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!

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, November 24th, 2020: The Dam Bursts

I first noticed the wet patch in the carpet next to my bed earlier this evening. Thinking that I must have tracked water in from the bathroom or kitchen from wet slippers, I applied a towel to sop up the water. Then a second towel, after which I observed, to my horror, that the water was actually seeping up from UNDERNEATH the carpet!

That was when I opened the door to my interior storage closet, to see a pool of water underneath my hot water heater. After hastily moving some boxes to dry land, I called the emergency number of my apartment complex. 

And so it is that, as of 10:08 p.m. this evening, I am firmly ensconced on my sofa, surrounded by piles of my pandemic preps, wearing an N95 mask, and typing this blogpost entry into my iPad, while a plumber (similarly masked) works to remove my busted hot water heater and replace it with a new one, tasks which he tells me will take an hour or two. (He tells me I’m lucky my water valve didn’t break; otherwise he would have had to shut the water off to the entire apartment building.)

But I am not feeling particularly lucky. That rested feeling I had after my staycation evaporated today, only my second day back at work, and even before the dam burst in my apartment, I had been feeling unwell, anxious, and depressed. I took the afternoon off sick, went back to bed, and slept until 9:00 p.m., when I woke to discover I had other problems.

I am feeling exhausted, afraid, and angry that despite essentially making myself a prisoner in my own apartment as the pandemic crisis goes from bad to worse, that this has happened, and that this puts me at risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection from another person, the plumber who is now invading my personal space, my man cave, my safe place. He is the first person I have let inside my apartment since mid-March, when I started working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. 

(Hang on a minute…the plumber’s welding just set off my smoke alarm.)

I am NOT a happy camper. 

UPDATE 11:32 p.m.: After the plumber packed up his things and left, I pulled out my Clorox wipes and disinfected anything and everything he touched (my water taps, my smoke alarm, my circuit breaker box, all my door handles, etc.). Unfortunately, he and I have been within 6 feet/2 metres of one another; my apartment is so small and so cluttered that it was unavoidable at certain points. I have been liberally applying hand sanitizer to my hands throughout, in an overabundance of caution.

After he left, I opened the patio door of my bedroom and a window in my living room, put my parka on, and let the cold air circulate through my apartment, just to be on the safe side. I laid down several towels in succession to sop up the water in my bedroom carpet.

As I was stamping down the final towel, I looked up, and saw a deer—an antlered young buck—staring at me through my open patio door. I stopped, and we stared at each other silently for a full minute, until he turned and wandered away. (He left before I could grab my cellphone to take a picture.)

This is not an unusual occurrence; I live close to wooded areas they frequent, and I have sometimes seen a wayward buck or doe in in the vicinity of my apartment, or during my pre-pandemic evening commute from work, usually in the late evening or early night.

But I took it as an omen. Whether a good omen or a bad one, I cannot yet say.