Editorial: Three Different Community Responses to a Coronavirus Pandemic

Panic Shopping: Australian shoppers fighting over rolls of toilet paper (source)

My distress, anxiety, depression, and anger over the coronavirus pandemic have not subsided since I received permission from my employer to work from home. My initial sense of relief proved to be very short-lived. I now worry that I might be tipping over into full-blown agoraphobia—afraid to leave the house for anything.

Even though we only have 4 confirmed cases of COVID-19 here in Winnipeg, I have postponed, then cancelled, my regular Friday night supper with my long-suffering, unflappable best friend John, and I have also cancelled my Sunday evening dinner with my mother and stepfather. In all cases, they understand and are sympathetic. As John said on the phone to me today, “You’re just Ryan.”—almost exactly what my supervisor at work told me earlier this week. (To steal a line from Games of Thrones: It is known.)

I do have a rather lamentable tendency to panic, overreact, and infect other people with my anxiety and depression. (I apologized to two coworkers yesterday for stepping out of bounds in my eagerness to warn people about the risks.) The problem is, of course, that we as a society have never faced such an unprecedented global public health situation like this before, so everybody is guessing at what the normal response should be. We are going to see a lot of people stressing out (and acting out) over this, I am afraid. Here is my constantly-updated list of mental health resources during a coronavirus pandemic.

Microbiologist Dr. Siouxsie Wiles (whom I am following on Twitter) has released a series of helpful animated GIFs which illustrate important concepts that the public need to grasp about this COVID-19 pandemic. I shared one of her GIFs in this March 10th blogpost, and below is a second, new one:

Basically, this picture shows three different community responses to a pandemic:

  • No collective response, which leads to a spike of cases that quickly overwhelms healthcare systems (as we saw in Hubei province in China, and now in Italy, where they are making life-and-death triage decisions for intensive care beds and ventilators);
  • A strong collective response, which “flattens the curve” to keep the total number of cases at any one time to within hospital capacities (this is the ideal response);
  • A strong, but only short-term, collective response, which only postpones the deadly spike of cases over time.

The situation in Italy is currently grim, and it should as a stern warning for other countries; we are not immune to a sharp spike in cases happening here, especially if there is community resistance to quarantines and the imposition of social distancing policies.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced the border restrictions that among the toughest in the world, in a country that so far only has seen only six confirmed cases of COVID-19:

Countries around the world continued Saturday to enact strict measures such as border closures and flight cancellations to combat the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus.

That includes New Zealand, whose Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Saturday the government will implement a policy under which all travelers, even New Zealanders, must self-isolate upon their arrival in the country for 14 days starting Sunday at midnight.

Ardern said New Zealand, along with Israel and several Pacific Island nations, “will have the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” adding that she’s not making any apologies in this “unprecedented time.” All cruise ships will be banned from coming to New Zealand until June 30, as well. There are only six confirmed cases and no deaths attributed to COVID-19 in New Zealand so far.

Contrast this timely, science-based approach with the actions of the Donald Trump administration, which apparently tried to overrule Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations that seniors avoid airline flights and that they should remain at home as much as possible.

Donald Trump’s rambling, pompous, error-filled, and shambolic public pronouncements about the coronavirus crisis have done no favours to the U.S. populace. It’s very clear that Trump cares more about protecting industries such as cruiselines, airlines, and hotels, than he does about the U.S. citizens he was elected to protect.

The longer that the U.S. practices such poor risk communication to the public, the worse the overall reaction will be. Notice the levels of panic shopping now taking place all across the world? That’s a direct result of people being lulled into a false sense of security, suddenly triggered into panic mode. The “it’s just the flu” bros are waking up en masse, and ransacking grocery stores and pharmacies.

Like I said, welcome to the new normal.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

P.S. Please don’t worry about me; I am still seeing my psychiatrist regularly, and I am practicing good self-care at home, including taking breaks from the relentless news media coverage. To quote Gloria Gaynor: I will survive!

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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 18th, 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.

Seven Healthy Ways to Cope in Crazy Times (…and Getting Donald Trump Banned from Hell in Second Life!)

elijah-o-donnell-603766-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

It’s no secret that we are living in crazy times.

Gallup has been measuring the emotional health of people around the planet since 2005, and the polling company reports that global emotions hit at an all-time low in 2017:

“Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it,” Gallup’s managing editor, Mohamed S. Younis, said in a letter in the report.

“Globally there’s upheaval,” Molitor says. There’s migration crises (“and a lot of suffering involved in that,” she says), instability in government (with Brexit happening in Europe, infighting in the U.S., unrest in Turkey, crises in Yemen, and many other places), and dire climate warnings.

There’s a lot of uncertainty, which drives stress, worry, and all of the emotions that go along with that, she says. “And whether you’re politically aware of it or not, it’s kind of in the zeitgeist.”

Molitor says her patients (who are notably in most part middle and upper middle class individuals) are feeling very anxious, overwhelmed and helpless. “They are feeling under siege,” she says.

I’m not surprised. Frankly, I have been feeling a lot more stressed out, afraid, and angry than usual lately, and I know many of you feel the same. Is it just me, or is the world getting even crazier? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to check the news anymore. And don’t even get me started about Donald Trump…

Obama Lama Ding Dong
Protester’s sign during Trump’s recent visit to the U.K.

Here are a few suggestions on how to cope in crazy, stressful times from the article:

  1. Get involved: Find a cause related to what’s driving your stress and unease and give back.
  2. Get educated: Particularly when it comes to the divisiveness that’s becoming synonymous with politics in the U.S. and elsewhere, be curious about others’ opinions rather than judging them immediately.
  3. Be grateful: Have gratitude for what you do have in your life and the things that you can count on — like the people you love and those who love you.
  4. Focus on what you can do: You’re certainly not going to be able to change everything that bothers you, but you likely can change some of it. Ask yourself what things can you do to feel more hopeful every day, and do them. (That doesn’t mean you get to completely ignore the negative things that happen in life, but you don’t need to dwell on them all the time.)
  5. Take care of you: Doing things like sleeping well, eating well, moving (it doesn’t have to be going to the gym), laughing and doing your laundry — taking care of your basic needs — these acts go a long way in helping you feel more in control and better able to deal with whatever challenges land on your plate.
  6. Make time for the people you care about: Social support is one of the number one ways to boost resiliency. Scores of research show being lonely worsens stress and worsens health outcomes, while being with and relating to others boosts positive emotions.
  7. Pay attention to what’s pushing your buttons: A big part of not letting those negative emotions getting the best of us is knowing what’s causing those negative feelings to begin with. If Twitter wars put you on edge, limit how much of that you take in, when you read it or whose rants you read.

Personally, I think it’s time I took an extended Trump news break…for my own sanity.


On a somewhat funnier note, my newly-created Donald Trump avatar has already been banned from his first sim in Second Life: the hellfire and eternal torment experience run by the Demon’s Forest group. It would appear that even Hell doesn’t want Donald hanging around!

Donald Trump Banned 2 31 Oct 2018.png

Donald is wearing:

Mesh head and body: styling details can be found in this blogpost (the cheapest of the three options, total cost L$498)

Devil horns, tail, and pitchfork: free gift by ~T&S~ from the SL Marketplace. All items are copy and modify (I needed to adjust the horns to fit the mesh head properly).

Red hellfire steam rising from his feet: free gift from <SIC> from the SL Marketplace

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: L$498