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1. Five more Nova Scotians have died of COVID-19; mostly meaningless new case numbers released

A non-medical cloth mask (top left), N95 respirator mask, and a blue medical face mask. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

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The province reported five more deaths from COVID-19 yesterday, Tim Bousquet writes in his daily pandemic roundup:

The deceased are:
• a woman in her 60s in the Central Zone
• a man in his 70s in the Central Zone
• a man in his 70s in the Western Zone
• a man in his 90s in the Central Zone
• a woman in her 90s in the Western Zone
In total, 133 Nova Scotians have died from COVID.

There were 362 new cases of COVID-19 reported, but as Bousquet notes, the real number is much higher. There were 362 positive PCR tests in the previous 24 hours. The test positivity rate is 12.8%.

I keep hearing people saying that COVID-19 is going to become endemic, as though that means we won’t have to worry about it anymore.

In the journal Nature, evolutionary virologist Aris Katzourakis debunks the idea that we should just give up trying to mitigate the disease, because it is on its way to being endemic.

An endemic infection, he notes, is “one in which overall rates are static.” He writes:

In other words, a disease can be endemic and both widespread and deadly. Malaria killed more than 600,000 people in 2020. Ten million fell ill with tuberculosis that same year and 1.5 million died. Endemic certainly does not mean that evolution has somehow tamed a pathogen so that life simply returns to ‘normal’.

The notion that the virus will become less dangerous is itself dangerous and unfounded, Katzourakis says:

There is a widespread, rosy misconception that viruses evolve over time to become more benign. This is not the case: there is no predestined evolutionary outcome for a virus to become more benign, especially ones, such as SARS-CoV-2, in which most transmission happens before the virus causes severe disease…

Much can be done to shift the evolutionary arms race in humanity’s favour. First, we must set aside lazy optimism. Second, we must be realistic about the likely levels of death, disability and sickness. Targets set for reduction should consider that circulating virus risks giving rise to new variants. Third, we must use — globally — the formidable weapons available: effective vaccines, antiviral medications, diagnostic tests and a better understanding of how to stop an airborne virus through mask wearing, distancing, and air ventilation and filtration. Fourth, we must invest in vaccines that protect against a broader range of variants…

Thinking that endemicity is both mild and inevitable is more than wrong, it is dangerous: it sets humanity up for many more years of disease, including unpredictable waves of outbreaks. It is more productive to consider how bad things could get if we keep giving the virus opportunities to outwit us. Then we might do more to ensure that this does not happen.

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2. Why are so few kids vaccinated against COVID-19?

Nurse Laura Bailey administers a COVID-19 vaccine dose to eight-year-old Jack Woodhead at the IWK COVID-19 vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Only 51% of children ages 5-11 in Canada have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The number for the population that is 12 and over is 88%. In her latest, Yvette d’Entremont looks at why that might be.

She speaks with Christine Chambers, a professor in the departments of psychology, neuroscience, and pediatrics at Dalhousie and a panelist in an upcoming virtual town hall on pediatric COVID-19 vaccination.

“Some of what I hear from parents is they know that COVID is relatively mild in kids and so they think, ‘Why should I bother,’” Chambers said.

“So I think some of the conversations that we’ll be having really talk about not only does this protect your child, but there’s interesting research coming out that’s showing the potential long-term benefits of having the vaccine in terms of reducing the risk of having long COVID.”

Chambers said the lower vaccine uptake in that age cohort might also in part be due to the fact that few children between the ages of 5 and 11 enjoy getting needles. She said that’s why it’s important to discuss how parents can support their children to have positive vaccination experiences. Helping it hurt less makes it easier for parents to get their kids to those appointments.

Another possible reason for the slow uptake? Pandemic fatigue.

“Let’s face it, parents are tired. We’ve been at this for a long time. It’s been almost two years. We’re coming off of a very busy period for parents over the holidays, disrupted schooling, disrupted childcare. Parents have been scrambling to balance work and family,” Chambers said.

Read the whole story here.

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3.  “No more excuses”

Cecil Boutilier. Photo: Cecil Boutilier

Matthew Byard profiles Cecil Boutilier, who runs a business out of the halfway house where he lives — persevering despite COVID-19 and what he describes as ever-changing rules from parole officers.

Boutilier’s company — a clothing line and tattoo business — is called NME, for no more excuses. He says the phrase encapsulates his new approach to life.

But life hasn’t been easy the last little while. Boutilier went on hunger strike to protest what he saw as unsafe COVID-19 protocols at the halfway house — before testing positive for the disease himself.

Byard writes:

Boutilier said he has been in and out of jail his whole life. He has a series of convictions involving car theft. His most recent car theft in 2015 resulted in a manslaughter conviction — his second federal conviction — after he collided with another vehicle while being pursued in a high-speed chase…

During his most recent sentencing, Boutilier was interviewed on several occasions by social worker Robert Wright as part of an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA).

Boutilier said the IRCA process helped him give him a better understanding of his life experience and outcomes.

But Boutilier has faced challenges trying to run his business from the halfway house, because, he says, of obstacles put in place by his parole officer:

“At first he said I couldn’t have my vinyl cutter and my heat press because I’m not allowed, or I’m not authorized to run a business out of a halfway house,” he said.

Boutilier said he was given some initial leeway after he “pushed back a little” and was able to then keep some of the equipment.

“Then he changed the reason [from] I couldn’t run a business to simply … I had too many things in my room, and I had to get rid of them. And then it was my heat press was a fire hazard, so that became the reason I had to get rid of the heat press,” he said.

In the middle of a telephone interview with the Examiner, the topic itself was brought up after Boutilier’s parole officer knocked at his door to let him know he’d be stopping by to collect some of his items. Boutilier was then told he’s only allowed to have two boxes in his room.

Read the full story here.

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4. Councillors want movement on climate action plan

Students and their supporters, carrying a banner reading, “We are in a climate emergency” at the School Strike for Climate Change in Halifax on Sept. 24, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

In 2020, Halifax approved HalifACT 2050. It’s the city’s climate change action plan, and, Zane Woodford writes, it has been “woefully underfunded” since the start.

Woodford reports on last Friday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, at which councillors were given an update on the plan:

The municipality is currently on track to blow its carbon budget — 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MtCO2e — by 2027. The plan envisions HRM emitting that much carbon by 2050, in line with he United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC’s 2018 recommendation to limit overall global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Councillors Waye Mason and Sam Austin brought forward motions on setting a carbon budget for the municipality and requiring reporting on how municipal business units are meeting their targets.

For his part, Coun. Tony Mancini worries that cost will trump action, Woodford writes:

Early in the meeting, Coun. Tony Mancini suggested that while all councillors would support the climate goals during Friday’s presentation, they won’t all put their money where their mouth is…

“Some of my colleagues here are not in favour of spending too much on this topic, even though they’ll agree with what you presented today, because it’s going to potentially have an implication on budget,” Mancini said…

“What’s going to happen if we don’t put the money up now, as you’re asking us to do, as the science is telling us to do?”

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5. El Jones discusses defunding on Front Burner

El Jones. Photo: Halifax Examiner

El Jones was the guest on CBC’s Front Burner podcast yesterday, discussing the defunding police report with host Jayme Poisson.

On the podcast, Jones talks about why she thinks there are points of agreement between those who are pro-policing and those who are more skeptical about the police. The fundamental question is whether or not police responsibilities — and commensurate funding — should continue to grow so quickly, while social and other services have suffered.

Jones tells Poisson:

We’ve defunded most sectors of our society and then send the police in to fill that gap. When we see someone who is unhoused, we say we have to call the police. When we see someone in a mental health crisis, we have to call the police. In some sense we’ve left ourselves no other options…

With the money we spent policing people who are unhoused, we could have built shelters, we could have funded more housing workers, we could have funded more temporary solutions … Even those inadequate solutions we are not funding adequately!

Poisson asks Jones specifically about the Halifax Regional Police’s request for increased funding, and Jones says the framing is interesting:

They said they wanted more people for policing sexual assault and hate crimes, as well as traffic. So we see a kind of interesting shift in rhetoric, where the police themselves start positioning policing as more of a social justice enterprise rather than a criminal one … The police … always say they need a larger budget and more personnel … Universally, every single force when they were compelled to allegedly stop racial profiling, immediately said well then we need more money to train officers, we need more money to hire minority officers. Every time there is a crisis in policing, we see the police respond by demanding more resources, without thinking that perhaps the crisis in policing is partly because of the infusion of resources constantly in the police.

And she completely rejects the notion that cutting police budgets and putting the money elsewhere is a radical idea:

Saying maybe we should shift resources from people who are supposed to be there to keep us safe and police crime, but they are not supposed to be there to deal with a person living in a tent or someone having a mental health crisis — I don’t think that’s radical. I actually think that’s very practical, and I think it makes a lot of sense.

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Views

Quitting the restaurant business: You mean it wasn’t the CERB after all?

This is what everyone who quit their crappy jobs in the last year is doing. Photo: Jade Masri / Unsplash

Last Saturday, Toronto Star business reporter Jacob Lorinc published a piece on workers who have quit their hospitality jobs during the pandemic. (The story is for Star subscribers only, but if you have a library card, you can read it using the Press Reader app through the library.) There have been so many stories over the past year quoting restaurant owners who have had difficulty finding workers, and blamed government support programs. The narrative of workers too lazy to bother because now they could sit at home getting rich on $2,000 a month took hold. The narrative held even after CERB ended and somehow people were not lining up to do dangerous, underpaid work during a pandemic.

Lorinc’s piece is not one of these stories. The headline on the print edition is “The Great Realignment.” It opens with thumbnail sketches of three former hospitality workers. Meghan Hein, 33, was working two jobs as a server; she quit and is now a web developer. Forty-year-old Peter Ramsay had had enough “after two decades flipping burgers and chopping vegetables.” Today, he works as an office administrator for a roofing company, where he makes more money and won’t wreck his knees any more. And Nick Watson, 39, gave up bartending and became a florist. The three, Lorinc notes, are among the 205,800 Canadians who have left food service jobs in the last two years. But it’s not like they are not working. Lorinc writes:

The labour force has not been depleted so much as it has been rearranged…

The professional services sector alone — consisting of secretaries, office administrators and clerks — has gained a whopping 187,600 workers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some 600,000 food service employees lost their jobs early on in the pandemic, and only 65 per cent of those workers have returned in the 22 months since. Finance, insurance, and real estate firms have welcomed 78,500 new employees over the same period.

Guelph University prof Bruce McAdams tells Lorinc that he doesn’t think restaurant owners have fully grasped how much of an overhaul will be required to bring back workers.

Meanwhile Restaurants Canada has been lobbying the federal government to be allowed to bring in more temporary foreign workers, who will work for lower pay.

Speaking of low pay, Press Progress recently published a translated version of a story that first appeared on the French-language news website Pivot, looking at pay and working conditions at a new Club Med resort in Quebec’s Charlevoix region.

Having heard that workers were being forced to work overtime for no pay, Pivot sent a colleague (“Claudine”) undercover to apply for work as a “children’s activity facilitator.” Club Med activity facilitators are known as GOs for — get ready to gag — “gracious organizers.”

From the story, by Sam Harper:

The monthly salary she was offered for this job was $2,341, plus a $160 bonus, for a total of $2,501. That’s just slightly more than the monthly minimum wage, which is $2,322.

However, the interview, recorded by Pivot, confirms that GOs in charge of activities are also required to participate in “Village life,” which means their work week could amount to well over 40 hours. These hours are not remunerated, so the real paid salary comes to less than the standard minimum wage.

The email including the job offer specified that taxes and accommodation costs would be deducted from the promised $2,501. During the interview, the recruiter stated that, in the end, Claudine would pocket $1,657.

Now, the money may not be great, but that’s OK, because the staff get to eat the same lobster and foie gras as the guests. But they also have to hang out with the guests:

Working at Club Med, is “really a lifestyle,” explained the recruiter. “If you think you’re going to work your 40 hours and then you’re done … Yes, you’ll do your 40 hours with the children, but life at Club Med is the Club Med experience, and you must not count your hours.”…

The recruiter described a typical evening at Club Med. In this example, the young employee finishes her work with the children at 5 PM. She then goes to her room for a break and to change her clothes. After that, she’s expected in the bar at 7:15 PM. Club Med requires that every evening a dress code based on one of seven themes be followed…

“If you work at dinnertime, you eat with the children. During the evening, you can talk with whomever you like … You might find a couple who’s really fun … You never know ahead of time who you’re going to eat with,” she told the job applicant.

The GOs’ presence at mealtimes is part of the Club Med experience: “For example, a couple who’s been married for 45 years might, at times, have nothing to say to one another. Sometimes, having a GO at their table stimulates the conversation. It adds some fun and spices things up for them a little.”

I am 12 years away from being married 45 years, and I suspect we will still have things to say to each other. Regardless, if there is a major realignment required to retain staff in hospitality, it seems Club Med has yet to get the memo.

How did the New York Times frame the issue of people quitting their jobs because they were fed up with being exploited? The top of a story by Emma Goldberg, published January 21, puts it like this:

Something infectious is spreading through the work force. Its symptoms present in a spate of two-week notices. Its transmission is visible in real time. And few bosses seem to know how to inoculate their staff against this quitagion.

If these bosses are looking for advice, they could do worse than taking some advice from the January 6, 1898 issue of the Maritime Merchant and Commercial Review.

The publication led its first issue of the year with some new year’s resolutions for businesses:

The New Year is essentially a time when good resolutions are generally made, although not quite so frequently observed throughout the balance of the year.

(Plus ça change, etc.)

Back to the Merchant’s resolutions:

Among the many resolves which will appear upon our reader’s mental diary, we would suggest that the following be accorded a prominent place and that every effort be extended in putting them into practice.

1st. Curtail your credits.

2nd. Brighten up your place of business.

3rd. Spend some money in judicious advertising.

4th. Pay your help adequate salaries.

5th. Do not grant accommodation notes. [This refers to guaranteeing credit for others.]

6th. Clean up all your old stock.

The article then expands on each of these, but let’s jump to number four: paying the staff well.

The fourth maxim is an important one, much more so perhaps than is generally admitted. The well paid employee is the cheaper in the long run and we believe the fact cannot be too often reiterated, until it has become grounded among the principal rules of doing business. The employing of help is an investment and should be looked upon in that light, and good investments are valuable and scarce, so that when our readers have secured the services of a man whom they look upon as a valuable factor in their business, he should be given the consideration which his services merit and are justly entitled to.

Imagine that.

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Noticed

The Sunkoshi River wends its way towards the Bay of Bengal. Image: River Runner Global

Place a drop of water anywhere on the planet, and watch as it makes its way to the sea. That’s the simple promise of River Runner Global, a project developed by graphics journalist Sam Learner, who works for the Financial Times data team.

The site is dead easy to use. Pick a spot, click on it, then follow the topography of the landscape as your drop cruises through different waterways, on its way to its final destination. If you like, you can pick a spot manually, or you can search the map. And you have only two simple variables to control: speed and detail.

I decided to follow a drop of water from Mount Everest Base Camp to the Bay of Bengal. It made its way through valleys cutting through increasingly smaller mountains, until the landscape flattened out, and it joined the Ganges for a journey of over 500 kilometres.

In Nova Scotia, of course, nothing is very far from the ocean, but it’s still interesting to see the routes. The bottom of Panuke Lake is near the head of St. Margaret’s Bay, but because of the hills by the head of the bay, water flows to the Bay of Fundy. Starting north of Keji or in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area provides some nice, meandering paths. Or if you are in a particularly meditative mood, start in Minnesota (I just realized I do not know how to spell Minnesota) and settle in for a journey of more than 3,500 kilometres along the Mississippi.

River Runner is still in beta, and has a form for reporting problems. There are a few issues. Spots in the Nova Scotia wilderness with names like “Subdivision D,” for example, and a bunch of the rivers still listed as “unidentified.” And for some reason, you can’t start a drop of water in the lake right behind my house. But it’s in beta. That’s to be expected.

The site started off with only American rivers, and it’s nice to see that Learner has made it global. He also has a bunch of other interesting projects on his website.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Committee of the Whole and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 9am) — both virtual; Committee of the Whole agenda; Halifax Regional Council agenda

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference: Strategies to Attract and Retain People to Rural Areas, with representatives of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, and the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency; Appointments to Agencies, Boards, and Commissions

Natural Resources and Economic Developemt (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: Active Transportation, with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, and the Department of Public Works


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Being a Great Coach Makes You a Better Leader (Tuesday, 12pm) — webinar with Ted Herbert

Wednesday

Intracellular taurine supports cardiac function and metabolism in non-model organisms (Wednesday, 4pm) — Tyson MacCormack from Mount Allison University will talk. Bring your own taurine.

Saint Mary’s

Contingency Base Canada: War-Making Infrastructures and Military Grow-Ops (Tuesday, 4pm) — virtual panel discussion with Anthony Fenton, York University; Paniz Khosroshahy, University of Toronto; Sara Matthews, Wilfred Laurier University; and Tyler Shipley, Humber College

King’s

Tuesday

MFA in Creative Nonfiction Meet & Greet (Tuesday, 8pm) — online event

Wednesday

Disability Can Save Your Life: Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer (Wednesday, 6pm) — online lecture with writer and scholar Kenny Fries


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: One Helsinki, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka

Cape Breton
O5:00: Dubai Charm, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for Baybay, Philippines
05:45: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Point Tupper
07:00: Shelia Ann, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Tampa, Florida
11:30: Mia Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at dockside (Sydney) from Quebec City


Footnotes

I co-host a podcast about books called Dog-eared and Cracked, and for the latest episode I got my co-host, Jay, to read Frank Herbert’s Dune. Listening to this episode will take you much less time than reading the book. I slogged my way through about two-thirds of the book, then spent the next couple of months reading nothing but more Dune books. I don’t think Jay was as enthused.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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