UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, May 22nd, 2021: Cruel Summer

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Today is officially Day 433 since I began working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. The Victoria Day long weekend marks the beginning of summer up here in Winnipeg, but I am not in a summery mood at all.

Both Winnipeg’s mayor, Brian Bowman, and Manitoba’s premier, Brian Pallister, have called upon the Canadian federal government to send healthcare workers and contact tracers to cope with the worst situation we have been in since the pandemic started (even worse, they are squabbling with each other). This past week, Manitoba has broken records for both the number of those infected with COVID-19 and for those who are in intensive care in hospital. In fact, the circumstances are now so bad that we have begun to ship patients next door to cities in northwestern Ontario and even as far afield as Ottawa (and they are still having troubles of their own in Ontario). Things are pretty fucked up here right now.

The entire province is essentially on lockdown, and I am in a black, despairing mood, stuck in my apartment. The province even sent out an emergency warning to everybody’s cellphones last night (usually only used for child abductions), to sternly warn people to stay home and only go out for essentials. (I would have normally saved it and pasted it into this blogpost for posterity, but why bother?)

I have gone 15 months without a hug, or being in close proximity to anybody but a doctor. I cannot get a straight answer from anyone as to when I can get my second shot of COVID-19 vaccine, or even what brand I will get (my first shot was Oxford/AstraZeneca, but I could receive Moderna or Pfizer for my second shot, or maybe not?). I am losing my psychiatrist, and it is unlikely that I will be able to find a new one who can take me on as a patient. I am angry and tired and just plain FED. UP.

So forgive me if I use this blog, normally about social VR, to vent. This is turning into a cruel summer. I leave you with the following tweet, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

I only want to see one more [Brian] Pallister press conference. At it he will:

1. Ask for forgiveness from Manitobans for the incompetent performance of his government, resulting in far too many avoidable COVID-19 deaths;

2. resign;

3. instruct his successor not to repeat his mistakes.

UPDATE May 23rd, 2021: Today CBC News reported:

When Premier Brian Pallister says Manitobans are living through the darkest days of the pandemic, there are plenty of measures to back that up.

For starters, there are more COVID-19 infections in this province than ever before. On Saturday, the seven-day average daily case count rose to 482, a new pandemic record.

That works out to a daily infection rate of 34.3 new COVID cases each day for every 100,000 people, the highest infection rate among Canadian provinces and U.S. states. Alberta is a distant second, with 20.6.

New infections today lead to more hospitalizations down the road. During this third wave of the pandemic, a greater proportion of COVID hospital patients require intensive care.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba ICUs hit a record 80 earlier this week and is technically higher now. There were 74 COVID-19 patients in Manitoba ICUs on Saturday and seven more Manitoba patients in Ontario hospitals, some now located as far away as Ottawa.

In living memory, Manitoba has never had to ship ICU patients out of province simply to relieve the pressure on hospitals that are now struggling to deliver basic care. Hence Pallister’s request on Friday for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to send Manitoba nurses and respiratory therapists.

As well, Winnipeg’s five-day test positivity rate reached a new pandemic record of 16.8 per cent Saturday.

In its analysis, the CBC lays the blame for this situation firmly at Brian Pallister’s feet:

Sadly, Manitoba can not vaccinate its way out of an immediate hospital crisis. The time for long-term solutions ended in early April, when COVID-19 cases in this province began an exponential rise.

When the top priority in this province would appear to be staunching the spread of COVID-19 in Winnipeg, the epicentre of the pandemic, non-essential businesses remain open, office workplaces are not compelled to allow their employees to work from home and manufacturers are not taking a break to give the alleged circuit breaker more teeth.

Only the province could order such measures, which were implemented in part during an April 2020 first wave that turned to be a ripple in Manitoba.

Instead, the province has opted against the most effective measures at its disposal during its greatest time of need.

…Manitoba’s premier is throwing shade at a U.S. president — and asking the Canadian prime minister for help — while this province declines to do everything it could to combat a third wave that’s been gaining momentum for eight weeks.

There were many voices calling for a short, sharp lockdown weeks ago, calls which Brian Pallister and his ministers ignored. And yet he has the gall to suggest that it is Manitobans themselves who are to blame. Countless Manitobans have become sick, and some have died, due to Brian Pallister’s ineptitude.

I am absolutely incandescent with anger this weekend, walled within my apartment to protect my health and safety as one in six Manitobans tests positive for COVID-19. The next few weeks are going to be ugly, and much of it could have been avoided if we had had a truly effective, proactive, competent provincial government.

And I vow that, if I should survive this pandemic unscathed, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the opposition wins the next Manitoba election. Enough is enough.

Pandemic Diary: January 23rd, 2021: Happy Birthday to Me

My brother called me this morning at 9:00 a.m.. I had slept in, and he left a message for me to call him. When I did get up later this morning, I saw that he had called, and since he telephones me so infrequently (we usually text), my first thought is that it was an emergency, and I called him back.

Only to have him wish me a happy birthday! I had completely forgotten that today is my 57th birthday!! I told him on the phone, as we shared a good laugh, that every day is so much like every other day while I have been working from home in self-isolation for my university library system during the pandemic. All my days tend to run together!

As a birthday present, the Manitoba government has slightly lifted a few restrictions in our province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, which has been in place since early November.

Each household can now have a maximum of two external visitors (and no, they can’t be two different people every time; it has to be the same two people). And stores selling non-essential items (books, clothing, consumer electronics, etc.) can now reopen, provided they operate at 25% of their normal store capacity and practice social distancing, face masking, etc.

The timing is perfect, as my trusty iPad 2 has finally bit the dust. I had used it almost every day for the past ten years; the thing was built like a tank! I often would use it to watch Netflix movies or TV, while lying on my sofa in the evenings.

There is a (single) Apple store way up here in the frozen prairie hinterlands of Winnipeg, but I may opt to do my shopping online instead, as I did for my Valve Index. I really don’t feel comfortable walking into any shopping mall right now, even with a face mask and practicing social distancing.

Canada is experiencing delays in vaccine production and delivery, and I am becoming extremely worried about all the new coronavirus variants popping up in the U.K., South Africa, and many other places. It is possible that many vaccines and vaccine candidates will have to be rejigged to handle at least some of these mutations of the virus. The very thought makes me anxious. We are not out of the woods yet! A Manitoba doctor tweeted the following disheartening update yesterday:

Oh, and the Manitoba provincial government also announced that barbers and hair stylists were allowed to reopen, too, provided they adhere to the same restrictions as stores, plus take contact information on all their customers, in case any contact tracing is needed. My mother will be so happy; she has wanted to get her hair cut and styled!

So, next weekend, I will drive across the city to pay a socially-distanced visit to my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo, and we will finally exchange our Christmas presents, a month late! And I will receive my mom’s birthday present; I told her cash would be a perfectly acceptable gift! (I don’t want to set foot in a bank, or touch a germy ATM number pad, if I don’t have to, and having a little spending money in my wallet can come in handy at times.)

I am still struggling with depression and anxiety at times, but I am coping as best as I can. I hope that you are staying safe and healthy!

Pandemic Diary, December 13th, 2020: When Life Gives You Bananas, Make Banana Bread

It is officially Day 273 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for the University of Manitoba Libraries.

Here in Manitoba, we are seeing widespread community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The 5-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is stubbornly hovering around 13 to 14 percent, 25 days into a province-wide, code red pandemic lockdown. In the past couple of weeks, I have only left my apartment to throw out the garbage in the nearest dumpster (although I should put on a face mask and go for a few socially distanced walks in my neighbourhood near the University of Manitoba).

While I am hunkered down in my messy man cave, I am routinely horrified by local news reports and social media. Local Winnipeg news website ChrisD.ca shared the following video via Twitter, showing the crowds lined up at the Regent Avenue Costco on Friday:

Sweet minty Jesus, Winnipeg is doomed!! We’re not going to see the test positivity rate go down if people keep doing stuff like this. And what the hell happened to the one-person-per-Costco-card rule they were supposed to be enforcing? I see a lot of families here.

I haven’t set foot in a Costco (or for that matter, any retail establishment, except my local drug store to get my flu shot) since mid-March. Shoppers Drug Mart delivers my prescription medications for free, and I recently learned from a coworker in a Zoom meeting that they will now deliver non-prescription items as well.

I shop online for my groceries on the Walmart website, then book an appointment for grocery pickup. Wearing a face mask, I drive into one of the designated parking spots at the back of the store, get out of my car, and stand a safe distance away while a sales associate loads up my car, then drive away, liberally applying hand sanitizer just in case I picked anything nasty up.

I indicated in my most recent Walmart order that I would consider substitutions for items which were out of stock. Most of the time, these substitutions are pretty minor: one brand of chicken rice soup for another, canned pineapple rings instead of crushed pineapple (which I mix with plain, fat-free yogurt for a Weight Watchers-approved snack, even though my dieting went completely out the window when the pandemic started).

But the last time I picked up my grocery order from Walmart, they were out of strawberries, so I received…two bunches of bananas. Now, bananas are not my favourite fruit, but I ate a few, and sliced up a couple to mix with my bran flakes.

But I now still have one bunch of overly ripe bananas, so I am Googling banana bread recipes (I had stocked up on flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients in my pandemic shopping before I began working from home for my university library system on March 16th, 2020). To rephrase the popular saying, when life gives you bananas, make banana bread.

When life gives you bananas, make banana bread…

So, how am I doing? I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I do have supports in place (antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, biweekly cellphone chats with my psychiatrist, weekly sessions with Kira). I am also beta-testing a social VR group therapy platform*, so instead of getting into my car, I slip on my VR headset and talk about my problems with other people in a small group. I have found it to be just as effective as a real-life therapy session. Lack of physical exercise aside, I am taking pretty good care of myself, and coping as best I can.

I have to keep reminding myself that these are not normal circumstances, and that it’s OK to feel anxious, depressed, sad, upset and angry at times. I am currently going through the worst bout of insomnia I have ever experienced in my life. After three nights of fitful sleep, I was such a wreck that I actually took a sick day from work last week, and spent the day in bed, trying to catch up on some Z’s.

I am currently struggling with the worst insomnia in my life, and every morning I wake up feeling tired (photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash)

Most mornings, I start my day by writing up a blogpost (like this one). It does give me a small sense of accomplishment, and its helps get my neurons firing again after a restless night’s sleep. I just brew a big pot of black coffee, plunk myself down in front of my computer, open up WordPress, and start typing away!

And yes, I know that I have been neglecting other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and writing almost exclusively about Second Life lately. I make no apologies for that; SL is one of the things that is helping me stay sane during the pandemic. To a large extent, socializing in social VR and virtual worlds has replaced potentially life-threating socializing in the real world.

And, during an unseasonably warm and unusually snow-free December here in Winnipeg, I am truly appreciating my visits to the various Christmas sims in Second Life, such as the beautiful, peaceful ‘Tis The Season sim (SLURL), complete with gently falling snow and tiny, twinkling lights on the trees:

‘Tis The Season Christmas sim in Second Life

Bray’s Place has become my community of choice in Second Life, and recently, I actually gave up my Linden Home (well, OK, one of my Linden Homes**… 😉 ) and moved into a rented home on the Bray’s Place sim, something I thought I would never do. But Bray’s has become an important community to me, and I intend to support Bray Preston-Rising and her work as much as I can, in any way that I can.

Bray’s Place Blues Club in Second Life

Stay safe, and stay healthy!


*Because this is a closed, invitation-only beta test, I am not allowed to name the platform or talk about it in any way other than in the most general terms. Those of you who are social VR aficionados may be able to make an educated guess, which I unfortunately will be unable to confirm or deny. When they are ready, and give me permission, I will blog about it.

**I have three Premium Second Life accounts at present and (until last week), a Linden Home for each. I used to have only two, but I upgraded one account from Basic to Premium to change that avatar’s name, and to snap up one of the lovely new Victorian Linden Homes, which I have yet to decorate! I’m saving that particular task as one of my Christmas projects. After setting up my newly rented house on the Bray’s Place sim, I have discovered a hitherto hidden talent for virtual home decorating! It makes a refreshing change from my usual passion of shopping for fabulous freebies and styling my small army of alts.

Pandemic Diary, November 29th, 2020: How People’s Ignorance, Stupidity and Hatred Are Making the Pandemic Much, Much Worse

I watched this video of today’s anti-mask protest in Calgary today, with hundreds of people in attendance, and have to say it: I no longer recognize my country.

Add to the mix reports that Good Friday sales brought out floods of shoppers to Calgary’s shopping malls (a worker at Chinook Mall posted a video of the crowds to her Twitter feed). CBC News reported:

Despite new provincial restrictions introduced this week, large crowds descended on Chinook Centre during Black Friday sales — and Calgary police say a couple of instances quickly got out of control.

Multiple fights broke out Friday evening, police confirmed, and officers escorted a “whole bunch” of unruly patrons out of the facility. No charges were laid.

At this point, Calgary police Staff Sgt. Mike Calhoun said the emphasis remains on education rather than enforcement — but that could change.

“We’re starting on giving warnings,” Calhoun said. “If we’re starting to see [people] not complying, we’ll move to enforcement.”

I predict that Alberta, which broke new records today in COVID-19 diagnoses, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions, is going to see a further COVID-19 surge that will overwhelm hospitals and healthcare systems, in the next 2 to 3 weeks.

Meanwhile, here in Manitoba, Winnipeg police and the RCMP are having their hands full dealing with churches who are willfully disobeying the province-wide pandemic lockdown, which includes a ban on in-person religious gatherings. The Winnipeg Free reported that Manitoba’s largest church was among them:

Winnipeg’s Springs Church is the latest congregation flouting public health orders aimed at protecting Manitobans to lower the number of daily cases of COVID-19.

The largest church in the province held a drive-in service in its parking lot on Lagimodiere Boulevard just north of Fermor Boulevard on Saturday night with plans to hold three more on Sunday.

All four services will be in violation of the province’s public health restrictions for gatherings. Along with ordering the cancellation of all religious gatherings, saying services have to be conducted only virtually, the province has also restricted both indoor and outdoor gatherings to five people.

South-east of the city in the Manitoba Bible Belt town of Steinbach, the RCMP moved in block people from attending services at the Church of God Restoration, which has already been slapped with several fines. Global News reported:

Manitoba RCMP blocked the parking lot of a church that was trying to host a service Sunday.

Global News reporters on the scene heard RCMP officers telling people if they walk into the parking lot toward the Church of God Restoration, which is south of Steinbach they will be fined.

There were about 150 or so cars lined up down the road outside the church with people sitting in their cars.

There are at least 10 RCMP cars with officers walking in the area.

The province banned all faith-based gatherings as part of the level red pandemic restrictions put in place on Nov. 12 while COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the province.

The Southern Health Region, where the church is located, had 1,126 active novel coronavirus cases Saturday — 1,885 people have recovered since the virus reached the province, while 56 have died.

As of Saturday, 76 were in hospital.

Steinbach as recently as two weeks ago, had a test positivity rate of 40 per cent.

Scott Billeck, a local reporter for the Winnipeg Sun newspaper, shared on Twitter an example of the hate mail and death threats he says he now receives on a regular basis, simply for reporting the news about the coronavirus pandemic in Manitoba:

And, in the CanadaCoronavirus community on Reddit, somebody from Toronto shared a flyer he had received, that is filled with so much misinformation, disinformation, and crackpot conspiracy theories, that it boggles the mind:

Wikipedia’s entry on the Plandemic “documentary” cited in this handout states:

Plandemic refers to a pair of 2020 conspiracy theory videos produced by conspiracist Mikki Willis which promote falsehoods and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. They feature Judy Mikovits, a discredited former researcher who has been described as an anti-vaccine activist despite her denial, and many others.

The first video became viral, making it one of the most widespread pieces of COVID-19 misinformation. It was soon removed by multiple platforms.

Snopes.com, the internet’s definitive fact-checking website, has debunked a collection of Plandemic-related claims here. The Conversation website published an article titled Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking, which outlines seven distinctive traits of conspiratorial thinking; the Plandemic “documentary” offers textbook examples of all seven.

The seven traits of conspiratorial thinking. John Cook, CC BY-ND image (source article)

People’s hatred, ignorance, and stupidity are making the coronavirus pandemic worse—and it’s not just happening in the United States! All of the examples I share with you in this blogpost happened in Canada. The Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments have not politicized the pandemic as Republicans and Trump supporters did in the U.S., and most governments have worked according to the science-based recommendations made by the doctors and infectious disease experts advising them. However, all levels of government are now fighting an uphill battle to beat back the veritable tsunami of ignorant misinformation (and deliberately-planted disinformation) that has taken hold of our social media.

I am deeply worried that, over the next four to six weeks, we are going to see an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths that will bring our hospitals and healthcare systems, here and all across North Aamerica, to the breaking point.


And late yesterday evening, I received the first news that someone I follow on Twitter has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is now in hospital:

GermanRifter is a VR enthusiast whom I follow on Twitter for his posts; he lives in Stuttgart, Germany. I don’t know him personally, but this lit a fire under me to start work on a document outlining my requests and wishes in the event of my death (COVID-19 or otherwise). I am already working with a lawyer who is drawing up a will, a financial power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney. I have already begun writing up a document and making arrangements with six key contact people, who will know what to do with my blog and my virtual possessions in the event I become incapacitated, or (God forbid) die.

I have even gone so far as to issue a updated call for people who would like to inherit one of my Second Life avatars via my will! (Twenty of them are now spoken for, but I still have many that I would like to give good homes to in the event of my death. It would give me great pleasure to know that my avatars will live on after me!)

The COVID-19 pandemic (being made worse by people’s hateful, ignorant, and stupid behaviour) is forcing all of us to confront our mortality, and to plan ahead for worst case scenarios.

Stay healthy and stay sane in these trying times—and fight the misinformation and conspiracy theories wherever you encounter them!