In the summertime, the living is … uneasy…
“While physical distancing is important to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, we understand that spending days or weeks at home with limited stimulation and social contact can take a toll on your mental health.” — from GNWT’s Mandatory Self-isolation advice website.
Travelling across the centre of Canada over the past few weeks has been some strange days, indeed.
The Westjet aircraft are stuffed with travellers. We all had to wear masks and were handed a Clorox Wipes sheet as we entered. Food was provided in pre-packaged brown paper bags.
The Calgary Airport was very sparsely populated when I passed through late one Friday afternoon. No international planes on the tarmac. Plenty of closed shops and eateries. Everyone had to wear masks at all times. Except when eating — or drinking delicious Long Island Iced Teas, mmmm — at the one or two restaurants that were open (and were busy).
But in Winnipeg and Brandon — my old hometowns, where I spent some time visiting with old friends — life was pretty normal, save for some social distancing and plenty of hand-gel stations in bars, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. People appeared to be socially distancing, but living life.
Manitoba, with 643 total cases and eight deaths attributed to the virus as of Aug. 15, is in Restoring Services: Phase 4 (with a promoted hashtag of #COVIDCarefulMB).
That took effect on July 25. It is a far cry from the Relaxing Phase 2: Next Steps I left behind in the NWT. That came into effect June 12. The NWT has had only five confirmed COVID-19 cases, all recovered some time ago, with no community spread. A great accomplishment for a territory with long distances to travel, small communities with limited health services and a population with a demographic that could be severely hit by any wide outbreak.
But still not taking advantage of the practically closed border and the Covid-free bubble. It was so nice to enjoy a taste of almost normal life in Manitoba. And Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola — who has effectively assumed complete control over our elected officials — doesn’t appear ready to budge on her restrictions. In fact, the messaging now is to prepare for a second wave, which could be complicated by the return of the seasonal flu and the question: Is it flu, or is it COVID?
But I digress. I’m ruminating and grumbling as I obey the GNWT’s 14-day post-travel self-isolation order. It’s nearing the end and I have no symptoms. I understand the idea is that I could have the virus without symptoms, hence the need to act as if I was a carrier.
But I feel like a leper. A somewhat bored leper, who has taken to talking to his cats at an alarmingly conversant level.
Back to my vacay. Eschewing my usual taste for large trucks — yeah, I’m the guy with the red Hummer H2 SUT you see around Yellowknife — on my trip I rented a very sleek 2020 Audi A4 for transportation. What a road-hugging beauty it was. And I somehow avoided any speeding tickets.
Travelling into cottage country in Ontario, the only time I felt a little bit of COVID-19 concern was at a very busy touristy gas and convenience store just inside the Ontario border. With so many people from across the country inside the place — and very few face masks — I was very careful what I touched and did sanitize my hands after leaving.
Anyone following my journey on my Facebook page will know that I had an amazing vacation, hosted by my long-time friend and confidante, Melissa Ridgen. Yes, she’s the woman you see on the Winnipeg-based APTN National News. I first met her when she was a reporter at the Brandon Sun when I was hired as managing editor way back in 2004. When she left for Winnipeg after a few years, we remained friends.
Her partner is veteran CBC Winnipeg journalist Sean Kavanagh. So we had plenty of good journo industry talk over the time I was with them. Thanks for hosting me in Winnipeg’s St. James neighbourhood and on Trinity Island in Lake of the Woods. It was a great time.
I also had some good chats with some current and former members of the Brandon Sun staff on my excursion to the Wheat City. I had lunch with Sun editor Matt Goerzen, and drinks with former reporters Jillian Austin and Diane Nelson.
I had the opportunity over my decade as managing editor of that historic publication to have hired all three of them. I was cheered to learn while the Sun has suffered some cutbacks due to COVID-19, it is still a proud and respectable media outlet.
But now, back to the nuts and bolts of northern blogging.
I’ve had a bit of a psychological blog clog this summer. But now, for those who do follow me, I will return to my weekly or more frequent scribblings focussing on politics and public policy.
And in doing so, I am following the official suggestions from the GNWT on how to survive a period of self-isolation:
“While being at home or away from group supports may feel like a stressful, isolating time, it can also be an opportunity to do things differently or explore some activities you have been putting off because of being too busy.”
WHAT’S NEXT, A BEARD BAN?
After arriving home, it quickly became apparent our political leaders are still trying to out #CovidCrazy each other, in a style of unqualified and illogical fear I imagine was present during the Salem Witch Trials. COVID lurks around every corner, lives in every shadow.
From finding ways to scare kids when they return to school to forcing everyone to wear masks, we are being led down the proverbial garden trail. And I fail to see what is driving this insanity, given our existing situation in the NWT.
City council this week actually debated the pros and cons of mandatory mask wearing in indoor public spaces without speaking to the cons. Yup, aside from the fact that WE HAVE NO ACTIVE CASES AND NO COMMUNITY SPREAD, there are many studies that show that non-medical masks do very little to curb the spread of COVID-19. Unless one is wearing a properly fitted and maintained N95 mask — along with eye protection and even a face shield to shield themselves, which I saw a very few people actually wearing in the Calgary Airport — the cloth homemade masks and those neck gators being worn by some around town aren’t really doing anything.
Masks are considered to be a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. You want to know the best barrier? Your front door. If you are feeling sick, stay home. If you are suffering from a chronic illness or are elderly and could get sick, stay home as much as possible. This applies to the COVID-19 era or the regular flu season. If you are in a small community, you have the opportunity to restrict visitors and monitor closely those essential workers who do come in.
Obviously, I’m not a doctor. But I can read and learn. As a lifelong journalist, I have learned not to swallow the pablum dished out by government without giving it a taste-test first. A virus is so small, it floats in the air easily. It escapes through the tiniest cracks and openings — such as on a face with facial hair, which is extremely common with men in the North (what’s next, a beard ban?).
Sure, a cloth mask will stop a goober from being launched through the air onto a person a few feet away, but it won’t do much to stop COVID-19. What mask-wearing does accomplish is to make us all just a bit more miserable. And perhaps a bit more laissez-faire when it might come to social distancing and hand washing.
Protect the vulnerable. Don’t punish the healthy. Seems like good public policy to me. But not to some city councillors.
As reported by Cabin Radio, the city’s manager of legal services Kerry Penney, told council wearing masks is becoming increasingly important across Canada.
“It’s seen as a way that when people see a mask, it signals to them that they should be staying apart,” the lawyer said.
Cabin reported Penney told council that masks are a fairly inexpensive and non-invasive way to help the economy avoid complete lockdown and the practise has allowed some Canadian cities to increase capacity on public transit.
Who’s talking about a “complete lockdown” in the NWT?!
Penney told Yellowknife councillors they have five options when it comes to masks in the city. The only one that makes sense is to keep the status quo where masks are voluntary right now, but passing a bylaw if there’s an outbreak of COVID-19.
In fact, the entire issue should be left to the GNWT to manage; the city should keep its sticky paws off of public health matters. Private businesses — such as Walmart just did — can choose to require masks be worn by customers if they feel it’s beneficial to their business plans.
Councillors will discuss the issue further in coming days. Please contact a councillor to voice your opinions. (How is someone to determine which councillor to call? I hate the fact we don’t have a ward system. A blog topic for another day.)
I’ve just seen how other jurisdictions are progressively dealing with COVID-19 and how awfully regressive we are behaving in Yellowknife and the NWT.
The NWT’s overly restrictive ongoing measures — ignoring the reality inside our current COVID-free bubble, courtesy of our essentially closed border — isn’t just causing a potential increase of domestic violence, they are forcing all of us to have a lower quality of life, education and commerce for no good reason.
We shouldn’t be looking at tightening the rules, they should be relaxed. Any COVID cases that crop up can be dealt with as needed. If there is wide community spread, then we can return to tighter measures. But only then.
An effective vaccine could be many months away, likely developed in the United States or abroad. And when would it be ready for distribution in the North? We need to be smarter and more realistic about what we are doing here.
#COVIDCRAZY — AN EXAMPLE
When I’m not self-isolating after travel out of the territory, I cover the courts for Cabin Radio (Cabin reporter Emily Blake is doing an excellent job in the courtrooms in my absence).
The new COVID-19 safety procedures inside the city’s courthouse are an example of extreme overkill.
Here is the situation:
- One person at a time can enter the building’s vestibule, where you answer the standard COVID-19 screening quiz, have you temperature taken and are given a face mask. That’s fine. Well, except that my glasses fog up with each exhale as I’m trying to take notes. But that’s a me problem, I know.
- There are capacity limits for each floor and in each courtroom. There are only a few seats in each room available in the public gallery, this to enforce social distancing. Now, if you have already just stated you are not ill and haven’t travelled outside the territory — and have had your temperature taken and are wearing a face mask — this is an extra step that isn’t logically necessary, to my mind.
- But wait, tall plexiglass screens have been installed (at some precious expense, I would imagine) at the Crown and defence tables, and also in front of the judge’s raised ‘bench’ — which is at least 10 feet away. This is extreme overkill, I have to say.
- But here’s where it gets even more ridiculous. The judges and lawyers at times attempted to speak to each other while wearing their face masks. After a short period of having to speak louder and repeat each other, it was decided they could remove their facial coverings when speaking. Ultra-extreme #CovidCrazy ridiculousness.
And of course, when leaving the courthouse, I regularly see the baby blue face masks that were handed out to people who had been in the building — the accused or their supporters — dancing in the breeze along 49 Street. The potentially toxic litter to be picked up by whom?
I mean, c’mon folks. Some common sense would be appreciated. Remove some of the precautions until they are really needed.
SOME GRATUITOUS VACAY SNAPS:
Be happy these aren’t Kodachrome slides projected onto a screen, with bored relatives huddled in a dark room, as I experienced in my childhood. You can choose not to view them. But I know my friends will appreciate them.