Pandemic Diary: September 12th, 2020

It is now Day 181 since I started working in isolation from home for my university library system.

One hundred and eighty-one days since I last worked in my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries (although I have popped in once or twice to use the printer and pick up a few reports). One hundred and eighty-one days since I have set foot in a retail establishment of any kind (I order my groceries online at Walmart, and have them load everything into the back of my car, and I get my prescriptions delivered). One hundred and eight-one days since I ate a meal inside a restaurant (although I have dined outside on a restaurant patio five or six times this summer, something I soon will be unable to do with autumn fast approaching).

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I apologize for the lack of blogposts this week; I just haven’t felt much like writing “news and view about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse” lately.

Yesterday, game designer Jennifer Sheurle tweeted something that I could utterly relate to, as I near the six-month mark of working from home, lacking in external stimulation and close human contact:

She wrote:

Does anybody else feel like the quarantine has influenced their creative prowess negatively? I feel like my creative energy is at an all-time low with so little external stimuli, rarely going outside, seeing people…. It’s making me feel very sad.

Turns out for me, having time is not the main aspect of making creative things happen. If I have time but no external stimuli, travel, good conversations, food, etc… my creative energy takes a HUGE nosedive. Who knew.

In the office, I love doing brainstorming sessions with colleagues, lock ourselves in a room, whiteboard scribble things out, go for lunch to think and so on. I feel like all my creative strategies have lost all meaning.

Her tweet went viral, and was liked by almost 800 other people, dozens of whom commented that they, too, were struggling to find their creativity, zest, and joy in their work. I responded:

I can completely relate to this, and to many of the comments people have made here. The lack of external stimulation has pitched me into full-blown hibernation mode, and I am struggling just to keep my head above water at work, at a time when I have hard deadlines to meet.

And it’s true: I am struggling. I admit it. All of my energy is going towards work, and my productivity and creativity have been significantly impaired. I find myself sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours at a stretch, and I often feel exhausted, fighting to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I have gotten up, set the alarm to sleep another two hours, and gone back to bed, unable to face the challenges of the day without a little extra sleep. I am like a grumpy (gay) bear in hibernation mode.

I got myself a subscription to, and I find myself listening to soothing music all day, every day. And I keep working away, a vat of black coffee on constant standby. I was hoping that the official start of the academic year this week would help to kick-start my energy and motivation, but I still find myself pushing myself to get things done.

I don’t kid myself; I know that this is the “new normal”, and that things will likely stay this way for at least another six to twelve months, probably well into 2021. Even if good vaccines are found among the first batch that are currently being tested, it will take a long time to manufacture and deliver sufficient quantities to bring society back to some semblance of normality. Canada has already signed major deals with four vaccine producers, and I read in the news that they are close to signing other deals. The pandemic is going to make some people very, very rich and, as usual, the poor (and those without universal healthcare or health insurance) will be screwed.

This week, bowing to public pressure, the provincial health authorities have started breaking down COVID-19 cases by Winnipeg city neighbourhoods:

While the overall numbers are still low compared to many areas in the United States, we have still seen a recent surge in daily cases in Manitoba:

I vacillate between wanting to stay informed on the latest progress in the fight against COVID-19, glued to my newsfeed, and getting so disgusted and demoralized by how some thoughtless, selfish, ignorant people are responding to the crisis that I avoid the news media for days at a stretch. I still don’t have a TV set, but I am spending a lot of time binge watching various Netflix shows on my iPad.

My Valve Index is still on back order, and I don’t expect I will receive my shipment of a complete kit until November at the earliest. I am toying with the idea of throwing out the worn, old sofa in my living room, and completely rearranging the space to set up (for the first time ever) a full-room space devoted to virtual reality. We’ll see.

Stay healthy and stay sane! I will continue to keep you posted on how things are going with me.

Pandemic Diary: April 7th, 2020 (AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!)

Today has not gotten off to a good start.

I have type II diabetes, a condition related to my obesity, and recently I switched from a lancet and digital blood sugar monitor to the FreeStyle LibreLink app on my iPhone, which has the advantage that I can check my blood sugar as many times during the day as I want.

The system requires that I apply a blood sugar sensor (with a fairly large needle) into my upper arm, which I then activate and scan using my iPhone. I have to change the sensor every two weeks. When the system works, it works well.

But the sensors are expensive as hell (I still have to look into whether my health insurance covers them and how to apply for it), and out of the last five sensors I have used, only three have worked until the end of the two-week period. The sensors are applied using a fairly strong adhesive, but after one night of restless sleep (a frustratingly common occurrence lately), it detached and I actually bent the needle, making it useless.

Well, this morning, my LibreLink app was giving me abnormally low blood sugar readings, and to boot, the spot where I had attached it was painful. I tested my blood sugar using the old method, and there was a clear mismatch. Between the pain and the misreadings, I tore it off in disgust and threw it into the trash. Another very expensive sensor bites the dust. Looks like I will be pricking my fingers for the next couple of weeks.

To top it off, my brief perusal of this morning’s Google News website brought forth the following distressing articles:

Zubrin says it’s just a matter of time before others are facing the same decision she and her sister had to make. 

“Everyone is really tight with finances right now. They’re being laid off, there’s no money, they’re going to be keeping every dime they possibly can. Even though let’s say six months down, the road everything’s been lifted and everything’s fine, and they want to do shopping, they still have how many months worth to catch up,” she said.

“They’re not going to go shop, shop, shop, so us little small businesses, we’re not going to survive. We’re not.”

It would appear that the coronavirus pandemic is going to spark, at the very least, a major global recession, possibly even another Great Depression. Oh, joy. I may land up working to age 65 after all.

Wade Kidd of Winnipeg

Kidd’s family said he started experiencing flu-like symptoms on March 18. After contacting health officials, Kidd self-isolated in his home.

“He stayed at home until he was feeling so unwell that we knew he needed help. He was admitted to hospital on March 27, where his condition quickly deteriorated,” his family said.

Kidd died on April 2. His family said he was a loving husband, father and grandfather.

“He was going to be 55 in May, and had a love of life,” the family said. “Wade should be remembered for the amazing man he was, not for how he died. He was humble and unassuming in his life and would not know what to do with all this attention. He was a steady ship in a crazy storm, and now he is gone.”

Kidd’s family said he lived a healthy active life, though he did have some underlying health conditions.

Now, I don’t know what underlying health conditions Mr. Kidd had, but he was two years younger than I am, and I most certainly do NOT live “a healthy, active life”. Between my obesity, my hypertension, my asthma, and my type II diabetes, I am a sitting duck if I catch this coronavirus. I might well be stuck in my small apartment for the duration of the pandemic, creeping out wearing a respirator mask, eye protection, and surgical gloves, truly safe only when I can receive a vaccine, which is likely 12 to 18 months away, at best. AT BEST.

So, yes, I am in an absolutely foul mood today. (That’s MISTER Crankypants to you, buster.) You are all hereby forwarned. I will probably step well away from the blogging keyboard today, lest I vent that anger into a blogpost directed at somebody, or some social VR platform or virtual world that really doesn’t deserve it (as evidenced here, here, and especially here).

I’ll return when I am in a better mood.

UPDATE 12:59 p.m.: Well, things are going rapidly downhill.

I have spent the last hour and half on the phone with technical support for the FreeStyle LibreLink system, because when I replaced the old sensor with a second, new one, my iPhone app wouldn’t scan it, and worse, my iPhone app still thinks I have two weeks left on the old sensor. There doesn’t seem to be any way to reset it unless I can actually scan the new sensor, which, after quite the lengthy period of trial and error, the technical support person thinks is probably defective. So they are mailing me two replacement sensors: one to replace the old one, and one to replace the new one. She tells me they should arrive in three to five days to my mailbox.

And I’m still not sure, if I open my last remaining sensor box, whether or not it will work with the FreeStyle LibreLink app (which apparently still thinks that it has 14 days left on the old sensor).

Oh, and another thing: I forgot my password for the whole goddamn system, and the technical support person had to talk me through a password reset via their website, which (thankfully) worked. So, at least I can now uninstall, then reinstall this fucking app from scratch, to make sure that it will work with my last sensor. All my blood sugar data should be stored “in the cloud”, so I should be okay. (Should be.)

What a fucking circus. I feel as if I am beta-testing this goddamn thing.

Oh, and on top of all that, WordPress had a temporary system outage, and it wouldn’t let me edit this blogpost, even when I entered my correct username and password. So I’m like, this, right now:

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

The only ray of light in this whole fucking day so far is that my best friend FaceTimed me to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store (since I haven’t gone out shopping since March 16th). He’s already picking up groceries for himself, and some breakfast supplies for his mother, who lives in an assisted-living home, so a few extra items wouldn’t be a big deal for him.

I begged him to pick up a couple of loaves of bread: real, actual, store-bought multigrain bread. I went through my entire supply a week and a half ago, and I haven’t yet been brave enough to attempt to bake my own bread (even though I have all the ingredients on hand). I expect he will be dropping them off on front doorstep later today, as I wave at him through the living room window of my apartment.

I was so grateful I almost cried. I even told him I would name my first-born child after him. (He knows that’s never gonna happen. I know that’s never gonna happen. EVERYBODY WHO KNOWS ME, knows that’s NEVER gonna happen.)

Jesus-fucking-Christ-tapdancing-on-a-cracker, what a day. I need to go lie down now. I honestly don’t think I can handle anything else going wrong today.

Prairie Voices: Ilus Ta Ei Ole

Sign on a Winnipeg Transit bus (source)

As I have written before, Winnipeg is a very special place with its own quirky charm and unique sense of humour. Frankly, I can’t think of any other place I would rather be during a pandemic lockdown.

Because of its relative isolation compared to other cities, Winnipeggers have developed many home-grown arts, cultural, and entertainment events and institutions. For example, the city is home to a large number of community choirs and choruses. (For ten years, I sang tenor with The Rainbow Harmony Project, Winnipeg’s LGBTQ2* Chorus, a time I remember fondly.)

Another well-known Winnipeg community chorus is Prairie Voices, a choir of 18- to 25-year-olds, which released the following music video on YouTube with the preface:

Like so many in the music community, we had to cancel our concert on March 14th, 2020. It was heart breaking. So we decided to channel that heartbreak into creating this video.

This is “Ilus Ta Ei Ole” (“It is not beautiful”) by Pärt Uusberg.

The text begins by describing things that seem ordinary and mundane. But it ends with the realization that all those same things, when put together, are actually extraordinary and beautiful.

We’ve seen this exact same thing happen with the COVID-19 pandemic: humanity is coming together with each of us doing our own small part to keep each other safe and well.

As individuals, we can only achieve so much, but together we can achieve anything.

Together, we can create beauty.

The conductor sent out a video of himself conducting the piece. The choristers recorded themselves on their phones singing their parts. The recordings and videos were compiled together and edited into this incredible video by two members of the choir.

I hope this slow-building, beautiful piece—and the way this video was constructed—inspires you as much as it inspired me tonight, at the end of a stressful, anxious day.

UPDATED! SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update: March 12th, 2020: Coronavirus Comes to Manitoba

And, of course, not even 24 hours after my last update, where I reported that a coronavirus case in Minot, North Dakota, was the closest to me

Local blog, Global News, and CTV News have all reported this morning on the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Winnipeg, which is Manitoba’s capital and biggest city. This presumptive test result needs to be confirmed by Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, which is also located in Winnipeg. The National Microbiology Lab is among a few dozen in the world that can handle Level 4 pathogens, requiring the highest level of biosecurity.

CTV News reported:

The province has confirmed the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

The case was confirmed at a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday morning with Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Friesen said the patient is a woman in her 40s from the Winnipeg region who recently travelled to the Philippines. She is recovering at home and is in stable condition. She had been back in Canada for a few days before the positive test, and arrived at the hospital with a face mask.

The health minister added that two community screening centres will open in Winnipeg on Thursday to screen people for COVID-19.

Roussin recommended that Manitobans practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, minimize contact while in public and disinfect all surfaces.

“Fear and panic is not going to help us,” he said.

Roussin also recommended that businesses cancel all non-essential travel outside of Manitoba and that schools increase desk space between students.

Shared Health said COVID-19 testing is for symptomatic people only. Patients are encouraged to contact Health Links before going to any facility, and self-isolate while waiting for results. People without symptoms should not go to health centres and unless absolutely necessary.

The province was told about the presumptive case Thursday morning. It is tracing who the patient has been in contact with.

I won’t be reporting on any other coronavirus news today, but I just wanted to let people know that it’s here now, too. The waiting is over.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: And this evening, Manitoba reported its second and third presumptive cases of COVID-19, both in Winnipeg.

UPDATE March 18th, 2020: If you are looking for all the Manitoba provincial government’s information about COVID-19, click here.