Pandemic Diary, September 13th, 2021: Back to School—Welcome to the New Normal

Today, for the first time in several weeks, I am working from my office in the science library. Our library opened September 7th, 2021 to students, faculty, staff, and the public, offering individual study space only (no access to the print collection on the upper floors). Everybody still has to wear a 3-ply facemask and comply with social distancing regulations, although I can take off my facemask when I am in my own office with the door closed.

On August 19th, 2021 the University of Manitoba announced that all faculty, staff, students, and even visitors to campus will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Individuals aged 12 and over are required to have their first dose by September 22nd, 2021 and their second dose by the end of October 2021. It’s not clear what penalties those who refuse to get vaccinated will face; they might be required to undergo weekly testing, or they may be barred from classes (in Manitoba we have implemented a proof of vaccine immunization system, both a cellphone app and a plastic card). Access to restaurants and other public spaces has been restricted to vaccinated people only.

Over the next few weeks, instead of standing in front of a classroom of students to give presentations on how to use the University of Manitoba Libraries effectively and efficiently, I will once again be delivering my slides online and remotely, via Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, or Zoom, either from home or my office. (I am going to have to schlepp my portable webcam and my microphone headset between locations.)

I spent an EXTREMELY frustrating hour and half this morning trying—in vain—to get the microphone on my work computer to work, going through two different webcams (my own and a colleague’s) plus my microphone headset. Nothing worked. Finally in desperation I rebooted my computer, and finally it worked! If it hadn’t, I would have had to drive back home and do today’s training session for some food science students from home instead of the office.

Welcome to the new normal, folks.

The good news is that nearly 80% off Manitobans are fully vaccinated:

The bad news is that there are pockets (mostly within Manitoba’s Mennonite Bible belt) where vaccine uptake remains stubbornly low. Some Low German Mennonites have even moved from Canada back to Mexico and Central America, just to avoid vaccination! (Winnipeg Free Press; the website has a paywall, so here is an archived version of the article).

Even worse, anti-vaccine protestors at hospitals in Winnipeg and across Canada are impeding access to healthcare services. I have completely lost all patience with these people, and I sincerely hope that the Winnipeg Police Service arrests and charges these COVIDiots. ENOUGH ALREADY. I am so angry.

Because I am so busy with training requests this September, my pace of blogging will slow a little bit this month (I will try to blog in the evenings and on weekends, but no promises!). Stay safe, stay healthy, and GET VACCINATED if you have not already done so.

person getting vaccinated
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

My Presentation on Social VR in Higher Education

My half-hour presentation on virtual reality in higher education (with an emphasis on social VR), which I gave to my university’s Senate Committee on Academic Computing, was well received. As promised, here is a copy of my PowerPoint slides from yesterday’s presentation (60 slides, 191MB in size; it’s so large because I included a number of animated GIFs). I would have liked to embed my slides into this blogpost, but the various ways I tried unfortunately failed to work. You will have to download the slides and run them on your own computer!

Some of the examples I used in this presentation (and, in particular, the Barriers and Challenges section) I took from a new report by the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN), their State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report 2021. I’d like to thank the writers of this 90-page report for their work! They made my job much easier.

I had been sorely tempted to set this so that you had to join my Patreon in order to get it, which would have cost you at least $1.00, but in the end I decided that it would be seen by more people if I made it free to download. However, I do reserve the right at a future point to start doing this for some of my content! From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank my Patreon patrons; their support means the world to me! I am going to rack my brains to see if I can come up with new perks for you!

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.