While other parts of the world are struggling, I am really grateful to be here in Toronto. The pandemic has definitely not left us at all. However, for the time being it seems to be under control, simmering with 80-120 new cases per day in Ontario.
I think in great part we’re managing because the majority of people are being extremely cautious. Now indoor public spaces require that you wear a mask. You’re not forced to wear them outside, however even in this area I’ve seen a cultural change. In quiet neighbourhoods with few people or at times when few are out walking, people aren’t wearing masks. However in the more populous areas, most people are wearing them. There’s an unspoken rule that if you’re not wearing a mask then you need to be far from others so when I’m not wearing a mask and I see someone on the sidewalk I’ll step in to the road to give them space. Likewise, if I’m wearing a mask and someone else isn’t I will give them space as well.
Nearly all restaurants are open for take-out or delivery, and for several months, restaurants with outdoor patios have been open. In fact, because traffic is lower, the city has, in some areas, closed entire lanes of traffic to make room for more outdoor dining.
Now restaurants are completely open. Many still don’t go, preferring to eat outdoors or at home. Last week I went out with a friend and I felt completely comfortable. You are required to wear your mask unless you’re sitting at the table – and most tables are closed. However, we were the only people in the restaurant so there was no issue. Even the wait staff would go in the kitchen while we ate coming out to check on us.
The lane closures have not just been for dining out. Because we want to keep buses and streetcars mostly empty to enable physical distancing, encouraging people to ride bikes is important. This has been a huge success with ridership soaring to the point that stores are now having trouble keeping stock of affordable bicycles.
Playgrounds were closed for most of the summer but now when I walk through the neighbourhood I can hear the kids shouting and laughing as they play in the splash pad or on the swings. But it’s not without precautions.
I think for many of us here, looking out for one another has become part of the zeitgeist and in many ways “the new normal” seems to be becoming firmly entrenched.
The question on everyone’s mind, though, is “Will it stay this way?” It feels great that things have improved and we seem to be adjusting well. But there are rumblings of a potential bigger, stronger surge in the autumn. We have another challenge ahead as well starting September 8th. School is opening.
There are precautions being taken including hiring many more teachers to have more classrooms with fewer students in each, and there will be screening measures every day for kids coming to school. Kids can choose to still learn from home or go to school, however at school tolerance of sickness will be low – a sniffle that you’d go to school with in 2019 will now send you home in 2020. With most families having all parents working (one or two depending on the situation, of course), and many workplaces slowly returning to normal this presents a challenge. If your child is sent home you have to go home to take care of them. If you don’t get paid sick leave then you’re losing money and possibly put in a precarious financial situation.
At the same time, other more wealthy families are going so far as to set up “learning pods”, hiring a teacher, renting space and ensuring safety measures are strict. This could mean that we could end up with a multi-tiered education system with multiple levels of safety depending on income. Not a good situation at all.
And then there’s another challenge that I’m likely to see first-hand. Kids going to school means, wait for it, “kids going to school”. Transit traffic during the school year can be huge with buses filled to what is literally called “crush load” with everyone pushed right against each other. They won’t allow buses to get that full now so what will happen?
The same is true in highrises. Our building is very large with 44 stories and approximately 500 apartments in it. For those apartments there are six elevators. Just like buses, during the school rush, elevators could be packed completely. But again, this won’t be allowed. The convention has been to have no more than 3 people in the elevator – maybe four if there are two couples from two different families as they each can stand together. What will happen at 8:00 AM on the first day of school? There’s talk of staggered school start times and recommendations to leave for school 20 minutes early or more. In our building they’ve stated that our two stairwells will have a direction – in other words one is for going up, the other for going down so people don’t have to pass each other. And apartment staff will help “direct traffic” in elevators. And meanwhile, two stickers have appeared on the floor of each elevator.
Will it go perfectly? Absolutely not. But from what I’ve seen so far, our response to the pandemic has been one of trial and error, learning and adapting. Some things like bike lanes and patio expansion will work from the start. Other things may need to be rolled back or tweaked to take in to account our changing world.
I remember back in March and April as things seemed to be spinning out of control here with more bad news daily, I saw posts from one of my High School teachers whom I kept in touch with. He is living in Shanghai now. As we were watching food hoarding starting and panic ramping up here, he was posting photos of people visiting the park or going to a restaurant. Just a couple months before he was in his own strict lockdown. These posts seemed to come from the future – a future that previously seemed unimaginable: Things seeming relatively normal – albeit with people wearing masks and physically distancing. I hope that wherever you are, if things are still being scary, that this gives you similar hope. There is an “after”. It may not look exactly like the “before” but it can be manageable if everyone works together.