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

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.