It’s been a while since I talked about how things were going in Ontario as relates to the pandemic. Let me take a minute and tell how things are going for our family in Toronto, Ontario.
On March 17th, a state of emergency was declared in Ontario. On that day everything changed. Many businesses closed, essential businesses changed. Plexiglas barriers were installed at checkout counters and building capacities were dramatically reduced. A day after the emergency was declared, you could find line-ups with people standing six feet apart waiting for someone to leave the grocery store so they could go in. Toilet paper was hard to find if not impossible and don’t even try to look for hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes. Over time we became used to this. We went calmed down enough that critical supply stocks went back up, and the rush to the stores eased and lineups outside shortened. Some had their groceries delivered, others, like me, switched to curbside pickup. Now much of my grocery shopping is done online. Then, I hitch my trailer to my bicycle and ride it to the store and call when I arrive.
In 5-10 minutes, a person will come outside the store wearing a mask and pushing a cart filled with all of my groceries in a bag. While I stand a short distance away, they put the bags in to the trailer and I ride home with them.
At the end of June we entered Stage 2 and more things opened. Now there were fewer lines outside grocery stores but you could find lineups outside clothing stores and bookstores.
In July we started to see mandatory mask laws. First on transit vehicles, then in public buildings and now as of August 5th, they’re required in common areas in condos and apartment buildings.
What has happened along the way? COVID-19 cases have declined a great deal. Yesterday there was one new case in Toronto and 79 in all of Ontario – down from a high of over 600 in one day in April. Yesterday in all of Canada there were 236 new cases.
And so now we find ourselves in Stage Three of re-opening. What’s that like? Last Monday I went out on the longest one-day bike ride of my life: about 200 kilometres in one trip and got to experience much of what our next step toward the “new normal” feels like.
Mask wearing is a big part of our reality now. I’d say indoors compliance is almost 95%+ – and outdoors in crowded areas it is also quite high. They’re not necessary in areas where you can socially distance so I see them less here. Reminders are everywhere, of course, on buses, the outside of stores, bus shelters and even on the side of the road.
I rode all the way up to Georgina – almost 100 kilometres from here to the shores of Lake Simcoe. Much of the ride was rural and few stores were to be found. I wondered if water was going to be a problem. As I was beginning to think I might have to knock on a door and ask for water, I saw this.
The sign says that they don’t sanitize this fixture at all. However, I wasn’t worried. I didn’t see anyone being likely to use it as it was in a residential area outside the water treatment plant. Not only that it was continuously running. Still, the sign reminded me of the age we live in – one in which we have to consider the safety of everything we do.
While the beaches are open here in Toronto, they weren’t here and so they were mostly abandoned. A few people, all very far apart, defied the order to stay away.
While there was nobody on the beaches, the roads were filled with cyclists. It was a delight to see so many people out in the world. Most were alone or with one other person though a couple larger groups were out enjoying the day.
When I got to Jackson’s Point it was lunch time and I was ravenous. I’d ridden 85 kilometres and had only a couple of energy bars. Luckily for me I found an Italian restaurant with homemade gnocchi (potato-based pasta). The perfect starch-filled cycling food.
The dining room inside was not open but patios have been open since Stage 2 so I ate outside. I wasn’t alone either – two different couples sat apart from one another enjoying sandwiches and gelato.
The ride home was long and difficult. This ride was 200 km (124 miles) – the longest I’ve ever gone before was 162 km (just over 100 miles) and I needed a whole other dinner before I was done. By that point the weather had changed. I had just been caught in a torrential downpour and was soaked to the skin and it was still drizzling. There would be no eating on a patio for me. I saw a sign, though, that said that McDonalds was one of the restaurants allowing people to eat indoors. Desperate for calories, I went inside.
Eating inside was strange after so long. Masks were, of course, required to get inside and to order, but there’s no eating with a mask on so you may take them off when you get to your seat. There aren’t so many seats available, though. Most are blocked off to ensure social distancing. And in fact, when I got there there were only three groups including myself there – and we were all over 50 feet apart. It felt safer here than grocery shopping. But from what I’ve read, many restaurants are not yet opening. Their owners feel we aren’t quite ready yet and many are happy with what they’re making from sales on their patios and via take-out and delivery. And so, still, restaurants being open for business is the exception not the rule. I’m also hearing from friends that they, too, are not quite ready. It seems that as a whole, we’re a very cautious country in this respect.
I’m told that movie theatres are also open but with a maximum capacity of 50 people. I haven’t heard of anyone going and would be curious to hear how that’s going. Bars are open but not karaoke because singing is risky. Buffet-style restaurants may not open yet (I’m not sure I’m even ready for that – or ever will be again). Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people, and outdoor ones are limited to 100.
Work still is mostly remote for me. My workplace is being very conservative about allowing people back to work so only necessary people are allowed, and workspace capacity is hugely reduced. For example, the office I share with seven others is now only allowed to have two people using it at once. There will be some time before that changes. There just isn’t enough space to have everyone come back.
Schools are scheduled to open on September 8. This could be tricky and they’re still talking about how to best manage this. My son’s university classes are still 100% remote but elementary and high schools will not be. So we shall see how that works. This will have other repercussions, I think. For example, with kids going to school, will there be enough space to properly socially-distance on buses and subways? (A good reason to keep all of those temporary bike lanes we have – as a relief valve for transit). And even closer to home, how will elevator waits be when all the kids have to leave for school. Pre-pandemic, elevators could get packed with kids to the point that nobody could fit inside (10-12 people). Now we’re having no more than 2-3 people in each elevator. What’s that going to look like? Will kids start using the stairs? In any case the true test for our safety measures is coming soon.
Meanwhile, I am truly enjoying how things are changing. There are new bike lanes, and now many of our streets are devoted to restaurant patio space. We’ve opened enough that people can come out again and interact. And in some ways our public spaces now seem more lively than they were before. Have a look below at one street, Danforth Avenue. I took this video two nights ago when I was out visiting the new bike lanes. Before the pandemic there was no bike lane here and patio space was limited – only a couple tables on the sidewalk were all that were possible. What’s perhaps most noticeable to me is what Daegan pointed out when he was here just yesterday. During the pandemic there was a big silence outside everywhere you went. It was almost a disturbing hush. Now, the din is back and it is delightful.
Fingers crossed we continue trending in the right direction. If we play our cards right, we might end up with a few improvements on our city when this thing ends.
How are things where you are?
Edit: Just after I posted this, Sage shared another sign of our return to normal, the restart of one of my favourite things about our neighbourhood: North America’s only public tandoor oven. Our usual Friday bazaar isn’t able to open yet but hopefully soon!