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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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Goderich exceeds expectations

I was mainly motivated by the thought of going somewhere that I hadn’t visited recently. Jean, who’d been going semi-regularly, but only for canoeing purposes, was dubious there’d be enough non-canoeing activities on tap to avoid boredom.

But, we only had a couple days off, and were not looking to fly anywhere, so options were limited. Goderich, Ontario, a small town on Lake Huron, came up the winner as our destination.

Map of Port Albert and surrounding, including Goderich

In researching, I was pleased to discovered that a number of wineries had sprung up in the area, and that’s where we headed first, for lunch at Dark Horse Estate Winery—which is actually closer to Grand Bend than Goderich. (Grand Bend is not on the above map, but it’s located between Sarnia and Bayfield.)

We knew their patio was covered, meaning we’d be fine rain or shine (although not near-tornado, which they’d experienced the day prior), but it was at any rate a beautiful day. It was also a lovely setting.

Jean on Dark Horse Winery patio, with water and wine

Jean selected a glass of their Baco Noir, while I went with a glass of Marquette, and we were both convinced we’d made the best choice—which of course means we each did. Surprisingly for Jean and less so for me, we both ordered their wood-burning oven pizza.

Me with pizza and wine on patio
Super talented pizza chef in background

We both agreed—this was one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had. The crust… My goodness.

After paying for lunch and purchasing a couple bottles of wine, we drove further up the road to the little town of Zurich, for a stop in at Schatz Winery. There’s also an Inn and Restaurant on the site, and having arrived, Jean recalled that he’d attended a work function here years before, predating the winery’s existence.

We opted to do the tasting in the vineyard instead of indoors, and while between the two of us, we had the option of tasting almost every wine they have, Jean thought tasting 8 was a bit much, so we shared a tasting of 4. I was also intrigued by this beer / coffee blend they had on offer that day, so I got that as well.

Schatz winery with four wines and a Thanks Ale Latte
Four wines and a coffee beer

We liked all of the wines, actually (keeping in mind that we prefer food-friendly wines that don’t necessarily have the big fruit “wow” factor). But based partly on price, we purchased a bottle of 1984 Frontenac Blanc, and the Rusty Petit Pearle (a red wine).

As for the beer, it was terrific! Even Jean enjoyed his sip, and he’s really not a beer guy. It was by a local brewery, and their idea was to create a beer that was reminiscent of a latte. They came darn close! I also got a couple cans of that. Thanks Ale Latte. Heh.

We then drove on and checked into our accommodation, the Dreamz Inn, just outside Goderich. It proved a perfectly serviceable place, offering good size rooms, an adequate continental breakfast, and few nice touches like fluffy bathrobes and free bottled water and chocolates. The only issue was the last morning, when a plumbing problem meant no hot water for showering! But they did give us a $50 credit for that, without us asking.

But that afternoon, we finally headed into Goderich proper before dinner time, and did some walking around the beach and downtown area. It is a pretty little town, and nicely rebuilt from the devastating tornado in 2011.

We had dinner on the patio at Part II Bistro, the best-rated restaurant in Goderich. It was quite good. I started with the pear salad, and followed with mushroom-infused sacchiette pasta. Jean had an arancini-type appetizer (a special that day) followed by the pork and broccollini ravioli. Their wine list featured wines from local wineries (not exclusively, but mainly). I had an Alton Farms rose while Jean fell in love with the Dark Horse Sinful Red.

Pork and broccollini ravioli from Part II Bistro.

The following day was lovely weather again, and we struck out for a beach walk to start the day, after breakfast.

On boardwalk of Goderich beach.

We then ventured to walk part of the recommended Tiger Dunlop Trail, including over the Menesetung Bridge. Jean had low expectations going in, but this turned out to be a beautiful walk with great views. We weren’t able to do as much of it as we would have liked, so something for next time.

View of the Goderich salt mine
Goderich salt mine in the distance
Duck in the water
View from the Menesetung Bridge

Though we considered a few other options for lunch, they were found wanting, so we did a part two at Part II Bistro. It didn’t disappoint. I had the vegetarian risotto, and Jean went with two appetizers, the escargot and the gnudi (along with his beloved red wine).

We had been planning to visit Maelstrom Winery in the afternoon, as a few people had recommended it, but it proved farther away that we thought. (I mean, 20 minutes, but that still seemed too far at the time.) So we instead visited the nearer-by 2nd Streetlight Estate Winery, whose Sauvignon Blanc I had enjoyed at lunch.

Again we were able to do outdoor seating, and this time Jean was up for trying all eight wines (sharing, so 1 oz of each per person). This was the only place where we got the personal description of each wine as it was poured, which is always a nice touch. And maybe we were just in a good mood (quite possible), but we pretty much liked everything. We didn’t buy everything, though. We were both quite impressed with the rose, Jean quite liked the sparkling Kin, and I thought the cleverly named Good Red was, indeed, a good red.

Then we had to figure out dinner. When first researching Goderich, we considered staying at the Benmiller Inn, a historic spot with a once-great reputation. But my email inquiries to them went unanswered, and the more recent online reviews were a mixed bag, so we shied away from it. Still, their posted dinner menu looked quite good—and we didn’t really want to eat at Part II Bistro a third time!

So we gave them a call, and after some debate among the staff, they agreed they could accommodate us if we arrived for an earlier dinner, like 5:30. We were amenable to that and realized, when we got there, that it was because they were also hosting a large wedding party (rehearsal dinner, not the wedding itself).

We sat outside in their really gorgeous garden setting. And you know… The food and service was just primo. Jean had an amazing bouillabaisse to start. My yellow fin tuna entree was smoky and perfectly cooked, with great sides. Jean said his roast duck was one of the best he’d had in ages. And the chocolate mousse dessert we shared… Lovely.

Salmon cakes with salad and mustard and white wine
I started with salmon cakes, which were also very well prepared
Yellowfin tuna incrusted with sesame and nest made of carrot

The Benmiller might be having its troubles and needing to rebuild, but on this night, at least, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders.

On our last day—the no hot shower day—we started with a walk originating in Point Farms Provincial Park, mainly known for its waterfall. Jean canoes these waters in spring, when the levels are really high. He was struck by how low they were in July.

Falls in Benmiller

The rest of the walk didn’t prove as interesting, though, and with the sky threatening, we decided to turn around early. We did experience some rainfall on the walk back, but it was blunted by trees. Having emerged, we decided to head home at that point, foregoing tentative plans to have lunch at Maelstrom Winery.

So that remains on the list for a future visit, along with doing more of the Tiger Dunlop Trail and its offshoots, and potentially:

  • A brewery tour (or two)
  • Visit to the Huron Historic Gaol, which is supposed to be pretty interesting
  • Hanging out on the beach (not just walking by it), maybe even swimming!


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Ontario election dilemma

Ontario’s having an election in a few, and I’d rather Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives not win the most seats. The main reason is that climate change remains our biggest problem, and this party has been and will continue to be terrible on the environmental front. We can’t really afford that for another four years. Not only are they not trying to reduce emissions, they really seem to want to increase them. Their main campaign point is that they more people in more cars on more highways, producing more greenhouse gases on the paved-over wetlands.

But, the PCs also weren’t great on (just off the top of my head):

  • Healthcare—Freezing wages, cutting public health
  • Long-term care—Failing to protect seniors in care (like, seniors died of starvation and neglect, not Covid…)
  • Autism—Cancelling the Liberal autism program because the wait list was too long, and replacing it with nothing but an even longer wait list
  • Opioid addiction—Arbitrarily capping the number of needle exchange centres in the province while overdose deaths soared
  • Open government—Paying lawyers to keep secret information citizens have the right to know, such as ministerial mandate letters and taxpayer-funded reports on municipal amalgamation
  • Municipal government—Cancelling the ranked ballot option (why?), changing the number of Toronto city councillors mid-election (!)

So, clearly I would like people to… well…. do what exactly?

Vote for a member of another party, of course. But that’s the issue: which one? This ain’t a two-party system. And none of the other main alternatives—NDP, Liberal, or Green—are clearly the best choice. At least to me, anyway. But I think to a lot of other people, also.

Which is why we have this split. A chunk who will vote PC, because you always have a minimum 30% or so who will, with the remaining majority of voters dividing up support in such a way that the PCs are well on track to win more seats than anyone. Quite likely a majority of seats overall, which will allow them to govern and do whatever the heck they want.

PCs at 36% vs Liberal at 28%, NDP at 24%, and Green at 5%.

The other parties should combine and stop this from happening

I keep hearing this, even now, from people whom, I guess, don’t really know how our political system works?

The election has started. The ballots are printed. Heck, people have already voted! It’s too late for the Liberals and NDP to collaborate and agree to split the ridings and govern as a coalition—which is not really how our system works anyway…?

In the end, after the vote, if the non-PC parties have, combined, more seats than the PCs, they could look to eventually defeat that government and indeed, offer to govern in some sort of partnership as an alternative to making everyone go to the polls again. But not before the vote.

(Also, you know, you can’t just assume that people who like the Liberals like the NDP second best and vice versa. If those parties were to collaborate ahead of time, it could well annoy loyalists into voting for some other party entirely…)

Strategic voting

Is the other big idea, and is at least is in realm of possibility (unlike the fantasy of an NDP-Liberal coalition forming mid-election campaign). But it’s not as easy as it seems, even despite all the tools and movements to help, such as https://votewell.ca/ and (for Toronto) https://www.notoneseat.ca/

The idea is that you vote for whichever party your riding is most likely to defeat the PC candidate.

The problem is that it’s largely based on polling at the local riding level, which is simply not accurate, mainly because it isn’t done! At least not on any mass scale. Polling is mostly done provincially, and then they try to extrapolate to the local level to estimate how the seat count will work out (considering historical data for that riding, etc.). It gives you an idea, but that’s it. It’s not really solid data.

Squaring my own circle

All I can 100% control is my own vote, so what are the considerations?

Party leader

My favourite for sure is Mike Shreiner of the Green Party. He’s smart, he’s likeable, he’s been a constructive presence in the Legislature the last four years, and in my opinion, he was the best at the Northern Ontario leaders debate (one of the better debates I’ve seen a while, actually).

Steven Del Duca (Liberal) and Andrea Horwath (NDP) also seem smart and reasonably likeable, but do somewhat lack in charisma. Del Duca was somewhat better in the debate, in my opinion, for what that’s worth.

Platform

If you look at my Vote Compass:

Liberal 73%, Green Pasrty 64%, NDP 63%, PC 43%

The Liberals have it.

But, I feel like each of these parties has some promises I really like, some that I’m meh about, and a few I’m not quite on board with but, overall, any one would be an improvement over the PCs.

Local candidate

The only local candidates I know anything about are incumbent Catherine Fife of the NDP, and Shefaza Esmail of the Green Party, whom I talked to briefly on the phone. I’ll have to nerd out and watch a local debate to see how the others are, but Catherine has been a good MPP: smart, engaged, well-spoken. At this point, she certainly seems like the best local option.

In sum

I have my own three-way tie: Green, Liberal, NDP.

If the election were held today…

I’d likely vote NDP, to support Catherine Fife, and because, despite my serious doubts about strategic voting… She still seems like the smart choice if you’re going to consider it at all.

(For what it’s worth, VoteWell has Waterloo pegged as more of a Liberal / NDP battleground, and says you can therefore vote for “the candidate you prefer”. I dunno. Last time the PCs did come in second, but that was also the Great Liberal Collapse election, so… Who knows. Strategic voting is a mug’s game.)

Anyway. Making up my own mind isn’t really the problem.

The problem is how to you chip away at the soft part of the 37% currently planning to vote PC, and try to get them to vote some other way?

… When you can’t even quite tell them what that other way should be…?

I do still love this ad…


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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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Yet another Ontario vacation

I had more vacation days left than I needed for Christmas time, and there seemed little point in carrying them forward into the first three months of next year. So we took the first week of November off, and visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and the north shore of Lake Erie.

Beautiful tree on a sunny day in Niagara
This is November?

Fortunately the weather proved cooperative. We had a warm late October in southern Ontario, and while it got cooler this first week of November, it was very sunny—and that warm October meant that a lot of trees still had their colourful leaves. So not a “dreary” November week at all.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stayed at Harbour House, which is a pretty nice spot. It was not a huge room, but the space was very well organized, and it came with little perks like a bathrobe and a wine-and-cheese hour. I was a bit surprised that we had to show proof of vaccination upon checking in, but that was for the included indoor breakfast, which was quite good—granola, fruit, and yogourt, followed by a hot item such as quiche.

It was also on the lake, which meant some great walks were right there.

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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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Killarney Mountain Lodge

Originally we’d been thinking about flying to Nova Scotia in August, but then noted that there wasn’t a single car available for rent in the entire province that month. (This is due to the pandemic-caused chip shortage.) Then, we considering going there in early September, but we ran into the issue that our catsitter had a similar thought, and was flying to New Brunswick. Scary Covid projections for Fall were also starting to fly about then as well, and we got a little weirded out about being reliant on airlines to get us back home.

So switched it all up and decided to just drive to Killarney Mountain Lodge for four nights.

Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
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Day in Beamsville

We took last Monday off and spent it visiting the Beamsville area. We started at a winery called Good Earth Food and Wine Co., which earned the honour by being the only place we could find there that was open for lunch on Mondays. It still proved an excellent choice, though. Their patio overlooks their lovely grounds, and their bistro menu is small-ish but clearly focused on their strengths. We quite enjoyed the whipped chicken liver parfait appetizer we shared, and my main course wood-oven pizza du jour, featuring bechamel, wild mushrooms, and truffle oil, was also lovely. (I don’t recall what Jean’s main was, but he was happy with it.)

I enjoyed my lunch with a glass of their orange Pinot Grigio, while Jean had the sparkling rose (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay). We liked both of those enough to buy a bottle of each (Pinot was $18, the sparkling $29), then went for an (also outdoor) wine tasting. With that effort, we came away with a bottle each of the oaked 2017 Chardonnay ($27), and the off-dry Betty’s Blend white (not listed on their website, so I guess you can only buy it in person). We decided against the Viognier.

Good Earth Food and Wine company
Photo from https://winesinniagara.com/2019/07/good-vibrations-at-the-good-earth-food-and-wine-co/

Our next stop was at The Organized Crime Winery—selected partly because I liked the name! (I should note that, based our current wine stocks, we’d decided in advance to only try whites and roses, and the outdoor tastings in the heat of the day only strengthened that resolve. So apologies to red wine fans, I guess.) At Organized Crime, we picked out three 2020 wines to try: the Pinot Gris, an orange wine blend called Sacrilege, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Though we didn’t know it when making the selections, apparently 2020 was an excellent year for Beamsville Bench wines, so keep that in mind.

And we indeed found all three wines complex and interesting, but the Pinot Gris—which interestingly was more orange in color than the orange wine—was far and away our favourite. In purchasing a couple bottles, we found it’s a common opinion, and they sell out of Pinot Gris quickly every year. It’s $21 a bottle.

Next up: We’d made a reservation for tasting at Kew Vineyard Estate Winery, another “new to use” winery. They seated us at a lovely, treed outdoor setting and provided a little menu of wines, albeit with no tasting notes. But our server was quite willing and able to provide them for any we were interested in, and we also used our phone to look things up on the website.

Kew Winery outdoor tasting area
Speaking of their website, this is where I got this image, showing part of the tasting area.

We knew this would be our last wine stop of the day, so we did two rounds of three tastings. As a result, I don’t recall everything we tried! But I do know what we liked enough to buy:

  • 2015 Old Vines Riesling, a real classic, delicious, dry-style Niagara Riesling, $16 a bottle (we got two)
  • 2018 Rosalie, a rose of 100% Pinot Noir, a lovely drink for $30
  • 2015 Fumé Blanc, which is an oaked Sauvignon Blanc—it does have a real smokey taste. Quite an interesting wine to learn about! The name was coined in California back in the day when the Sauvignon Blanc grape wasn’t much of a draw. One tip: No controls over the term Fumé Blanc, so hard to be sure just what kind of wine you’re getting. $20
  • North Cider Brut—a dry apple-based sparkling, which they call “Normandy style”, which I think would be just fine with food (like chicken). $13.

Despite it being somewhat warm and sticky, we finished off the day with a little hike at Ball’s Falls. It was good to get some walking in, though the falls themselves weren’t at their most impressive.

Ball's Falls
Though the Falls do look pretty nice in this Jean photo!


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Started back doing those things we used to do

Ontario has reached that point in its slow reopening where almost everything is reopened, but with some restrictions, like distancing, capacity limits, and masks. Vaccination rates are some of the highest in the world, but the pace of increase is slowing. Case counts are fairly low, but slowly starting to rise again.

Mentally, I still switch between feeling fairly good / confident (I probably won’t get it! And if I do, it shouldn’t be that bad!) to still somewhat anxious (But the delta variant! What about long covid!).

And I have missed doing things. Some things, anyway.

One of the local restaurants we like, Swine and Vine, decided to move from its Kitchener location to uptown Waterloo. As part of the move, they rebranded, changing their name to S&V Uptown, and changing their menu focus away from charcuterie board to “upscale bistro”. I loved the look of their menu. I thought that they might not be so busy on Tuesday nights? So we decided to try it, as our belated anniversary dinner out.

Though they don’t have a dress code or anything, we decided to spruce up a bit for the event. I dug into the far reaches of my closet for shoes with heels—first time wearing such-like footwear in a year and half. (Wedge heels, though. Didn’t want to twist an ankle.) And though it was a nice enough day for their patio, we thought we’d try the indoor dining thing. First time we’d done that locally since—well, you know.

It was a quiet evening there, with no other dinners seated right beside us (distanced though that table be). And we were quite impressed with the whole experience:

  • The service was quite attentive and knowledgeable. They presented and described each dish as served. They were able to guide us to some good wine matching choices.
  • Everything was creative and delicious, with the octoplus a la planchette and lamb noisette as highlights.
  • The few service hiccups (they did just open in this space, with this new menu) were smoothly addressed. Our entrees were slightly delayed, so they gave us a pate taster to tied us over, and still compensated us on the bill.

Movie theatres have also reopened at half capacity (masks mandatory for entry and recommended when seated, except when eating or drinking). The last movie we’d seen in person in the before time at The Princess was Parasite, the Oscar winner. This week, in deciding to venture back, we went to see Nomadland, this year’s Oscar winner.

I didn’t pay much attention to the Oscars this year, so Nomadland wasn’t really on my radar until Jean mentioned that he’d read and quite enjoyed the book the film was based on. I then watched the trailer and thought it looked interesting.

It’s about people whose economic circumstances cause them to live in their trailers, or vans, and move around America in search of work. They converge on Amazon to help with the Christmas rush. They work in national parks during tourist seasons. They pick beets. Work in restaurants. It seems kind of bad—and in a number of ways, it is—but maybe not that bad? In terms of the freedom, the camaraderie that develops among the people who do this (the “nomads”), and the ability to see the beauty of the country.

An engaging film, even without a huge dramatic through-line. (And wearing a mask during a whole movie is moderately annoying, but quite doable.)

This long weekend we got tickets to see a production in Stratford. Unable to put on their usual large, elaborate, indoor productions of Shakespeare, musicals, and other plays, they have on offer instead some smaller plays and cabarets, presented outdoors, currently with a limit of 100 people in attendance (I believe with expectation that they can increase this later in the season). At those numbers, pretty much everything sells out, so it was thanks to advance ticket access that we were able to get tickets to the cabaret Play On! A Shakespearean Mixtape.

That took place on a rainy-ish day, with thunderstorm risk present. Still, it was sunny when we walked in under the canopy, about 10 minutes before the start.

But about 5 minutes after it started, the thunderstorm kicked up.

Now, everyone was under canopy, and we were pretty centrally seated, so we stayed dry—unlike the people nearer the opening, who had to raise up their umbrellas behind. And the wind, occasional thunderclap, and sight and sound of heavy rainfall were somewhat distracting to everyone for the storm duration.

But wow, the four singers—two young women, two young men—were terrific. (And one of the gents seriously looked like slightly portly Adam Lambert.) To introduce songs, they would perform some lines from the associated Shakespeare play, then launch into the song. It was quite a wide-ranging set: Taylor Swift, Radiohead, Rush, Mumford and Sons, Madonna, Prince… Well, here’s the playlist:

Some songs were played for laughs—Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Billy S., I Am the Walrus. Some performances were haunting—A Case of You, and especially, Exit Music (For a Film). And some were awesome, notably the take on Rush’s Limelight. Overall, great to hear live music for the first time since January, 2020.

We had selected The Bruce Restaurant for dinner. And we had hedged our bets by making two reservations: one for the patio, one for indoors. Of course, we didn’t want to tie up both tables, and the weather forecast made us think that indoors would be a safer bet. But by actual dinner time, it had pretty much cleared up again. Unfortunately, when asking about being seated outdoors, a large party had already filled the space.

Again, it wasn’t a full establishment, though it was a little busier than S&V Uptown. And just as good! I started with a lovely watermelon salad with a glass of Champagne, while Jean had a goat cheese and beet entree with Stratus White. He then had an amazing truffle pasta with a Languedoc Pinot Noir (new to us, Pinot Noir from that region) while I enjoyed a lobster BLT with the Stratus White. (The bread and bacon were the highlight of that sandwich.)

For dessert, I had berry assortment, with berry tea, while Jean had a cheese plate.

And now we have an email that some ballroom dance classes are restarting—refresher courses (literally). Hmm…