Pandemic Diary, November 21st, 2020: Foreigner, Pebbles Flintstone, and Worn-Out Can Openers

I have learned, over the years, that my subconscious sends me messages through song lyrics. At that precise moment when I become aware that I have a particular song running through my head, the lyrics usually have some sort of meaning—something that I’m not consciously thinking about, but which my subconscious is trying to tell me.

For example, this morning (feeling distinctly unrested after a fitful, disturbed sleep filled with nightmarish dreams), I was thinking about the fact that I have not had a dental checkup or cleaning since the pandemic started. And at that very moment, I became aware of that the Foreigner song, Cold As Ice, was running through my head. And, at the exact moment that I became aware that that song was playing in my memory, the lyrics were:

Some day you’ll pay…

—Foreigner, Cold As Ice

Sometimes, I have to spend a little time puzzling out what my subconscious is trying to tell me, but not today! It’s rare that I get such a clear internal message, but it does happen.

Of course, I have recently been listening non-stop to the Spa music stream on CalmRadio.com. Ironically, I first learned the existence of Calm Radio when it was playing as the background music stream in a Second Life store, while I was busy doing a little virtual retail therapy! It was so soothing (even the commercials were soothing!), that I purchased a subscription when the pandemic started, an additional tool in my anti-anxiety arsenal.

And, of course, I now become aware at times that I have an instrumental song from Calm Radio’s spa channel running through my head—but alas, there are no lyrics to puzzle over to figure out what it means, though! When it does happen, I usually take it as a signal from my subconscious that I am feeling stressed out, and that I need to listen to more Calm Radio, or do something else to seek some inner peace.

Along with dentist appointments, I have also cancelled regular sessions with my hairstylist. My hair is now at an irritating middle ground: long enough that my bangs hand over my eyes at times and even touch my nose, yet still too short for a proper ponytail or man bun!

So, among my online purchases from Walmart, I ordered a set of two plastic headbands, which will at least keep my hair back and out of the way in the interim. I may yet decide to attend my next virtual work meeting in Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, or Zoom rocking a Pebbles Flintstone look!

I have now worn out not one, but two manual can openers since the pandemic started. It is now a frustrating struggle to get a can of soup open for supper, spending several minutes going back and forth between the two worn-out, dull can openers, trying to get a tin open! I ordered two replacement can openers in my last grocery pick-up trip to Walmart, but I still have to dig through the bags of groceries I unceremoniously dumped next to my kitchen table to find them. I did a cursory initial search, but no joy. (I might have accidentally left them in my car, or perhaps Walmart screwed up my order. If I cannot locate them today, after unpacking all my groceries properly, I will place an order for replacement can openers via Amazon, and make do with what I have until they arrive via Canada Post.)

Oh, and I am not going on strike this year. The latest proposal from the university administration was approved in a ratification vote by members of the faculty union. Whew! So I have one less thing to worry about, at least.


Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic is going rapidly from bad to worse here in Manitoba, and all across Canada (except the Maritime provinces). The town of Steinbach, which last weekend held a now-infamous anti-mask rally which I blogged about here and here, has been especially hard hit. CBC News reported yesterday:

Manitoba health officials say there are 438 new COVID-19 cases Friday and listed nine more deaths, including a man in his 20s, bringing the provincial death toll to 207…the man in his 20s is the youngest person to die of the illness in Manitoba.

A record 281 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, with 43 of them in intensive care.

The 10-day test positivity rate in the Steinbach health district is at 40 per cent, and there have been 24 Steinbach deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, Roussin said.

Winnipeg’s test positivity is at 13.7 per cent.

“When you’re looking at something like 40 per cent … this is a very concerning number,” Roussin said.

With a population of just over 21,000, the Steinbach health district has among the most COVID-19 cases per capita in Canada.

In recent days, Roussin and the premier have both chastised the 100-plus people at a Steinbach protest against the provincewide code red restrictions on the weekend.

Protesters at the anti-mask rally in Steinbach last weekend (source: Austin Grabish/CBC)

Meanwhile, there was an arrest at an Alberta Costco, where a covidiot refused to wear a face mask. Another shopper captured it on their cellphone, and a second covidiot posted the video to YouTube, with the statement “Costco has gone full Nazi” in the video description.

One commenter tweeted this response to the arrest, expressing a sentiment to which I subscribe wholeheartedly:

It’s weird that the same people who want to be able to shoot trespassers on their farm property think that Costco stores shouldn’t have the right to tell people that they have to wear masks on Costco property. Pick a lane.

Stay healthy and stay sane!

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.

Pandemic Diary: November 14th, 2020

I saw this on my Twitter feed; so funny and so, SO true! (image source)

Today is official Day 244 since I began working from home in self-isolation for the University of Manitoba Libraries. I have attended a lot of virtual meetings in that time (mostly in Microsoft Teams, but also in Zoom and Cisco Webex) and I just howled with laughter at the image above, which appeared on my Twitter feed a couple of days ago. I need all the belly laughs I can get lately.

The latest news update from the province is grim: Another 15 Manitobans died today, a new record. The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 12.4 per cent provincially and 13.1 per cent in Winnipeg—the highest level yet. At Victoria General Hospital, just a stone’s throw from where I live, the outbreak has expanded to a new section of the hospital, and as of today, 42 patients and 38 staff there have tested positive for COVID-19.

And yet, unbelievably, there are still covidiots out there, who feel that their personal freedoms (and their rights to go shopping and to church) are being infringed upon with the current restrictions being placed upon Manitobans.

Yes, we have out anti-maskers here in Manitoba; in fact, there is an anti-mask rally taking place today in the Mennonite Bible Belt town of Steinbach, south-east of Winnipeg, where the local hospital is already so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that it is treating patients in their cars. The Winnipeg Free Press reports:

As anti-maskers were preparing to rally in Steinbach, the community’s hospital was reportedly being overrun with COVID-19 patients.

It became so hectic Friday, some patients were being triaged in their own private vehicles, because of a lack of space in the Bethesda Regional Health Centre emergency department, the Manitoba Nurses Union said.

CTV News reported on the anti-mask rally:

Hundreds of Manitobans gathered in Steinbach, Man. to protest COVID-19 restrictions implemented across the province, which led to at least one of the rally’s speakers being handed a $1,200 ticket for violating the very orders they were protesting.

On Saturday afternoon, an estimated 500 people gathered for a ‘Hugs over Masks’ car rally in Steinbach, a city that is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. According to provincial data, the Southern Manitoba city has 263 active cases and has reported 14 deaths – the highest number of any area in the Southern Health region.

Anti-mask rally held in the Mennonite Bible Belt town of Steinbach today (Source: CTV News/Danton Unger): no social distancing and not a face mask in sight
Another shot of the protesters at the anti-mask rally in Steinbach (source: Austin Grabish/CBC)

The situation here is starting to become surreal.

Oh yeah, and in the middle of all this, did I mention that I might be going on strike? The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (which represents 1,200 professors, instructors, and librarians) recently voted 80% in favour of strike action in an online poll.

Nigaan Sinclair, a First Nations professor at the University of Manitoba and the head of the Department of Native Studies, writes in an editorial in today’s Winnipeg Free Press:

Unless an agreement is reached between the University of Manitoba and its faculty association this weekend, the institution will face its third strike in history, on Monday.

As of Friday, negotiations were continuing with the help of a mediator: a hopeful sign. If talks break down, rotating picket lines, socially distanced rallies, honk-a-thons and online campaigns will begin Monday. It will be a strike like no other in Manitoba history.

Yet, faculty association members — instructors, librarians, and professors like me — don’t want a strike. Students definitely don’t want it, either. By all accounts, U of M administrators don’t want a strike.

No one wants this work stoppage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So why might it happen?

In the U of M’s 143-year history, strikes have happened twice — in 1995 and 2016. If it happens, this will be the second strike under Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government. So, this is all on Pallister.

Four years ago, the 23-day strike was held despite faculty and administration agreeing to a small pay increase and commitments to address workload and protect jobs. While the agreement was not perfect, it was enough to get the university running again.

But Pallister sabotaged the negotiations. He commanded the university to mislead the faculty association and withdraw salary increases. This resulted in the university negotiating in bad faith, originally offering a seven per cent pay increase over four years and then – almost overnight – offering two years of zero per cent, a 0.75 per cent increase and a one per cent increase over the last two. Without this, there would likely have been no strike.

Later, after Pallister’s interference came to light, the Manitoba Labour Board forced the university to pay faculty members $2.4 million in compensation.

So here we are, on the cusp of a strike no one wants, at the behest of a premier who seems dead set against the public sector.

Pallister wants to cut public-sector jobs, salaries, and working conditions, period. He’s using the pandemic as an excuse.

I was on sick leave/long term disability for the treatment of a serious clinical depression during the 2016 strike, but I vividly remember walking the picket lines for three weeks during the 1995 strike, at one of the entrances to the Fort Garry campus, in the middle of a bitterly cold Canadian prairie winter.

I am significantly overweight, and have asthma, type II diabetes, and hypertension, all of which put me at a high risk of a severe, possibly even fatal, reaction if I were to become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. I support a strike, but I will not be doing ANYTHING that will puts me at risk, and that includes walking on the picket line. If that means I do not receive strike pay, then so be it; I have sufficient savings to live off of for a month or two, if it comes to that.

We should know by Sunday night whether or not we are going on strike, so I just have to sit and wait.

Jesus Tapdancing Christ, what an absolute fucking mess.

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.