My Pandemic Experience – Another Perspective

Like all of us, I’ve been following the news of the pandemic and worrying about what will happen next. But as anyone who follows me on social media or even here to some extent knows, my actual day to day pandemic life is pretty much normal – maybe even better than normal.

I have steady work from home that I love. I exercise every day. I cook interesting foods, take more classes and go to more shows, albeit online, than I did pre-pandemic. I’ve been lucky enough that very few people I know have tested positive or been sick. But is this the real experience people are having in Toronto? What is happening outside my bubble?

One obvious thing is that the homeless are having a very hard time. I see more panhandlers on the streets, but with the pandemic fewer and fewer of us are carrying cash so they’re coming up short.

My daily exercise often takes me in to the ravines which are for the most part really pretty. But for many they provide a place to sleep that feels less vulnerable than on the streets or in a shelter where close quarters could result in an infection.

Last night as I was riding on a trail next to the Don River, passing many on expensive bikes while runners ran with AirPods in their ears and $200 shoes on their feet, a sight caught my eye. On a concrete embankment (like a tiny ghat) right next to the cold river were three men. Two already asleep in sleeping bags, another siting up and eating.

A few kilometres north on a recent trail run down a low-traffic mountain bike trail, I came across a couple of spots where people were living.

In this one, someone had used plastic tarps to create a makeshift shelter. Nobody was in at the time but it looked as if people were there recently.

Down another path but literally in the shadow of a highrise with million dollar condominiums was this tiny shelter. Inside was a small mattress. This one likely hasn’t been occupied in some time given the state of the fabric curtain on the front.

In other city parks people have set up more conventional tents as well. The contrast of the tents and people in need with the tourist sites and conspicuous consumption all around has never been more evident since I’ve lived here.

Recently I also saw another set of graphs from the Toronto COVID dashboard. These really highlighted to me the blind spot I have in terms of my privilege and made it even more clear that my experience is not a common experience for everyone.

The take-away from this is that if you are economically comfortable you’re likely to be much less affected by the pandemic in Toronto. And if you’re white, it’s even more the case.

And then, comparing Canada’s experience to the rest of the world’s presents even more of a contrast. On many levels I’ve been put, in great part by the accident of my birth and what I do for a living in the most privileged of situations.

It is a clear message to me to keep this in mind and continue to help where I can, when I can.

12 thoughts on “My Pandemic Experience – Another Perspective

  1. I’ve been struck lately by the absolute divide that Covid-19 is creating — and painfully aware that there are many people who have been totally unaffected (face it, if you have the means, you don’t have to line up at a store, you can just order and have it delivered) by what’s happened, and they are oblivious to the fact that this has really hit some people hard in many ways (health/economic). It’s why, I think, we saw calls for continuing/making permanent our Downtown Dining District. In the emergency council meeting the mayor called to reverse a city staff decision to close it (their reasoning: we’re seeing the beginning of a second wave, and wanted to discourage socializing), no one talked about health concerns. Loads of diners apparently told the mayor things like they “wanted to go out and have a drink with friends”. I mean, how can you live like that, not even seeing that you might be putting the wait staff at risk? Yes, we have to try to protect our downtown businesses, because economic collapse hurts, once again, those least able to manage. Those people aren’t even talking about how their behaviour would at least help a business out, just about their right to socialize. The breathtaking privilege and lack of concern for this situation just renders me speechless.

    1. It’s really highlighting for me how many of us (I include myself in this) are operating with blinders on during this. I think to some extent this is why the second wave is coming on strong here. We’ve got whole segments of the population whose experience is such that they can justify taking risks in the name of “Pandemic fatigue” – as if not going to the bar or having a big party was something you could get so affected by that you could no longer control yourself and just HAD to do regardless of the risk. And of course the media doesn’t help by putting that idea out there. Did some people in England get “Blitz Fatigue” during the second world war and say “Dammit, we’re going to have the lights on tonight – I don’t care WHAT happens?” It lowers the bar and adds more people to those who are already taking risks for even stupider reasons like conspiracy theories and ignorance.

      I am also speechless in reaction to your story about the downtown dining district – I hadn’t heard that one.

      1. It’s interesting to think in terms of “Blitz Fatigue” versus “Pandemic Fatigue”. Part of me wonders if the bombings could be perceived as a more tangible, concrete threat, whereas a virus might not be, ESPECIALLY when we managed the first wave well. There’s a disconnect for many people — oh, we didn’t have too many sick/deaths, but it’s unrelated (for them) to the measures we took. I read something interesting about the 1918 flu pandemic here in Guelph, and how the university here shut down a lot of activities in the first wave, but decided not to in the second one, presumably because there weren’t many deaths the first time around. And then, in the second wave, there were more, because, well, people kept on socializing on campus. I mean, I get it. We’re social beings, and we need contact with others for our well-being. But there are safer ways to manage that than just throwing open the floodgates and hoping for the best.

      2. Interesting point – I think you’re right. Other than the possibility that *I* had it in January, I know of only one other person who has had it. But I do know of several fatalities one degree of separation away so there’s a sense of reality and seriousness there. No doubt it would be more so if I knew someone directly who had had a serious problem with it. So it doesn’t seem as real and immediate a threat as, say, a bomb. I also feel like the condition itself seems prone to be underestimated. “It’s like the flu.” some say (ignoring the fact that *that* is also a big deal for many). If this were polio or ebola would we have the same idea or would people be more scared of it.

        It is really easy for me to say this, living with two other humans as I do, but I don’t feel the need for in-person socialization like so many others talk about. In-person meetups are nice and all, but I don’t feel that sense of “Well, that Zoom meetup / show was nice and all but I wish it was in person.” One of the best improv shows I ever saw was on Zoom – and everyone performing in it was from India, each in their own Zoom window. I would never have seen it at all had it not been on Zoom – and on Zoom it was still great. So yeah, maybe it’s my introvert side that just feels completely fine with the social side of this arrangement. Yes, I’d love for more restaurants to be open, and being more comfortable on a bus would be nice and open up my travel options a bit more but I’m good with putting on a mask and only going to stores as needed.

        (After yesterday’s 700 cases, by the way, we’re going back to curbside pickup again. No need to take the extra risk.)

  2. And then Trump says his rallies are no problem because he is far away on his podium!! Agh. We have had to really intensify our outreach from church and hired a woman to be the go between between us and the street residents. It is a very tough time for most right now.

    1. Wow – that comment from the president speaks VOLUMES.

      Riding around delivering veggies last night I was struck by how many tents are in various parks and streets, and how many more panhandlers there are. There are 24 hour respite centres set up in various open spaces to provide housing to some people but they’re relatively high density. Given the choice between staying in one of those and finding an out of the way corner in the ravine the choice would be easy for me. Of course even that statement belies privilege – I can easily get to the ravine and feel safe there even at night. I’m sure many don’t.

      1. Right – and at that time, it was really unusual. Yes, people have lived in the ravines for decades. People were there in the Great Depression and before, but mostly they didn’t overflow in to the parks. Now, though, it’s more common. And I don’t blame them. I haven’t used my own tent in 5-6 years. I may well bring it out with me to give away soon.

  3. We haven’t seen any such trend here or at least I am not aware of any such study done during covid. More is said about the commorbidities and mortality in covid 19 patients. Of course it has affected our lives but for underprivileged and for people without secure funds it’s getting hard day by day. I must say I am not aware of how the is situation in big cities say for example Oslo.

    1. Interesting – I wonder how many places are gathering statistics like this. It’s interesting – and of course useful if we can take action based on that. But if we just look at the information and shrug our shoulders and say “Wow, glad I’m not [insert demographic group]” then it’s almost worse than not getting the data at all.

      Even since I wrote this things have become worse here. Yesterday we had 700 new cases in the province, which is the worst that it’s ever been even. Many more places are open now and attitudes are not changing so much. Last time it was this bad, nearly everything was closed. Now they’re saying “Well, we’ll just reduce the hours that bars are open and ask them to turn down the music so that people don’t have to raise their voices.” It’s concerning.

      1. We have statistics on almost everything and I am sure there are no homeless people in our municipality.
        Number of cases are increasing in Oslo but I am sure good measures will be taken.
        Stay safe and enjoy your rides.

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