Here in Ontario I’m counting my blessings. Our number of new cases continues to be on a downward trend, mostly under 200 and approaching 100 (today was 129). In order to stay here and even be able to open a bit, this means some behavioural changes:
Our city has added a bylaw requiring people wear masks in indoor public spaces. Other businesses have followed suit with varying levels of requirement. In our apartment building, for example, a memo was sent out suggesting that everyone wear masks in shared public spaces – elevators, busy corridors, the recycle room, and so on. This is in addition to social distancing measures including a suggestion to minimize the number of people in elevators. At capacity, each of the three elevators that serve the top 20 floors of our building can fit about 10 people in – often when schools are getting out or starting up in the morning it may reach this point. Now the convention seems to be that if any more than two people are considering going in the elevator people get consent from one another.
Grocery stores have been requiring masks for a while, some have been taking everyone’s temperature and sanitizing hands on the way in. Many no longer allow reusable bags or shopping trolleys. When they’re busy, supermarkets, and other stores will have a socially-distanced lineup outside and as people leave the store, others are allowed in. Some stores have even prescribed directions in the aisles to minimize people passing by one another.
On transit, seats have been blocked off to maintain social distance, and up until recently you could only enter buses through the rear doors – away from the driver. Masks were encouraged until last week but now are mandatory on transit.
Many of these measures were in place before things started to re-open and are likely largely responsible for our being able to carefully open. It’s a give and take of personal freedom. At the beginning we were expected to go shopping as little as possible – once a week if you could manage it. Restaurants were take-out or delivery only, libraries and public areas were closed as were most stores. But now after several months of complying with the guidance from our medical officers we’re seeing progress. So a few things have now changed.
More stores are opening now, more grocery stores are doing curbside pickup, and a few clothing stores, book stores, and other stores are allowing people to shop – a limited number inside at a time.
People are now spending time together for “socially distanced meetups” in the park. Even the Silent Book Club did one last month with everyone keeping a safe distance. Several weeks ago we were told that we could “merge our family bubbles” with others’ as long as we keep the total group size under ten. This means that grown children can see their parents and siblings or friends can meet again. Everything can be as normal – hugging, kissing, normal proximity. But the 10-person limit is important. If someone does get sick, that is a manageable group size to contact trace to contain anything that might happen.
Libraries are still closed but now not only can we return the books we had checked out before, there is curbside pickup for holds. They’re in the process of putting measures in place for a full reopening (with limited building capacity, Plexiglas barriers for librarian interaction with patrons and other measures will be put in place. In the meantime, when our books are returned they’re quarantined for 72 hours before being re-shelved/filed.
Just in time for good weather, restaurants have opened their outdoor patios. Some restaurants in our neighbourhood that didn’t have patios have put some in so they can benefit from the opening.
Sage and Daegan were both glad to find that our dentist has also opened and beginning to do cleanings and fillings. They are taking many more precautions with a set of questions about your health, hand sanitizer and of course face shields for staff. They said there was a bit of an alarming memo they shared saying that with the nature of dental care, more particles could become airborne causing potentially more risk.
And the thing I’m most happy about today? Barbers are open. Today I ventured across the street to get a haircut. It’s different now but not terribly so. But what I was most surprised about was how natural it felt – like something we’ve always been doing. While I did see lineups outside many barber shops just after the reopening, there were no other customers where I went. I first wrote down my name and number on a sign-in sheet when I got in – for contact tracing in case heaven forbid someone there come up positive. Of course I and the barbers all wore masks. But when I got in my barber put on new gloves, sanitized his hands and then sprayed down the entire chair with isopropyl alcohol before I was allowed to sit.
Then it was time for the haircut. I was curious as to how they would manage cutting around my ears with a mask but it was surprisingly easy. When it was time to cut near my sideburns or ears, he carefully took the mask’s ear loop off of my ear and then, while keeping it tight enough to keep it against my face, he angled the mask downward so that he could reach my ear. Then, when it was time to do the other side he repeated it. There was a competence to how he did it that made it feel like this was something barbers always did.
And then, after all was said and done, I came out a new man. My 1970’s-style hair was updated to a more recent style. I feel so much more myself. And despite the pandemic outside, having done this makes everything feel a little more normal.
And then – to make it feel even a little more normal, I walked across the parking lot, picked up a dozen freshly made veggie samosas and a bubble tea to take home for later.
For those of you reading this – especially from places still having lots of trouble, I want you to keep two things in mind:
First, in the middle of the worst of our first wave (I am not writing this whole pandemic off completely) I remember looking at the Instagram feed of one of my high school teachers now living in China. While we were stuck inside worried about what was going to happen, he was about where we were now. Things were not back to normal but people were back outside, stores and restaurants were opening. I had no idea how we could possibly get there but that image of him outside with others kept me going when I worried here that we might be forever locked in at home.
And second, and most important: Please listen to medical professionals. It is incredibly important as that’s the way out of this. I remember when this first started to be talked about in February, I saw people on the subway with masks on and in my mind I ridiculed them. Don’t they know this won’t help them? But what they knew and what I didn’t (but what most of us know now) is this: It’s not about me, it’s about protecting others. I am truly embarrassed to admit not knowing this at first. It makes me feel like on some level I have a bit of a selfish mindset.
Right now in many places without measures like this the average person is infecting several people. This means the pandemic will continue to grow. But if we wear our masks and protect each other then the number of people infected by one person goes down below 1. For example, if everyone is careful, perhaps only half the people infected will actually pass it on to someone. At that rate, the virus will fade away. So keep each other safe, please.