A View from the Flats

When it comes to the pandemic, at the moment, knock wood, Ontario and Canada are doing relatively well. In our entire country yesterday we had 380 new cases. Ontario had 189 new cases confirmed yesterday. In our entire province there are 270 people in the hospital.

At least for the moment we’ve managed to do that thing we’ve talked about since February – we’ve flattened the curve. And while it’s, by no means, a guarantee that things will be back to normal forever, it has meant that we can open things up a little more. As we open up we are adding new precautions – wearing masks wherever we can’t socially distance and socially distancing wherever we encounter other humans.

But it’s not the same everywhere. In Florida, 19.7% of people tested two days ago came up positive even as citizens in city meetings were reacting with outrage to the passing of laws requiring masks be worn. After a few months of things looking good, parts of India are having huge increases in case loads. In Delhi hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. I read a prediction that there may get to be up to 550,000 cases in Delhi alone with 7-8 times as many hospital beds required as available. Brazil is also having a terrible time.

In the COVID-19 diary project run by Cornell they have one question that they ask every day – they want to know what advice can we give to others about dealing with the pandemic. While my situation is very different than others’ in terms of what support systems I have and what I am able to do, there are a few things that I think worked well for me.

Let’s start with staying healthy: At the height of the pandemic we mostly stayed indoors. Our neighbourhood is moderately populated so there are some parts that can be crowded like near the grocery stores and sidewalks near apartments. So when going to those places we would wear a cloth mask. At first I didn’t understand why people were wearing them – because I was thinking only of myself. They really won’t help you much. However, they will help others if you are infected. If we all wear one then we reduce transmission. In an ideal world that means if we all keep the virus to ourselves (especially if we’re asymptomatic) for several weeks then the pandemic will peter out. It only survives if it transmits between us.

Mental health can be the bigger challenge. On this front I had mixed experiences. On the negative side, I found that about the worst thing one can do is obsess about the news. Reloading your favourite news site or your social media feed results in a barrage of bad news. The news is still out there, and indeed it is bad. However focusing on it repeatedly does nothing to actually fix it. It only makes us feel worse. Stay informed – but give yourself a daily limit. And on the flip side, try to take in some good news as well to balance out and give yourself hope. This site, KarunaVirus, is an excellent resource and another is the COVID-19 Recovery site. Both have newsletters as well to make your email a little more positive. There are some wonderful things happening. It doesn’t make the bad news any better but the balance truly helps.

If your lockdown rules and social distancing permit, get outside. See nature, breathe fresh air. Our cities feel strange and deserted but the natural places feel as normal as ever. This, combined with the natural effects of being in nature help a lot. Our government made this a priority – ensuring that when we were told to stay inside we were also told we can go out for solo (or family) walks.

Physically stay in your bubble. Don’t socialize with different groups of friends and stay far apart. This reduces transmission and, if one of you comes up positive, it makes “contact tracing” that much easier. Instead of trying to find the contacts of the 30 people you saw last week (and their contacts and their contacts contacts) before you tested positive, there are few people to follow up with. It makes the healthcare system that much less overwhelemed.

You’re reading this so you’ve got the Internet. There are lots of great tools here for staying connected. Videoconference with friends – play games, chat, have dinner. There are many shows and even classes being offered online. Go to them. Seeing other humans makes you less isolated, less likely to get stuck in a mental loop of despair or worry, and you’ll likely have some fun too. Staying connected and avoiding isolation is important all the time but especially now.

Fill your day with things that stimulate and challenge you. It is hard to focus on things as much as before the pandemic but the benefits are useful. If you have time, read more, write more. If you like to cook, try some new things if you can. In my case, I did much more exercise as well. In the end I think the advice I would offer is “Expect more of yourself.” – not necessarily more of yourself than pre-pandemic – but more than you think you’re capable of. I know some folks are drinking their way through the pandemic, watching movies and zoning out. I don’t think this is healthy. You might not be able to be your “former self” but push yourself a little. Diverting focus from the pandemic to the less terrifying challenges of self-improvement you present yourself with can give a bit of relief.

For us, approaching with humour where we can is a coping mechanism we have used in so many aspects of our lives but even more now. Laughing, where we can, about how strange our daily life has become gives a little break from the worst of things. Like looking at good news, it doesn’t mean that things aren’t serious or terribly upsetting, but taking a little break here and there gives one a chance to rest and recover from it all.

Of course I also recognize that my advice may not be applicable to many. We have so far lived a very blessed life. Work has continued, our family health has been good and nobody we know has been suffering either. So the direct effects of the pandemic have kept their distance from us for now.

I hope you all are staying safe and healthy and weather this storm well. And if you have other advice to offer or things that worked well for you, post it in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “A View from the Flats

  1. It’s good that you have flattened the curve in your country Todd. Like you pointed out , here in India situation seems to spiralling out of hand. In addition to all that the government is doing, people also need to show responsibility by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and staying indoors. Hoping it won’t be as bad as some estimates are predicting.

    1. Do stay safe – it sounds rather risky there with many risks that we didn’t face – population density being a huge one.

      It is interesting to see how much culture is playing a part in this. The US, for example has always had a culture of questioning authority and rebellion – and in some cases it served it well. But now it has people pushing back against the very measures that will protect them. Meanwhile, I find that here in Canada there’s more of what I’d call a culture of “civic duty” and compliance. While not everyone feels/acts this way, of course, lots of people will just do what the government says because “it’s the responsible thing to do.” Often we’ll see queues form at bus stops on street corners because “we line up for things”. So when the government says “You shall stay home” or “You will wear a mask” – most of us do.

      One other big difference I see here versus the US, some things I’ve heard about India and here has to do with the government. In the US this crisis has become hugely politicized. One party says “Open back up! It’s all a hoax! It’s just the flu!” and another party says “Listen to the doctors and stay safe at home.” and then everyone argues and splits. Behaviour also splits based on those lines. What I was shocked to see happen here was the opposite of that. All levels of government and all parties just stopped and put aside their arguments and games for this topic, listened to the health officers and did what they said. And then, no matter what citizens believed politically, their leaders were all saying the same thing.

      I’d be curious to see how that correlates to infection rates and the like. Do dysfunctional governments result in a bigger human cost to the pandemic?

      You & your family stay safe, Radhika.

  2. Even when the pandemic was much worse here in Berlin (end of March and beginning of April), we made some hikings in the surrounding countryside on nice already known walking trails, cause with lockdown no other options left for activities. We remain cautious now after lockdown and only use the outer parts of restaurants for example while facemasking in buildings, bus or metro. So far it works out and just waiting for vacchine. Stay safe 🙂

    1. It sounds like we are just a little bit behind you as we are just getting to the point of using masks on transit and restaurant patios have just opened two days ago. Like you, we’re being careful in the meantime – always a little more cautious than what our government recommends.

      1. The situation is very dynamic, and we do not know what politicians might decide tomorrow such as another lockdown now in Lisbon and 2 German counties as well. Quite challenging times.

      2. I hadn’t heard of those either. Definitely challenging. I suspect until we get a vaccine (side note: there are 16 different vaccines in clinical trials now and about 120 more in pre-clinical) we’ll be going in and out of various levels of lockdown to balance between economy, mental health, and the capacity of our healthcare systems.

  3. My daughter has added that good treatment advances may prove to be as important as any vaccine since they still don’t know if getting it once gives you immunity or if new vaccines would need to be used each year as with the flu. I am glad that they continue to learn about treating the disease and learning more about its after effects. Guess it will be a very long time before Canada(or even Vermont) lets us visit.

    1. Definitely – and the great thing about those treatment advances is that the pathway to widespread use can be much shorter when it’s an already-approved drug. Getting approval for off-label use is much easier as there is lots of safety data already in place. You need only get data about efficacy. (That’s the entire mandate of the FDA – to ensure drugs are safe and effective.)

      1. No problem! It’s still illegal to market for off-label use before trials are done but the path is shorter because you won’t be starting from zero data.

  4. I’ll admit that this is hitting me harder than I thought it would. I have good days, but I have some terrible days when I just melt down. It was really hard to find that Rob’s contract wasn’t going to be renewed (because, plague), because the hospital didn’t get the funding (because, plague), after he’d been part of the support team that set up the response to the plague. I know “because plague” has been hard for a lot of people that way. Even so, I’m still grateful for what has been done, because it made such a difference. It’s heartbreaking to look south of us and see what happens when people put political games ahead of people’s lives. My hope is that when we have to lock things down for a while again (and I”m pretty sure we will, given how this has played out elsewhere), people will be willing to do it.

  5. Hey – I hadn’t heard about Rob (one of the consequences of not being on FB) – so sorry to hear that. I hope something comes up really soon. I’m glad health-wise you guys have been doing OK. My hope is that once things start to open back up a bit more we’ll see things get moving again.

    I’m very pleased with how things went here. It’s not often that CNN videos make me teary but this one did a little. I’m so glad we moved here – I can’t imagine what life would be like had we never come here.

    One of the most interesting parts – and one that really got me was how they talked about not letting politics get in the middle of pandemic response. I’m far from a Doug Ford fan and I know that things are not going perfectly but the fact that everyone seems to be listening to scientists and working together is a huge part of why we are where we are. I hope it raises our expectations for government civility post-pandemic. Imagine if we worked on other things the way we’re working on this.


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