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You deserve clean air (take two)

Don’t go looking for Take one of this post; it’s hanging out in my Drafts folder. Big long post, as yet unfinished, having trouble getting to any point.

Sometimes it seems better to just start again. I think this is what I was trying to say.

There is good news on the Covid front

Mainly, the vaccines are great. In Canada, most of the population has had at least two doses. And yes, people previously infected (a majority of the Canadian population by now) have gained some protection against reinfection, for some period of time.

Also, there are some better treatment options now (Paxlovid). This combination of factors has protected many people against hospitalization or death from infection.

But by some key measures, the Covid situation has never been worse

More Canadians are dying of Covid now than ever. 2022 has already surpassed 2021 in number of deaths, and is well on its way to surpassing 2020’s total.

Canada reported Covid deaths: 15700 deaths in 2020; 14500 in 2021; 13700 in 2022 so far; but on track for 20808
This is a bit old; 2022 has by now surpassed 2021

Covid is the third leading cause of death of Canada. It is five times more deadly than the flu.

Many of the dying pass through hospitals first, contributing the unprecedented level of crisis, with emergency rooms repeatedly closing across Ontario for the first the time in history, and serious problems in other provinces as well. While Covid is not the only reason—understaffing, low pay, structural flaws, etc. are others—it’s a really significant contributor.

Number of Covid 19 patients in hospital in Canada

Remember why we did all that social distancing in 2020 and 2021? The main reasons? It was to save lives and to preserve hospital capacity. All our efforts are being undone now.

This is happening because the government went too far in removing restrictions

I’m not saying we need a return to the full social distancing of those years. Policies such as business closures, remote schooling, social gathering limits, and travel restrictions had very clear downsides, and given the good news I started with, can defensively be added.

But getting rid of mask mandates almost everywhere; essentially stopping meaningful vaccination efforts after teens and adult Canadians had two doses, and before children had any; and changing the isolation requirements such that the infectious are definitely out amongst us—the damages of all that on society outweigh the minimal individual benefits.

Tools to manage sixth wave (coffins, body bags)

Why are they doing this?

Because it benefits them politically. I’m not going to pretend to know exactly why they think it’s a political winner, but they clearly do.

And Public Health is very much under the yoke of provincial government direction. They are more motivated to to please their political masters than protecting you and your family. (Ontario proof: Disbanding the Ontario Science Table because they insisted on providing independent advice, and not just saying what the politicians wanted them to say.

Being beneficial to a political party’s election prospects doesn’t make it good or wise policy. Doesn’t mean it benefits you personally or the province generally. Doesn’t mean it’s in our collective best interest, long term.

Why should I care, I’m young and vaccinated

The young and the vaccinated are indeed unlikely to be hospitalized with or die of Covid. But Covid spreading so widely is still a problem for that group (which includes me—at least, in the vaccinated part of that category).

Being sick sucks

Those people who dismiss it as the flu—the flu is terrible, what are you talking about. When I had the flu as a very healthy 21 year old, I literally couldn’t get out of bed, I was so sick. I had to call for help!

And I realize some people truly have a very mild acute Covid case, but most people, at least for a couple days, feel pretty damn awful. And some people it’s more than a couple days.

And even if it’s the sniffles… The sniffles also kind of suck! Sore throats aren’t great!

And you can catch Covid again. It’s not a “one and done” disease.

You might need a hospital for some other issue

Our whole healthcare system is built around hospitals. (Probably it shouldn’t be, but it is, and changing that won’t be fast or easy.) And just because you’re unlikely to need it for a Covid infection, doesn’t mean you or yours won’t need it for something else—an accident, a serious infection, a troubling test result, intractable pain, an overdose… And then it’s going to be big freakin’ problem for you personally that you can’t the care you need in the time you need it, in part because of all the Covid patients in there.

It’s affecting other services

While, again, it’s not the only cause, Covid is a definite contributor the flight delays and cancellations that have been the ban of travelers; to supply chain shortages; to labour shortages; and to other cancelled events (most recently for me, a play at Stratford).

Long-term, Covid might still bite you in the ass (metaphorically)

There’s that Long Covid risk, for one. Yes, vaccination does seem to reduce the risk, thankfully, but not to zero! Not even always that low a risk, depending which study you look at. And there’s no good treatment for it yet. Sometimes people recover, and sometimes they don’t.

And then there’s that whole cornucopia of unpleasant diseases you’re at higher risk of in the year following an infection, “even mild”:

  • Heart disease and stroke (the number 1 cause of death in Canada, so Covid is “contributing” in this way as well!)
  • Diabetes
  • Brain disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Shingles (though there is a good vaccine for this one!)
  • Immune dysfunction (leaving you at higher risk of catching, among other things,colds, flus, and Covid again)

But what can we do, Omicron is so catchy

You can keep everything open at full capacity while also making indoor spaces safer from infection. We know exactly how to do so. You follow a plan such as this Equity Schools Policy Plan, whose advice would work for pretty much any public space. The key points:

  • Support vaccination
  • Plan for mask mandates at the start of surges
  • Support testing
  • Improve ventilation and filtration
  • Support isolation when infectious

How do we make any of that happen?

Well, that’s a bloody good question, isn’t it? Because government sure doesn’t want to do it!

I’d certainly like to try to do something, as that seems more productive than merely fretting or raging.

Contact politicians / public health officials

Personally, for me, writing letters to or phoning government officials is not terribly satisfying, as it feels like screaming into the void. However, they apparently do at least somewhat keep track of what calls / emails / letters they get on what subject, so it’s good if some people express disapproval about the current path.

File a human rights complaint

This group of Ontario Physicians, Nurses, Scientists, and Education Professionals has written this amazing letter, urgently requesting an inquiry into the human rights violations represented by the current policies (discrimination on the basis of age, disability, family status, and sex): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ceci-kYmOLz19LZHdNCLijnP4Ux4WxRb/view (PDF)

These people have particular clout (and deep research at hand), but anyone can file an Ontario Human Rights complaint.

Support (or launch?) legal challenges

Threat of legal action has caused the Ontario government to act on vaccination (opening up fourth doses, making the vaccine available to children under 5). This parent’s group is raising money to legally challenge the Ontario government’s lack of Covid protections in schools: https://gofund.me/e0a4840d

Do you have a case, or can you support others who do?

Stay home when sick if you can

Our society needs to get past this idea that it’s heroic to work, and that it’s any kind of acceptable to go out in public with an infectious disease. If you are privileged enough to have sick days, to be able to work from home, please do isolate if you feel unwell.

And if it turns out to be Covid, please stay isolated until you test negative on a rapid test.

But an awful lot of people just can’t do that. And now public health has told those people they can head right back to work 24 hours after they start to feel better, no matter that they’ll likely be infectious for many days yet.

Canada needs paid sick days, like other civilized countries have. Consider voting for political parties that support workers, maybe?

Support masking

With apologies to people who work in these areas (except that this might protect their health), I do think masking should have stayed in place on transit, in schools, in grocery stores, and in pharmacies—in essential spaces, in other words. And I think they need to stay in place forever in hospitals, long-term care homes, and for other medical services.

I don’t know how to make that happen. I’m not about to organize a pro-mask rally.

I’ll do what I can to support mask mandates wherever I can. Currently, a few universities are among the few institutions willing to have them. So instead of giving a donation to Waterloo U, my alumni that doesn’t have a mask mandate, I think I’ll give it to Wilfrid Laurier, the local university that does. And I’m going to tell them both of them why.

And, I’ll keep wearing a mask myself in public indoor spaces. Yes, it’s mainly to protect myself. But I also know that a huge reason most people don’t mask is simply that most people don’t mask.

That is, nobody (or not very many people) wants to be the one weirdo in the mask. An unmasked person surprised to walk into a sea of masked faces might very well put one on themselves (if offered). Someone feeling a bit nervous about their risk of infection but not wanting to stand out alone might then feel the courage to put one on.

Elastomeric mask
Me in an elastomeric mask that I have yet to wear in public, because my masking courage also has limits. (Elastomeric masks are the most protective available, but yes, they look a bit weird! Fortunately, N99s are also quite effective, and these days look fairly normal.)

Maybe because they feel a solidarity.

Maybe because they think I’m walking around with an active Covid infection, per latest public health guidelines.

You deserve clean indoor air

No, we cannot quickly, widely, and cheaply improve public building’s ventilation and filtration systems such that indoor spaces are nearly as safe as being outdoors.

But most indoor spaces can be improved to some degree by measures that are pretty quick and cheap—opening windows, moving furniture to improve air flow, setting HVAC fans to run continuously, using better furnace filters, adding HEPA filters or Corsi-Rosenthal boxes… That sort of thing. Which can be built on with time.

And any improvement has the potential to reduce the number of people in that space that get infected. Furthermore, improving ventilation and filtration:

  • Requires no individual action—no masking, no hand washing, no distancing (although layering on these things remains helpful to the individual!)
  • Benefits health in other ways—improved cognition, allergy control, headache reduction, energy levels…
  • Is a good investment into the future, a building improvement that remains helpful beyond the purpose of suppressing Covid.

This feels like one of the most positive things that can be done.

I bought a CO2 monitor a while ago, as it’s a useful proxy as to whether an indoor space is well-ventilated or not. But having found out, I really wanted the ability to share the information. And I craved a way to find out without going somewhere first myself, only to be sitting there for hours knowing it’s terrible (which has happened).

So I was very happy when the Raven CleanAir Map launched.

It’s in the early stages. But these people have plans, and now, some funding. I have been to some meetings, I have contributed some readings, and so are more and more people, every day.

You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. You can’t see or smell bad ventilation. Somehow, you have to measure it. This is one way. This is step one. Which spaces have a problem.

Next, we do small fixes. Then, bigger and better ones.

Clean air. It’s not the most glamorous battle, but to me, it’s one worth fighting.


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Corsi-Rosenthal, Elvis, & Juliet

February 2022

American Express “Front of the Line” offer: Elvis Costello and The Imposters, live at Massey Hall in Toronto in August. Sure, why not get tickets to that? Massey Hall is a great little theatre. And surely everything will be fine by summer.

March 2022

Tickets now on sale for & Juliet

Created by the Emmy®-winning writer from “Schitt’s Creek,” this hilarious new musical flips the script on the greatest love story ever told. & Juliet asks: what would happen next if Juliet didn’t end it all over Romeo? Get whisked away on a fabulous journey as she ditches her famous ending for a fresh beginning and a second chance at life and love—her way.

Juliet’s new story bursts to life through a playlist of pop anthems as iconic as her name, including Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time, Larger Than Life‚ That’s The Way It Is, and Can’t Stop the Feeling—all from the genius songwriter/producer behind more #1 hits than any other artist this century. Break free of the balcony scene and get into this romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo. The only thing tragic would be missing it.

Well, that sounds fun. And hey look, it’s playing in August. We’re going to be in Toronto anyway. Why not get tickets for this the day before the Elvis Costello concert?

July 2022

“What are we going to do with this?” Jean asked, about the Corsi-Rosenthal box that he’d agreed to build, to humor me. And which had turned out much larger than we’d expected.

Corsi-Rosenthal box with teen builder
A Corsi-Rosenthal box, with the teen who built it (because I don’t have pictures of ours, but it looks pretty much like this one)

Literally four MERV-13 furnace filter duct-taped to a floor fan, a Corsi-Rosenthal box is a kind of homemade HEPA filter. Viruses and other nasties get trapped in the filters, and the fan blows out clean air. Thus replacing bad room air with cleaner air.

I mumbled something about it being useful when we had people over, but had to concede we don’t really have much by way of visitors these days.

“It could also be useful if we ever have to isolate from one another,” I mumbled.

One week later

“Where did you put that Corsi-Paranoid box?” Jean asked, using his “affectionate” nickname for it.

“In the closet,” I said. “Why?”

“We might want to run it for a bit…”

We had a plan (of sorts) that we executed. Jean got the upstairs rooms, running the C-R box. I got the downstairs. Main floor was the masking zone. Windows open. Doors closed. Cats rather confused.

His symptoms started two days after exposure, and were confirmed by rapid test after three. Thanks to four vaccine doses, the worst of it was two days spent in bed, feeling achy and exhausted, and the only lingering symptom a bit of cough. With ongoing positive tests, though, the isolation had to continue quite a few days after he was on the road to recovery.

One week later (August 2021)

Jean gets a call from his sister, reporting that she’s not sure how much more time his mother has. (She had a stroke in February.) He reconsiders his plan to wait until Labour Day before visiting her again.

We’re both tired of the in-house Covid protocols, but having stuck with them this long, it seems important to continue. It would just suck to get infected at the very end, after making so much this effort to avoid it for so many days.

One week later

Finally his test is negative. I have never developed symptoms, and the tests I subsequently take are negative as well. Jean thinks he should visit his Mom.

I had a nice visit with Jean’s Mom in June. (Jean was there too, to be clear!) He’s OK with me not travelling with him this time. I’m OK with doing my Toronto activities with my sisters instead of with him. Brief first hug in two weeks, then we’re each off to different parts of Ontario.

Elvis & Juliet

I’m not one to drive myself to Toronto, so I have to research what transit options have survived the pandemic. It’s pretty sad, people! Via Rail has only a single train running on Sundays, and it won’t get me there in time. Go Bus is a possibility (Go Train does not run on Sundays, why would anyone want to go to Toronto on a weekend), though it’s a convoluted route. Then I find: Flixbus! It’s cheap, the stop is nearby and reachable by local transit, and it’s a direct route to Toronto that gets me there in time.

CO2 reading of 78
Bus CO2 reading is pretty good, too. (Did I mention Jean was infected in a car?)

It’s the first time I have taken transit since early 2020. Except for a bit of trouble finding the actual Flixbus stop, everything went well. Local bus to Ion to and Flixbus, all stops were close to one another (and to my house)., and all were on time. And no big traffic tie-ups on the way to Toronto, either… We actually arrived early.

Despite the heat warning that is to persist all weekend, I do the half-hour walk to my hotel. So many people on the streets! So many people in the hotel lobby! It’s all a bit mind-bendy after two weeks of studiously avoiding everyone, even my husband.

The hotel room is fairly uninspiring, despite its high cost (cheapest decent hotel we could find; Toronto is not a cheap city normally, and it’s still not quite “normal” times), and slightly high in CO2. Can’t do anything about the price, but I am able to quickly improve the CO2 reading by opening the patio door for a bit, letting in all the steamy, humid air!

But then I have to be off. Juliet, and my sister, await.

I grab some lunch on the way. We mwet up at the Princess of Wales theatre (six air exchanges per hour, MERV14 filters, yes I asked). I soon forgot about all that, though, because we have excellent orchestra seats, and the show is so freakin’ fun!

It’s all music by producer / writer Max Martin, so that means songs by Britney and Katie and Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson and even Adam Lambert...! Between that, and the Shakespearean premise, and the themes of girl power, and being your authentic self, and… I don’t know, I was just so entertained. I would see this musical again in a heartbeat.

Then it’s a nice family dinner with my sister, then a call with Jean back at the hotel. His trip is less entertaining than mine, but between naps (hers), his Mom is happy to see him.

Next day

After my hotel patio breakfast, with pigeon companion, I had planned to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But I checked first, and learned that it’s only open on holiday Mondays, not regular Mondays like this one. It’s another steamy day. I decide to just amble up to the Yorkville area, and take in some of its nice shops, plentiful park seating, cafes, and gelato shops.

Meanwhile, my other sister and I are emailing, trying to figure out dinner plans. Rain was threatening later in the day. I came across a list of covered patios, and found that one was near Massey Hall: the Rabbit Hole, and make a reservation there.

Sis and I meet at the hotel, and walk over. I “convince” her that we want to sit outside, despite the steamy heat. After some water, and sitting, it’s not so bad. And hey, we’re in time for “happy hour” $5 glasses of wine! We both settle on fish dishes: mackerel for me, salmon for me. They are really good! And are their nice, light desserts: the lemon posset, and the strawberry rhubarb trifle.

Then over to Massey Hall for Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with special guest Nick Lowe. Rather good seats for this show as well! (And I’ve finally stopped thinking about air exchanges—mostly.) And it all starts quite promptly.

Though I’m not as familiar with Nick Lowe and his oeuvre, he and his band (who did a few familiar instrumentals) were very good. And he did conclude with “Cruel to Be Kind”!

And Elvis Costello was just fab, and far more chatty than he had been when I’d last seen him live, many moons ago. He praised Nick Lowe, reminisced about previous trips to Toronto, mentioned the El Mocambo, talked about his musician father… And he played plenty of old favorites along with some from the new album and few others he just felt like including (Set list). His voice was still good, his band terrific, and his stage presence compelling.

And yes, he played Peace, Love, and Understanding with Nick Lowe

Tuesday I was on the early Flixbus back to Waterloo. And I had it all to myself! (Except the driver. Which is good, because I can’t drive a bus.)

Two days later

Jean back, me still testing negative, we go out with a couple friends to the local Babylon Sisters Wine Bar. It was great to meet with them, and we were very impressed with the venue, both with the interesting wine selections (very flexible on how you can make up a wine flight), and the delicious food (supplied by Little Mushroom Catering).


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Tired of doing the government’s job

My calendar is not especially full, but there are events in it here and there, and as each one comes around, so do the questions…

  • How many people will be at this event?
  • How close will be they be to me?
  • How bad does the current transmission rate seem to be?
  • Is the venue doing anything to mitigate risk?
  • Can I do anything to mitigate risk?
  • Should I stay or should I go?

And it’s Just. Bloody. Exhausting.

So I can definitely see why most people find the current government messaging very appealing:

Everything’s fine. Just do all the things. Don’t worry about getting infected. Live your life! Even if you do get infected, it will be fine! It’s all fine. Everything’s fine.

It does sound lovely. I wish my brain would let me join you in the “everything’s fine” camp. (But I just know too much!)

And I get the government strategy, politically. Gosh. Managing pandemics is not fun. Not what they were elected to do. Giving up on pandemic management lets them focus on their other priorities, like building highways on environmentally sensitive land, going to court to keep their plans a secret from citizens, and denying treatment to autistic children. I care most about Ontario, as that’s where I live, but almost all the governments are currently aboard the ” let’s do nothing about Covid to focus on other issues” train.

Problem is…

Unfettered Covid is still a problem. Ignoring it doesn’t seem that effective at making everything fine.

For one thing, a lot of people are still dying of it.

Yes, this is US, and Canada has tended to not be as bad. But Canada is also slower at counting its dead. And is now following US policy much more closely.

And if the main goal/rational was preservation of hospital capacity, well, these are all recent (Ontario) news stories:

So that’s a Big. Epic. Fail.

All of this mass infection will put an end to this wave at some point, as the virus finally runs out of hosts. But it does little to prevent the next wave, because the virus keeps mutating, and Omicron infections in particular do not confer long-term immunity. And it appears that risk of hospitalizations increases with the repeats (PDF).

Vaccinations help tremendously; the tragedy of this much infection would be unimaginable without them. And yes, maybe this variant is “milder” than some past ones, even for the unvaccinated. But Long Covid afflicts somewhere around 10% of patients, and it has no cure (though sometimes does improve with time). And Covid has long-term effects on many organs, even in mild cases.

Basically, it’s not good to have sickly population. Even if you don’t care about the ethics of allowing unfettered mass infection, it’s also not good for the economy.

Everyone is so happy about having schools open, not only to benefit the kids, but also to benefit working parents and their companies. But Covid is absolutely tearing through schools, to the extent that many of them can’t stay open.

But it directly affects businesses, too, per the Business Journal: Omicron sharpens labor pains for short-staffed businesses. And the Financial Times, looking longer term: Long Covid: the invisible public health crisis fuelling labour shortages. Sick people just aren’t your best bet for achieving maximum productivity and growing your economy.

Government can’t just pawn this off on us

The whole point of Public Health is to avoid the problems just described. Saying “you have to learn to live with it” or “make your risk assessment” is not Public Health! It’s an abdication of responsibility. It’s government not doing their job.

What if governments treated other public health threats the way they’re currently handling Covid?

The smooth taste expectant mothers crave!

Smoking: Given that lung cancer and emphysema rates are currently declining, you are once again permitted to smoke in all indoor spaces. Yes, we do expect that this will cause lung cancer and emphysema rates to rise again, but it’s OK; we have plenty of room in the hospital for these new patients!

We all have to learn to live with smokey air. For most people, the effects of second-hand smoke are mild, and not much worse than a cough caused by the flu. Those worried about long-term effects can consider attaching a HEPA filter to their face. If you are at immediate risk due to severe allergy—stay home!

Drinking and driving: With so many people drinking so much alcohol, our Ride programs are getting overwhelmed, so we have decided to stop checking blood alcohol levels. If you think you’ve been around alcohol, and now feel dizzy, assume you’re drunk, and don’t drive for, let’s say, 30 minutes?

Hard hats, steel-toed boots: Data has shown that these protect workers at construction sites, but they are annoying: so hot! so uncomfortable! So, it’s now your choice what to wear while working. It’s so lovely to see everyone’s bare heads and feet again!

Asbestos in buildings: Some buildings have asbestos leaks; if you breathe in the fibres, you could damage your lungs. If concerned, you might want to avoid going into those buildings.

No, we’re not going to tell you which buildings those are. No, we’re not certainly not going to make any effort to remove the asbestos from those buildings. What are you even talking about?

If you’re worried about breathing in asbestos, just wipe down the tables and wash your hands.

Car seats for infants: Optional.

So what should they do?

Doing something instead of nothing would be nice. That something does not have to be business or school closures, capacity limits, or restrictions on public gatherings. How about just reversing some of the stupider decisions and actually promoting vaccination again, for a start.

Change the isolation period back to 10 days

My God, the government was eager to put this 5-day isolation rule in place, even though this Delta-variant data was never true for Omicron. People are at peak infectiousness at 5 to 8 days. The standard must go back to isolating for 10 days when you’re Covid positive. Ideally with people using rapid tests to ensure they’re no longer infectious before they go back out in the world.

Get adults and teens fully vaccinated

Two vaccination doses are much better than one or none, but this is a three-dose vaccine. But the messaging around the third dose has been so muddled that third dose rates have stagnated at about 50% in Canada, even in light of evidence that two doses no longer protects as well against hospitalization.

The Federal government could help here by changing the terminology. Stop calling that third dose a “booster”, which definitely makes it sound “optional”. Redefine “fully vaccinated” to mean three doses. And extending everything for which you need vaccination proof (travel, federal jobs) to now mean three doses.

Get children vaccinated

Children are also very under-vaccinated, many vaccinated parents apparently having concluded that vaccine isn’t necessary, since they keep hearing that Covid isn’t very dangerous for kids. When in fact it’s children under 4 who are the most hospitalized age group for Covid, after those over 70. And children can also get Long Covid, which vaccinations reduce the likelihood of.

Adding the Covid vaccination to the school vaccination requirements would be good idea, but I would also note that a great education campaign can go a long way. In Newfoundland, they made a concerted effort and achieved a 75% rate of vaccination among children.

And yes, bring back the mask mandate

Two-way masking works better than one-way. If you’re the only one masked for a longer period in a poorly ventilated space with Covid-positive people, the virus might very well through. I’m not saying masks need to be mandatory “forever”, but they are needed at times of high transmission, like now.

And masks don’t stop you from doing anything. You’ve always been exempt from wearing them when you want to eat, drink, or exercise in public. What’s the big deal about wearing them to shop, go to a concert, or ride transit. And I would note that not doing so, at least in essential places, is a human rights violation:

My suggestion: Get this decision out of the hands out the hands of politicians and give it to a more independent authority (which politicians can then hide behind, the bunch of cowards). Here, that could be Ontario Public Health and the Ontario Science Table (which is now part of OPH), who have clearly stated that lifting the mask mandate made this wave bigger than it needed to be, and that it should be brought back.

How much longer, Papa Smurf?

OK, masks, needles, and being all alone when sick are not fun. Those tactics won’t be needed forever (hopefully!).

But some changes we could make because of Covid should stay around for good, because they are nice things that would permanently benefit everyone.

  • Paid sick days for all. And a reasonable number of them too, like 10. Who wants to catch colds, flus, or any disease from their coworkers? Which companies want to have a bunch of people off sick when they could stop it at one person? (And frankly, even if a coworker has something non-communicable, I don’t want them at work suffering. The moaning sounds are very distracting!)
  • Cleaner indoor air. Outdoors is great, and very Covid-safe, but we are an indoor species. Having cleaner indoor air—everywhere—not only reduces transmission of all airborne diseases, but also reduces headache, fatigue, nausea, skin irritation… It’s just generally better for our health. And our productivity! We be so much better worker bees with more air exchanges per hour, breathing in fewer air pollutants.

    Governments could start this by measuring CO2 levels everywhere (Belgium is doing this!) and including air quality as part of health inspections (Niagara, Ontario is doing this!). That way everyone can know which places have good indoor air and which don’t. Next step: improving it. Like the US EPA is proposing to do. And also the City of Toronto!
  • Restructure the healthcare system. The Globe did a big story on this recently that is difficult to summarize in a bullet point. But it’s not about more money; it’s really about spending the money better by integrating all aspects of health into one system instead of funding only doctors and hospitals. This is exactly what the 300,000 or so Canadians with Long Covid need—but it’s also what we all need, to treat every ailment!
  • Longer Christmas break. Happens every year, previously with flu and now with Covid: Families gather at Christmas, infect each other, then all go back to work and school and pass it on further. Reduce that risk by making that a longer school break for kids, with the time made up by extending the school year. Wouldn’t that also help reduce learning loss from the long summer break? More people would surely take more vacation time at Christmas, too, further reducing spread in workplaces. (While at it, how about: More vacation days for all.)

And I leave you with…

Cute animals for when you are stressed


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Wining and dining while trying to avoid cooties

I promise this won’t turn into a big politic rant, but it’s just a fact that the Ontario government no longer cares if I (or anyone in Ontario) gets Covid—as long as not too many of us end up in hospital with it. (And even there, they keep mumbling about how they have some spare hospitals beds now.)

Stubbornly, I’d still rather avoid it, if I can. Even for the triple-vaccinated, it seems unpleasant to have. And then there’s those possible long-term effects: Long Covid. Early dementia. Diabetes. Higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Happily for privileged me (and here I could do a rant about how the government has abandoned the less-privileged and the more-vulnerable, but I won’t), I do have considerable ability to, well, just stay home and avoid people. And the temperament to not mind it all that much.

But it is nice to leave the house once in a while. And I do have vacation days to take. We’d really enjoyed our time in Niagara-on-the-Lake in November, so earlier in the year, we planned to spend a few nights there in late March.

Then the government dismantled everything that had made that fall trip feel comfortable: Capacity limits—lifted. Vaccine passports—gone. Mask mandates—history. Meanwhile, the Omicron BA.2 variant, the most contagious one yet, makes its inexorable rise.

And thanks be we weren’t headed to Ottawa, which has already reached historic levels of Covid infections

Still, most of our planned activities seemed relatively low risk. The outdoor hiking is obviously not a problem. Wineries offered private tastings. We could mask in the common areas of the Inn we were staying. But what about dinner???

Spring has not really sprung in these parts yet, so patios weren’t an option. And sure, you can do takeout. But we didn’t want to. Niagara-on-the-Lake has some terrific restaurants. And we love the whole multi-course, wine-matched, lingering indoor dining experience. But Covid-wise, there’s so little you can control when in a restaurant: you can’t mask, you can’t know in advance how well-ventilated the restaurant is, you can’t prevent other people from being seated near you.

And then I got an idea…

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The Blue Rodeo risk assessment

My Twitter feed is a terrifying place these days.

My timeline is stuffed full of doctors, epidemiologists, public health officials, and health journalists, and they are not an optimistic bunch of late. While Ontario / Canada seemed to have had a reasonable handle on Delta, the two-week’s worth of data on Omicron is not looking promising. Seemingly quite contagious, seemingly fairly evasive of both vaccination and prior infection, it looks poised to spread at exponential rates in the coming weeks and months, once again threatening to swamp Ontario hospitals whose already limited capacity is actually worse now when this happened last year.

Potential impact of Omicron could be substantial
One of the slides from the Ontario Science Advisory Table’s latest update

Meanwhile, I had tickets to my first crowded indoor event of the pandemic: a sold-out Blue Rodeo concert at Centre in the Square.

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Taking the vax pass for a spin

After categorically stating (and repeating) that there was no way, no how that Ontario would require proof of vaccination to access certain public spaces, Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontarians would be required to show proof of vaccination to access certain public spaces. The change of heart itself was no surprise to most Ontarians, who’d by now witnessed many similar policy pivots, but its timing was: early September. That is, before the COVID case count was terrible and inevitably about to get worse before it could get better.

Ontarians were then surprised again to find that from roughly that point on—before the policy actually took effect, and despite the start of school—case numbers have improved. Just slightly improved, and still not as good as last summer, but definitely on a downward. Something that it not happening everywhere in Canada.

The avg. of daily COVID-19 cases has fallen from early September
And locally, the numbers have been a little better than the provincial average (after our “fun” Delta spike in June).

So Jean and I have been getting out there. A little.

I wanted to see the new Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings—mainly because I was a fan of the lead actor, Simu Liu, from Kim’s Convenience. But I also liked that it was an origin story, so it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t versed in all the intricate details of the Marvel universe. That it was both a critical and box office hit also seemed promising.

I figured that seeing it at the Cineplex VIP theatre would be good, because then we could get an actual meal. Made it quite manageable to go there after work for the early evening showing, even though the VIP theatre is kind of across town from where we live.

COVID protocols in place when we went: They checked for vaccination proof (and mask wearing) at the entrance to the building. Then at the entrance to the VIP theatre, they did contact tracing. Each theatre was limited to 50% capacity; when we bought our tickets in advance, we selected our seats, and the system then blocked off the ones to either side of us so we knew no one would be sitting there.

Mind, the movie had been out for about four weeks by then, and it was week day, so though the 50% capacity of that rooms was 35 people, I think there were only about 10 there? And nobody else in our row.

So we felt pretty OK about unmasking to eat our dinner. We don’t get to the VIP theatre often. I still love the novelty of ordering food and wine (!) at my extra-comfortable, reclining seat. My edamame, fish taco, and Kim Crawford Sauvignon were all quite fine. Jean also liked the edamame and his Malbec, but was a little less impressed with the pulled pork.

As for the movie, I found it really fun. Jean complained about how many fight scenes it had. He’s right—so many fight scenes! Normally, this would bore me. But I thought these were quite well-choreographed fight scenes that did move the plot along. It was too bad Simu Liu didn’t get more funny lines—Awkwafina (who was great!) got most of those. But he looked good. I was diverted. Nice night out.

The following Monday, we went to see a different sort of film at a different sort of theatre (but with basically the same COVID protocols to follow): I’m Your Man, at the local art cinema, The Princess. The premise of that one is a woman scientist tasked with testing a humanoid robot designed to be the perfect partner for her.

Tom, the robot, is endowed with artificial intelligence that causes him to adapt to whatever his “partner” wants, though in case he has a partner who’s skeptical of the whole idea and trying to maintain objectivity. As he dials down the romantic gestures and ramps up the practical assistance he can provide, she gives him more mind, and then more heart…. It was quite engaging and thought-provoking and—though Jean thought they could have done even more with the premise—we both enjoyed it.

Then later in the week, we decided to try some more indoor dining, back at S&V Uptown. It’s our third time there since they moved to uptown Waterloo, and again we were really impressed. In terms of consistent food quality, I think it’s the closest we’ve come to Verses—the only issue is the tendency to sometimes over-salt the sauce, at least to our taste. But even that never ruins a dish, because nothing is ever drowning in sauce.

They had just launched their Fall five-course menu, and that’s what we had, again with shared paired wines (1.5 oz each per serving). Fried oysters, halibut with mushrooms, beef cheek, sponge cake…

(I also finally got to wear my new pantsuit.)

Meanwhile, in another bout of optimism, I’ve acquired tickets to a number of events at Centre in the Square for the coming months:

  • Blue Rodeo (in December)
  • Letterkenny Live (in February)
  • Billy Joel’s The Stranger by Classic Albums Live (in April)

These all depend on lifted capacity restrictions—which the government has just announced (albeit not yet for restaurants and gyms). So we’ll see how that goes.

What’s next?

I will mention that the rapid testing program that I blogged about previously has been shut down by the Ontario government. Not entirely—it can still be used by the small businesses it was originally intended for. But Communitech’s extension to community groups and individuals was making the province look bad, I guess, so they put a halt to it.

Meanwhile, there is some opinion that wider deployment of rapid tests are key to ending the pandemic. Until the Ontario government comes to agree with that, here are a few options for getting them:

  • The tests are available free to businesses, who can then make them available to their employees. So talk to your company about it. (If you own a business, get some on that basis.)
  • The Canadian Shield now sells them. About $10 each, so not exactly cheap, but better than the $40 each at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  • Travel to a place like the UK or Nova Scotia, where they’re widely available and cheap (though I have no idea if it’s just as easy for tourists to acquire them)?
Play safe going out (rapid tests) and going in (condoms)
Nova Scotia public health campaign

Now for a bit of trivia: What would you guess is the most highly vaccinated age group in Waterloo region? The over 80s, perhaps?

Nope. It’s the 18 to 29s. Followed not far by the 30 to 39s. (Frankly, my age group are a bit slackers here, at possibly the lowest rate of “at least one dose”?)

Percent vaccination coverage for WR Residents by Age Group
Source: Waterloo Region COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force

The kids are all right—and they’ve earned their way into bars, restaurants, gyms, and concert halls.


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Not an open and shut case

Both Ontario and Toronto hit record numbers of COVID-19 cases this week, yet Doug Ford, it seems, wants the shuttered restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas to reopen. Is that really wise?

Nobody much cares what I think about it, but I can’t help thinking about it anyway. So now I’m inflicting my thoughts on you.

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