1. War is the wrong metaphor
Over the weekend, 55 new cases of COVID-19 were found in Nova Scotia, bringing the total caseload to 236.
The Examiner tracks the spread of COVID-19 graphically daily, and reports on the daily briefings given by Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.
McNeil and Strang are at their best when they’re cheerleading, encouraging us to rise to be our better selves. “Be kind,” they’ve said. “Ask if people need help.”
But as the disease spreads, the tone of the briefings has tilted increasingly towards scolding.
After Strang encouraged people to go to the park two weeks ago — “If you’re in self-isolation just because of travel and you’re feeling well and you don’t have any symptoms, you can still take your dog for a walk, go for a bike ride, take your kids to the park” — McNeil called out those who did go to the park, and last week he cited reports from Google that showed an increase in people going to the park. But that increase was compared to the frozen month of January (Jan. 3 to Feb. 5) to just mostly before but also just after the broad shutdowns announced on March 22, with no baseline comparisons to previous years, so it was meaningless.
If two people went to visit a park on a snowy day in January, and four people went on a sunny day in March, that’s a 100% increase, but if 200 people went last March, we’d have seen a 99% decrease in travel to that park. Looked at from one perspective, the data show a citizenry largely and flagrantly violating the restrictions. Looked at from another perspective, people are mostly falling in line with the restrictions.
I’m not encouraging people to go to parks, and clearly the decision to close high-trafficked parks like Crystal Crescent was the right thing to do, because especially in parking lots and along connecting paths, it’s impossible to maintain social distancing.
I also think it was right to slightly roll back the initial announcement and say that it’s OK for people to use trails in their neighbourhoods. We’re in this for a very long haul, several months at least, and while the pandemic is the immediate and most urgent public health consideration, as this thing develops and people are isolated longer, we’re going to see other public health considerations become increasingly important — people’s mental and physical health, domestic violence, nutrition, and so forth. To the extent that continued social distancing can be maintained, people will need sunshine and exercise.
But while I recognize the need to close high-trafficked parks, I found the use of ambiguous Google data a little frightening. It’s not just that Google is tracking our every movement (which should be a concern even when there’s not a pandemic) but also that that data is now being used for state surveillance, and at least for some degree of state control.
The use of data for surveillance fits into the militarization of this disease, I think.
As I wrote yesterday:
It’s always the case that everything is seen through a social lens. But it’s at precisely times of crisis when we have to rein in our worst instincts. And for many people, the first instinct is to militarize the situation, by calling the cops on people perceived as bad citizens.
For a while now, the struggle to contain the coronavirus and limit its spread has been couched in militaristic terms — we should be on a “war footing,” and other military analogies are being employed to describe the struggle.
This is odd. It’s true that we need to come together with purpose as a society, and we will all need to sacrifice personally in order to control the pandemic, but why is war the most handy analogy? While personal sacrifice has been involved in every conflict (just ask the families of those killed in battle), Canada hasn’t had to make collective, societal-wide sacrifices for war in 75 years. Sure, too many soldiers lost their lives in places like Afghanistan, but no one was rationing gas, there weren’t nighttime blackouts, rubber drives, and the like. For most people, life went on pretty much as normal.
I say this as a military brat. Dad was involved in the horrific war in Korea, and remained scarred emotionally by it for the rest of his life. Mom was pregnant with me when Dad was deployed to respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis; had there been a US invasion of the island, Dad would have been among the Marine aviators leading the charge. A few months after my birth, I’m told, Dad was asked to deploy to Vietnam, but he cited his six (later to be eight) kids at home and instead was given a desk job until his retirement in 1966. The struggle between his desire to be an exemplary soldier and his home responsibilities created yet more emotional turmoil for Dad, I think now.
As the Vietnam War progressed, young men in my neighbourhood were being plucked away and sent to the jungle to die. And the draft had its sights set on my older brothers. I was too young to fully comprehend it, but Death was looming around every corner.
But Dad’s sacrifices were personal, and we dealt with it the family unit. And at least in my family, fear of the draft could be ignored, the elephant in the room that no one mentioned. Otherwise, life went on more or less as life should. I went to school. I played in the neighbourhood. I participated in team sports. I kissed a pretty girl when I was 15. I got a job at a pizza shop. All allowable for a teenager growing up in a military family, unlike for teenagers living now.
So the military analogy just doesn’t work.
So why is it used? I think in part because we don’t have an adequate analogy for these times, and while there’s not much living memory of true societal-wide sacrifice, our culture is soaked in militarism. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize people for using the analogy, as that’s their world. But I do think it’s worth pointing at it.
But as COVID-19 progresses, I hope we think about what we value, how we value things, and why we value things. War probably shouldn’t be our go-to analogy.
In fact, we need to frame things in a way that celebrates cooperation, collective action, and personal sacrifice, without positing other people as enemies. The Chinese are not our enemy. The people on the cruise ship are not our enemy. The homeless are not our enemy. People who crack under restrictions are not our enemy. Even the coronavirus is not our enemy — it’s just an unthinking amoral strand of RNA.
How we go about this struggle matters, and the words we use matter. It’s fantastic that we are rising to the challenge, that we’re able to sacrifice our economy, give up our everyday actions, spend trillions of dollars to control the disease, care for people who need care, watch out for each other.
We’re facing another crisis — the climate change crisis, which calls for similar response. And if we get things right during the struggle to contain COVID-19, we can apply those lessons to the struggle to minimize climate change. First off: there are no enemies. This is not a war.
Writes Stephen Kimber:
Welcome to the COVID-19 wild, wild west. Welcome to transnational economic globalism meets Trumpian political nationalism. Welcome to our post-COVID Job 1 — rethinking the way we’ve thought about the world for the last 50 years. Welcome to tomorrow. Welcome to today.
3. Increased surveillance of Black people during COVID-19
OmiSoore Dryden, who is an associate professor of community health and epidemiology and the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, witnessed the arrest of a young Black man in Victoria Park Saturday.
Dryden says as she saw it, the young Black man was the victim of a crime, but white passersby called police on him because he was running to retrieve his property from someone else. Writes Dryden:
But in that moment, on South Park, I saw the look on white people’s faces and how they recoiled from the young Black man who was running. Of course, the white woman with the ponytail called the police. It never once occurred to her to ask the young Black man what was wrong and how she could help.
The premier has stated often that people should call the police (in relation to COVID-19). And this statement works exactly like many of us thought it would, to increase the surveillance of Black people. The white woman with the ponytail, and perhaps others, called the police. And the police did not de-escalate the situation. They arrested a young Black man who was trying to get his stuff back. The white woman physically distanced herself from the young Black man, only to break that distance a short time later as she stood closely with the other white people giving statements against the young Black man.
Besides the disputed arrest, Dryden says police inappropriately broke social distancing:
Another officer approached me and asked if we had witnessed what had happened. I informed the officer that he was standing too close to me and needed to maintain physical distancing. In that moment the officer said that this requirement did not apply to officers. I asked the officer if he could assure me that he did not have COVID-19 or assure me that he could not transmit COVID-19. I also took a step away from him to re-establish the distance between us.
4. “Gold standard”
“A Halifax physician who has worked on the frontlines of previous epidemics around the world says the province is doing an exemplary job navigating COVID-19,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
But he also issued a stern warning that public cooperation is key to keeping us all safe, and failure to do so could have devastating results.
“For me personally, and I’m talking from a disaster management perspective not as somebody who’s living here, I think Nova Scotia is probably a gold standard,” Dr. Sundeep Chohan said in an interview Thursday.
“I think here for once we are right at the forefront.”
“[But] it won’t take much to put this province on its back if people do not continue to comply [with restrictive measures], and I think it’s disrespectful to the thousands of people that are out of work at the moment and the hundreds of businesses that have closed if people don’t comply,” he said.
“This is not life as normal. Everybody has to make a sacrifice. You’re doing this for your community now. Hold. That. Line. This is a community effort. This is more than medicine. This is about working together.”
According to the RCMP, at 2:40pm on Thursday, police were called to a home on Glen Arbour Way, where a woman had died. On Friday, police arrested 45-year-old Stephen Beckett for second degree murder.
Police have not identified the woman.
6. Old people in prison
“Canada’s public health agency has warned older adults, i.e. anyone over 65, to take extra precautions to guard against their increased vulnerability to COVID-19,” reports Moira Donovan:
But roughly 25% of Canada’s federal inmate population is part of this vulnerable group — and unlike those in the community, they have few options to protect themselves.
Due to conditions in prisons and jails, and the traumatic backgrounds of many incarcerated people, an ‘older adult’ in this context means anyone over 50.
In prisons, practicing physical distancing is all but impossible; in Mary’s case, she said her 72-year-old father has told her that his range is more crowded than usual, since prisoners who were previously away on programs are now back (all programming, as well as any additional health services like counseling or dental appointments have been suspended).
7. Digital divide
“Even at the best of times, Canada’s so-called ‘digital divide’ prevents millions of people from easily accessing the information they seek,” reports Moira Donovan:
But amid the situation created by COVID-19, advocates and service providers in Halifax say those without access to internet and phone services have lost the thread connecting them not only to their community, but also to the information they need to keep themselves and others safe.
“If you don’t have wi-fi or a phone in your home, then you don’t actually have access to all these [public safety] announcements,” said Michelle Malette, a housing support worker with Adsum House. “It is really important that we’re all staying home and we’re all doing the same things, and not everyone has equal access to all of this information.”
7. Cruise ship season
Not unexpectedly, the Halifax cruise ship schedule as been decimated, at least for the first part of the season. As of this morning, two of the smaller boutique cruise ships (the Hanseatic Inspiration and Pearl Mist, each with fewer than 250 passengers) are still scheduled to arrive in port on May 20, but the entire month of June has been wiped clean. The Port of Halifax still seems to think the season will pick up in July, but that’s doubtful.
8. Mary Brown’s
Writes Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator:
It is far too early to announce the winner of the “Weirdest Result of COVID-19” award but Wednesday’s announcement by Postmedia — the American hedge fund-owned, Canadian government-assisted, 200-plus outlet media chain that includes the National Post — is on my longlist for now.
Like most news organizations, we have been asking our readers to support our journalism by paying to access our content online. The only exception has been coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, which we have been offering outside our pay wall as a public service.
Now, we are pleased to offer all of our relevant, credible news and information free of charge, thanks to a partnership with the Canadian company Mary Brown’s Chicken, which is based in Markham, Ontario and has about 170 locations coast-to-coast…
Thanks to Mary Brown’s partnership, you can consume as much content as you want without being asked to pay until the end of April.
I like the implication that readers will still be asked to pay for all its non-relevant, incredible news and information.
Postmedia offered no details on the “partnership” — as some have noted, it might involve payment in chicken for all we know — but this isn’t an April Fool’s prank, the content is free and Postmedia is somehow being compensated for making it so. It’s churlish, I know, but I would suggest Postmedia’s hedge fund owners could probably manage this without the support of a purveyor of fried chicken — they’ve probably figured out a way to profit from the pandemic by now. That is, after all, what hedge funds do — see “activist” investor Bill Ackman’s spectacular $2.5 billion coronavirus win.
I’m curious as to what this means for media outlets like SaltWire that pay for Postmedia content (although I’m not seeing much Postmedia content in the Cape Breton Post these days — just Reuters — which is probably all I need to know to satisfy that curiosity).
I hope Mary is treating her workers right — paying them well, supporting them if they need to self-isolate, ensuring cooks and delivery workers take all possible precautions and have all possible protections.
If she’s not, I don’t imagine we’ll be hearing about it from Postmedia.
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
1. More spring
“At the best of times, I have a short little span of attention, and THESE times are not helping. So while we isolate here at home, maybe I can show you what I’m noticing in the spring landscape, and around the site, cause that is mostly what I’m doing anyway,” writes Stephen Archibald in italics, and I’m worried for him both for his use of all caps and because he longer DMs me about his most recent posts, hence I missed this post that went live last Wednesday, which was an eternity ago.
Sheila likes to point out that much of our garden was once a red maple swamp. A remnant of that time is a big red maple we see from our kitchen window. At this moment it puts on quite a show, as dots of red (buds) appear in the haze of grey twigs. Damp weather plumps up lichens growing on the tree, for extra hits of colour.
2. Hand washing
“I wonder when Strang got handwashing religion,” writes Gus Reed:
Four years ago, wheelchair users asked Strang to weigh in on enforcement of the province’s food safety regulation requiring “washroom facilities for staff and washroom facilities for the public available in a convenient location” in restaurants. He was indifferent:
- “There is agreement that your concern is best handled through the NS Building Code. I suggest that you contact Mr. Joe Rogers, Building Code Coordinator, Office of the Fire Marshall in the Department of Municipal Affairs.” he wrote me in March, 2016
Thus began a four year detour through the depths of justice and human rights in Nova Scotia. More on this later.
So for most Nova Scotians, the very best antiviral measure is, “WASH YOUR HANDS”. For wheelchair users, “Call Joe”. Why the difference? Wheelchair users are used to it, and we call it discrimination.
All scheduled subcommittee meetings are cancelled. Halifax council will have a virtual meeting on Thursday.
No public meetings, virtual or otherwise.
In the harbour
01:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for Savannah, Georgia
01:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer, bulker, moves from anchorage to National Gypsum
03:30: MOL Magnificence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
05:00: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
05:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
10:30: Grand Diamond, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 9 from New York
13:00: Bylgia, anchor handling vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Wilson’s fuel dock
15:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:00: YM Evolution sails for Rotterdam
16:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer sails for sea
16:30: Grand Diamond sails for sea
17:00: Bylgia moves back to Pier 9
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