in Winnipeg, next to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Global News reported:

Hundreds of Manitobans gathered around The Forks on Sunday, rallying against COVID-19 restrictions.

Most protesters could be seen without masks and not social distancing while dozens of signs were posted in the ground surrounding a podium for speakers.

Clare MacKay, vice president of strategic initiatives and executive director of The Forks Foundation, told Global News on Friday the group was not granted access to the space.

“We have not been asked for, nor would we be in a position to grant, permission for this group to be on site,” MacKay said.

The Forks closed its doors Sunday afternoon due to safety concerns surrounding the rally.

You can’t fix stupid, people. And this pandemic has certainly shown us all just how many stupid people there are here. I have zero sympathy for these idiots, who are putting themselves and their contacts at risk. Here’s video of the event:

These protesters will soon have even more to complain about. This afternoon, the Manitoba government announced a new series of public health orders. The new restrictions, starting April 28th, 2021, and in effect for at least the next four weeks, include the following:

  • Zero visitors to private residences, either indoors or outdoors (except for one designated visitor for those people who live alone);
  • Indoor gatherings are prohibited, and outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people in public spaces;
  • Outdoor restaurant patio dining is restricted to a maximum of 4 people;
  • Food courts in shopping malls must close;
  • Retail stores will be restricted to 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower. Shopping malls will be restricted to 25% capacity (although how they are going to enforce this part in malls with multiple entrances is beyond me);
  • Church, synagogue, and mosque services will be limited to 25% capacity or 10 people, whichever is lower, and mask-wearing is required;
  • Gyms and fitness centres will be limited to 25% capacity, and all gym users must stay at least 3 metres (9 feet) away from each other.

I’m very glad I visited my mother and stepfather on Sunday, and brought some home-baked cookies as an early Mother’s Day gift; it looks like we will not be getting together for Mother’s Day this year.

In my opinion, the incremental approach of the Manitoba government is simply not good enough at this stage of the pandemic. The majority of new cases are coronavirus variants of concern, most of which have been shown to be more easily transmissible, and some of which make younger people sicker. Lacking any domestic vaccine production, we are still far, far behind the U.S. and other countries in our vaccination program. Under the circumstances, I feel strongly that non-essential retail stores, churches and gyms should be closed completely, as they were last November during our second wave, in order to bring the number of new cases and deaths down to as low a level as possible (the so-called “zero COVID” approach taken by the three Northern territories and the Atlantic provinces here in Canada, and in countries such as Australia and New Zealand).

The government says that they are trying to avoid a full shutdown, but I predict that they are going to be forced to implement one anyways, as cases and deaths increase. They are promising to crack down hard on people who are flouting public health orders, but they’ve been saying that all along, with little evidence of success. For example, the premier stated that some of the people who attended Sunday’s rally were issued tickets, but he had no specifics (you’d think he would have gotten that information before the press conference today).

There just seems to be a whole lot of stupid going around, both in a government that is too timid to take the necessary bold steps to halt transmission in its tracks, and in a populace who are getting lazy, rebellious, and non-compliant after more than a year of restrictions.

Under the circumstances, the best that you can do is to take care of yourself, STAY HOME as much as possible, and listen to the doctors and the scientists.

Stay home, people! (graphic from the City of Vancouver)

UPDATE April 28th, 2021: Chris Sky, who spoke at the Winnipeg anti-mask rally on Sunday, was arrested after speaking at a similar rally in Thunder Bay, Ontario. And apparently, only two people were fined as a result of the Winnipeg rally (the tickets come with a $1,296 fine).

Pandemic Diary, April 25th, 2021: There’s Many a Slip ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip

Twitter CFO Ned Segal’s chocolate chip cookie recipe makes delicious cookies, which are very, VERY bad for my blood sugar! 😉

I have had a fairly productive weekend ensconced in my apartment. I made tuna casserole, baked chocolate chip cookies from a recipe provided by Ned Segal, the CFO of Twitter (we got to chat in a Twitter Spaces room recently), worked my way through a mountain of dirty dishes, and finally cleaned my kitchen counters. I also worked on a presentation I will be giving at the iLRN 2020 virtual conference, tentatively titled Herding Cats: Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms (Social VR and Virtual Worlds), which must be submitted to the conference organizers by May 10th. I’m also working on moderating a May 29th panel discussion for the Educators in VR UniVirtual Experience conference, which will be taking place on various social VR platforms during the month of May. I’m quite busy!

I’m glad that I am so busy, because otherwise I would be consumed with worry about the latest twists and turns in the coronavirus pandemic, both close to home and far away. I have been following the increasingly grim news out of India, which has been setting daily records in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths. The chart of the seven-day average for cases and deaths in India is starting to turn vertical! The following charts are from the Daily Mail:

I have seen interviews where some expert say that the official figures may be too low by a factor of ten. The healthcare system in many Indian cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi is already on the verge of collapse, and the peak of the current wave is not expected for another two to three weeks! I fear that we will witness the first country to be utterly overwhelmed by the coronavirus, to the point of a complete breakdown of Indian society. Things are not looking very rosy in Pakistan, either. Canada has already suspended flights from both India and Pakistan, but the coronavirus variant suspected to be behind this unprecedented surge, named B.1.617, has already been identified in the Canadian provinces of B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec.

Meanwhile, here in Manitoba, stubborn premier Brian Pallister has resisted a rising chorus of calls from scientists, doctors, and Manitobans to enact a full shutdown now, before things get out of hand here. CBC reports on an open letter sent to the premier by 37 current and former Manitobans:

Author and gynecologist Jen Gunter, former Olympian Clara Hughes and kids’ entertainer Fred Penner are among a group of 37 well-known Manitobans and expats urging Premier Brian Pallister to take more action to stem the third wave of COVID-19.

In an open letter, the signatories urged the premier to enact tougher restrictions now or risk prolonging the pandemic.

“We watch in alarm as our province is led directly towards the same fate as Ontario, where some of us are now living and watching an unfolding humanitarian disaster,” the letter states.

“The attempts to stall the inevitable broader scale provincial shutdown for as long as possible appears to amount to a calculated decision to allow an increased number of Manitobans to become sick or die in order to keep a number of non-essential services operational.

“This approach has been shown to prolong the ultimate period of closures and is actually more harmful to our community via virtually every meaningful metric.”

Ontario has already declared a provincial emergency, locking down the province until May 20th, and closing its borders with Manitoba to the west and Quebec to the east to non-essential travel (the international border with the U.S. remains shut since March of 2020). Hospitals in many provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, are at the breaking point, reporting that the newer coronavirus variants are making younger people sicker. Ontario has gone so far as to transfer sick hospital patients out of the Greater Toronto Area to parts of the province which have been hit less severely, like Northwestern Ontario, in order to free up beds for an anticipated surge.

So it is surreal to hear many Americans talking as if the pandemic is almost over, about a return to “normal” by summer. There is an English saying: There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. Most countries outside of Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. still have not vaccinated most of their population, at a time when coronavirus variants of concern are spreading much more quickly. Although vaccination programs have made some good progress, there is still a lot that could go wrong.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, April 23rd, 2021: Clubhouse Follies

Today is officially Day 373 since I began working in self-isolation from my home for my university library system on March 16th, 2020. All the summer courses at the University of Manitoba will be taught online and remotely, as in previous semesters, although the university is planning to conduct at least some of the smaller courses in-person come September (dependent upon the current pandemic situation, of course).

I have been on Clubhouse for (double checks) eight weeks now, and things are definitely getting a bit weird. Every second room seems to be about manifesting your first million dollars, or NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), or BitClout. And Clubhouse is starting to descend into endless petty tit-for-tat squabbles like the following:

*sigh* Could somebody please call these aggrieved people a WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH-mbulance? 😉

And yet, at the same time, I have started two clubs (one for Winnipeggers and Manitobans, and the other one is called Ask a Librarian), and become a moderator for a third club founded by somebody else, the Virtual Worlds club.

And, in addition to running my own weekly rooms in those clubs, I willingly put up my hand, come up on stage, and speak in many rooms (not in the NFT rooms or the petty squabbling rooms, though). In a weird way, Clubhouse is like a comforting blanket I can wrap around myself whenever I feel the need of company. There’s always a conversation happening somewhere!

I particularly enjoy the daily News News News room, where everybody contributes to (and discusses) the headlines. For example, someone will talk about a breaking COVID-19 story, and a doctor or scientist in the room will provide some expert commentary. It’s fast becoming my favourite way of consuming the day’s news stories, particularly since I no longer watch the broadcast TV news!

News News News is the crowdsourced morning news show I never knew I needed!

And it will be interesting to see how Clubhouse will change when they finally open up to Android users (the app is still for iOS devices like iPhones and iPads only). Speaking of iPads, I finally decided to order myself a shiny new iPad, going through the Apple website rather than make a potentially germy trip to my local Apple store in a shopping mall at the other end of town! It should arrive in about a month. In the meantime, I am enjoying my Netflix, Amazon Prime, and OUTtvGO streaming content on my desktop computer and my trusty iPhone.

My new iPad arrives in a month

As for COVID-19, well, our ever-arrogant, pompous, gaslighting Manitoba premier, Brian Pallister, is once again stumble-leading us into a third wave of COVID-19 infections (mostly driven by variants of concern), and into what I feel is an inevitable third lockdown, after the ones we endured last March and last November. I feel it is only a matter of time that the problems experienced in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec land here in Manitoba, too.

I find sometimes I need to stay off the local news media because I get so angry at how the pandemic is being mismanaged by the provincial government. Our local newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, has been unstinting and unprecedented in its criticism and even condemnation of Brian Pallister and his government’s policies. People are not happy, and the government is unpopular, but unfortunately we still have a couple of years to go until we can vote these clowns out of office in the next provincial election. Good riddance!

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will be largely face-masking, hand-washing, and self-isolating for at least another four months, possibly longer. I received my first shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on March 18th, 2021, but I am not due to get my second shot until July (the government has decided to get first shots into as many arms as possible, to provide at least some protection against the coronavirus, then focus on people getting their second shots).

However, at least until that third lockdown is announced, I am now going into my library every Monday (which is still closed to faculty, staff, and students), in order to do some collection weeding work. I find that getting out of my apartment one day a week does wonders for my overall mood, and I enjoy the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with my coworkers (wearing face masks and socially distanced, but still face to face!).

Other than going in to work on Mondays, I barely leave my apartment. The only regular trips I make are to go pick up the groceries I order online from Walmart, and to go across town to visit my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo.

Anyways, I hope you all are holding up well under the circumstances, and taking good care of yourselves. Stay safe and stay healthy!