Editorial: Welcome to the New Normal

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but things have been happening so fast that it’s making my head spin.

Today, both the provinces of Alberta and Quebec announced the essential shut down of all their post-secondary educational institutions, with a wholesale move away from in-person classes and exams to online equivalents. Originally, my employer, the University of Manitoba, was going to try and keep classrooms open to students, but late this afternoon the university president sent out an email:

Yesterday I communicated our commitment to taking measures to protect the health and safety of our campuses and our wider community. Our top priority is doing our part to help contain the transmission of COVID-19.

In that same spirit, today I am announcing that there will be no classes on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17. The University campuses will remain open on those days, but there will no classes.

This two-day pause allows the University to prepare to move classes to alternative modes of instruction.

To be clear, as of Wednesday, March 18 there will NO IN-PERSON CLASSES, with rare exceptions that will be communicated directly to those affected. All in-person undergraduate and research-stream Master’s and Doctoral instruction will end March 13. Instruction will be provided by other means that may include existing online platforms. This will continue through the end of the term on April 7.

Our staff are working hard to keep as much of the University operational as possible. The University remains open and we are continuing to provide students with as many essential services as possible under the circumstances. Please keep referring to umanitoba.ca for information and updates.

Among those essential services are the university libraries, which will try to remain in operation as long as possible.

Effective Monday, March 16th, I (along with other Libraries staff who are at a higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19 if they become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) will be working from home.

I am so truly grateful that my employer has given me the option to stay home. My stress levels have just been going through the roof, and this week I was rapidly heading off into loose-cannon territory, with both my anxiety and depression spiraling out of control. I was on the verge of getting a sick note from my psychiatrist, and taking sick time.

Hopefully, now that I know I can essentially barricade myself in my apartment, surrounded with all my pandemic preps, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and try to relax and heal a bit.

My heart goes out to all my coworkers whom I am leaving behind, who are going to try and cover as best they can, and keep the libraries open for as long as they can. Today we were all busy shutting down every second workstation and study carrel in our libraries, putting up signs and removing chairs in order to enforce social distancing. (No sitting next to each other anymore!) We’ve also shut down several “high-touch” automated services, such as our 24/7 reserve kiosks and our iPad-based self-checkout terminals. We’re going back to the old ways of doing things!

In addition, the province of Manitoba has now followed Ontario and many other jurisdictions in announcing that, effective Monday March 23rd, all K-12 schools in Manitoba will be closed for 3 weeks as a proactive measure. This will obviously pull even more University of Manitoba Libraries workers away from their jobs as they are forced to stay home and care for their children.

We are in unprecedented times, and venturing into uncharted territory. Like I said, everything is happening so fast that it makes me dizzy. I’m sure most of you are feeling the same way.

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UPDATED! SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update: March 12th, 2020: Coronavirus Comes to Manitoba

And, of course, not even 24 hours after my last update, where I reported that a coronavirus case in Minot, North Dakota, was the closest to me

Local blog ChrisD.ca, Global News, and CTV News have all reported this morning on the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Winnipeg, which is Manitoba’s capital and biggest city. This presumptive test result needs to be confirmed by Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, which is also located in Winnipeg. The National Microbiology Lab is among a few dozen in the world that can handle Level 4 pathogens, requiring the highest level of biosecurity.

CTV News reported:

The province has confirmed the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

The case was confirmed at a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday morning with Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Friesen said the patient is a woman in her 40s from the Winnipeg region who recently travelled to the Philippines. She is recovering at home and is in stable condition. She had been back in Canada for a few days before the positive test, and arrived at the hospital with a face mask.

The health minister added that two community screening centres will open in Winnipeg on Thursday to screen people for COVID-19.

Roussin recommended that Manitobans practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, minimize contact while in public and disinfect all surfaces.

“Fear and panic is not going to help us,” he said.

Roussin also recommended that businesses cancel all non-essential travel outside of Manitoba and that schools increase desk space between students.

Shared Health said COVID-19 testing is for symptomatic people only. Patients are encouraged to contact Health Links before going to any facility, and self-isolate while waiting for results. People without symptoms should not go to health centres and unless absolutely necessary.

The province was told about the presumptive case Thursday morning. It is tracing who the patient has been in contact with.

I won’t be reporting on any other coronavirus news today, but I just wanted to let people know that it’s here now, too. The waiting is over.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: And this evening, Manitoba reported its second and third presumptive cases of COVID-19, both in Winnipeg.

UPDATE March 18th, 2020: If you are looking for all the Manitoba provincial government’s information about COVID-19, click here.