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1. Daily COVID-19 update: more closures, but the Irving Shipyard, which employs 1,300 people, is still open

Irving Shipyard. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Tim was at the province’s press conference yesterday where it was announced there are now 12 people in Nova Scotia who tested positive for COVID-19. All of those cases are people who travelled outside of Canada or people connected to those who travelled.

More closures and restrictions were announced including those at hospitals and the closures of salons, spas, and gyms as of midnight today.

Health minister Randy Delorey announced health measures and policies including increasing the number of nurses, providing doctor appointments via video or teleconferencing, and telling employers they can no longer ask employees for sick notes. These changes are in effect until the end of June.

As of now, the Irving Shipyard, which has 1,300 employees, remains open.

Read Tim’s daily update here.

2. The Coast’s last print publication is today

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

Today is the last print publication of The Coast.

I don’t know all the details. My understanding is that many people have been laid off, but two people will remain to put out a web-only version.

I called publisher Christine Oreskovich last night and she confirmed, but was (understandably) so upset she couldn’t say more. She said she wanted this article to speak for itself. I don’t know if The Coast can weather a prolong shut down. We’ll see. (see below)

I want to thank both Oreskovich and Kyle Shaw for employing me for eight long years, and helping me establish myself in Halifax. I know I was a difficult employee (all on me) and they were kind to me.

But Kyle and Ori have done something quite remarkable: The Coast was one of the last alt weeklies standing, and that’s a tribute to their hard work and perseverance. Alt weeklies have faced enormous challenges over the last decade, as ad revenues from small businesses have collapsed. And this COVID thing has brutally pulled the rug out from under all the bars, restaurants, and small businesses whose advertising has supported The Coast. It is not a failure of business skills that is doing this to The Coast, but rather a totally unexpected pandemic.

I’m terribly sorry for the entire Coast crew, past and present. And I very much wish them all the best in these dark days.

The Coast isn’t alone. Yesterday, Jeff vonKaenel, publisher of the Sacramento News & Review and the Chico News & Review (I also wrote briefly for the Chico paper), announced that those papers were also ceasing publication:

Over the last 30 years, we have financed SN&R with advertising, mainly from local businesses promoting social gatherings at concerts, theaters, galleries and in bars and restaurants. The coronavirus-related shutdowns, postponements and cancellations are having a huge impact on these advertisers and our local economy.

Many of these businesses have been forced to cut their advertising back to the point that starting next week, we will have to suspend publishing and lay off nearly all of our amazing and talented staff, we hope only temporarily.

Over the years, we have experienced numerous crises. We were able to use our financial reserves to pull us through those times when advertising revenues were less than expenses. We were able to keep the paper going and to continue to provide local coverage.

But over the last ten years, as more and more businesses have moved their advertising dollars to Facebook and Google, the foundation of the media business model has crumbled. These large internet companies collected revenues without having to generate expensive local coverage. This has caused a crisis for most media companies, including the News & Review.

vonKaenel headlined his announcement “It could be the end.”

As I understand it, sometime in the 1970s, students at Chico State started a radical campus newspaper which was funded in part by student fees.  The paper pissed of the university administration somehow, which then attempted to step in and act as censor. So the students packed up and moved the paper off-campus, creating the Chico News & Review.

By the time I arrived in Chico in 1987, the paper was owned by vonKaenel, and co-edited by George Thurlow and Robert Speer. Every Thursday, I would sit in Cafe Sienna guzzling coffee, awaiting the delivery of the News & Review. Inevitably, there’d be some in-your-face, fuck the established political or business class piece, and I ate it up. This was something I had never seen before: adversarial journalism.

Thurlow had previously been the first American journalism shot in the civil war in El Salvador. “I learned something,” he once told me. “When they shoot you, and you fall to the ground, when you get up, they’ll shoot you again.” But there was Thurlow getting up again week after week, taking on the local congressman, a pissant named Wally Herger, or reaming the county board of supervisors a new one.

These were also the glory days of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alt weekly owned by Bruce Bruggman. An odd guy named Bob used to, on his own dime, drive the three hours down to San Francisco every week and pick up a few bundles of the Guardian and deliver them to Chico, and I ate those up too. Weighing in at a hefty 200 or so pages every week, it was muckraking journalism par excellence. And while strictly speaking they weren’t alt weeklies, there were two other papers in northern California I admired: The Sacramento Valley Mirror in Glenn County, run by a cantankerous Libertarian sort named Tim Crews, and the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Boonville, operated by a Trotskyite named Bruce Anderson (so many Bruces!) who took on the local establishment, which in that case included the pot growers in the Emerald Triangle.

A quick story. One day, Tim Crews reported that a gun used in a local crime had previously belonged to a deputy sheriff in an adjoining county. The claim was that the deputy’s gun had been stolen, but never reported as stolen, which would be problematic on its own, but stretched credulity. As a result of Crews’ story, the adjoining county’s sheriff convince a judge to haul Crews into court and demand that Crews reveal his source. Crews told the judge to stuff it (it wouldn’t surprise me if those were his exact words), and Crews was held in contempt of court and thrown in jail until he revealed his source.

Understand that Crews was running his paper out of the office of an abandoned lumber yard. It was he and his wife, and about three volunteers who distributed the paper. Putting Crews in jail meant that the paper would likely fold. But in stepped Bruggman, from San Francisco. Politically, Bruggman and Crews were political opposites, one a lefty urbanite, the other a rural Libertarian. Both, however, were committed to the journalism. So Bruggman sent a crew of three reporters up to Glenn County to put out Crews’ paper in his absence, and then made Crews’ stance a national issue. In the face of widespread outrage, the judge backed down, and journalism won the day.

Those papers made me a reporter.

But of course the reporting isn’t enough. News outlets are businesses. I remember talking to the ad manager of the Chico News & Review about how she landed the big account of a car dealership owned by a prominent right-wing Republican. “He told me, ‘I’m not going to advertise in that Commie rag,’” she said. “I said, ‘Commies buy cars too.’” Now that I think about it, that ad manager reminds me of Ori at The Coast. Practical business people, both.

The advertising-based business model worked for many decades. But first there was the internet generally, then Facebook and Google in particular, and now this fucking virus.

My nostalgia for alt weeklies aside, the economic crisis we’re facing is going to hit lots of businesses of all kinds hard, and lots will fail as a result. So many people who work in restaurants, bars, small businesses, and so forth will lose their jobs. Lots of large businesses will fail as well. And it won’t be a momentary blip. At some point, even governments are going to slash budgets and staff. We will land in a Depression. It will be tough for everyone. There will be widespread suffering. This of course, is on top of the death and illness.

There will be an end to this, but it’s a long way away yet. We’re just starting on this dismal journey.

We absolutely can’t make it so people survive economically on loans and other extended credit. “You can pay your electric bill next year, plus interest” just won’t cut it. “Here, fill out these 200 forms and provide the documentation to prove you’re worthy of qualifying for a multi-dimensional credit scheme that is paid for by giving billionaires more tax cuts and then you can pay us back later with cuts to government services” is an obscene joke.

This is an extraordinary time. Time for a gigantic pause. A reset. A jubilee.

Just give people money.

3. Here are the difficult choices confronting our public health officials

Joan Baxter looks at the scientific paper published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, a group of 31, including World Health Organization Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling. Baxter reports that the paper provides some insight into what government officials are facing with COVID-19.

The two options are to mitigate the spread of the virus or suppressing the growth of the pandemic.

According to the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, officials have to consider many factors when deciding on how to move forward:

…there are very large uncertainties around the transmission of this virus, the likely effectiveness of different policies and the extent to which the population spontaneously adopts risk reducing behaviours. This means it is difficult to be definitive about the likely initial duration of measures which will be required, except that it will be several months. Future decisions on when and for how long to relax policies will need to be informed by ongoing surveillance.

Read the full article here.

4. Bus drivers are “absolutely terrified” of COVID-19

A Halifax transit bus at the Sackville Terminal, March 18, 2020. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Yvette D’Entremont talks to Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), about COVID-19 and bus drivers at Halifax Transit.

I came into the lobby this morning at 4 a.m. just to talk to them face-to-face and we’ve been hearing from them since last Friday. They’re absolutely terrified.

Halifax Transit introduced new protocols for riders, such as only using the back doors of buses, and eliminating fares on buses and ferries. Ridership is down and Wilson tells d’Entremont that’s good news, but the new measures should have been put into place earlier.

Anxiety on buses is heightened as riders cough or sneeze and Wilson is asking that people use transit as a last resort.

This is so scary and changing every day. You go into downtown Halifax and Spring Garden Road looks like a ghost town at 6 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s a pretty telling time.

Read the full article here.

5. As live performances are cancelled, musicians are performing online

Christina Martin

Local musicians who’ve had to cancel tours and gigs are sharing their music online with free concerts. Jennifer Henderson talks with Christina Martin, who, along with her band partner, Dale Murray, had to cancel 32 bookings of their European tour. But their shows will go on online today on her website Martin says they will also take song requests. Martin says the internet will be a chance to generate some sales.

We curse the Internet and how much time we put into it but the virtual world might just turn out to be our safety net. Most people do want to help and I have already seen a small increase in the number signing up as patrons.

Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) is calling for support for those in the music industry. Says CFM vice-president Allan Willaert:

In order for the industry and those individuals to survive this crisis, there must be appropriate support from all levels of government for musicians working in traditional employment arrangements as well as the precarious ‘gig economy’ [for] freelance players. The CFM is requesting that government adopt emergency measures in this exceptional situation, to provide security to counteract this critical loss of revenue, through whatever means necessary.

Read the full article here.

6.  Living in isolation while in long-term care

Vicky Levak lives in a long-term care facility and can’t have visitors. She’s asking people to send her photos of their dogs. Photo: Vicky Levak/Facebook

CBC talks with Vicky Levak, a 29-year-old in Halifax who has cerebral palsy and lives in a long-term care facility. She isn’t allowed to have visitors now and is keeping busy with audio books and asking people to share photos of their dogs on her Facebook profile. Levak tells CBC’s Mainstreet:

I miss being able to go see my friends. I miss working. I miss feeling safe. I miss the certainty of knowing that, like, everything’s going to be OK because at this point, we don’t know if everything’s going to be OK.

Long-term care facilities like the one where Levak lives were ordered to shut down on Mar. 15. Levak says many of those living at the facility are seniors and some of them are confused now about why they can’t have visitors. Still, she says social distancing is a small price to pay.

You may not die because you’re not in the demographic of those most likely to pass away, but people you love are. And even if they aren’t, humans are humans. I think we as people have a responsibility to protect each other.


1.  Supporting the self-employed in a crisis

These past several days have been very stressful for anyone who is self-employed. I wanted to share a few stories so on Tuesday, I sent out a message on Twitter and Facebook looking to chat with others who are self-employed. I received a lot of responses and spoke with a handful the last couple of days. This was before the federal government announced several funding measures, including one for those who are self-employed. In Prince Edward Island, the province announced it would provide a $500 per week lump sum to self-employed Islanders (it was a number of announcements the province made yesterday to help vulnerable people there). Here’s what some self-employed people had to say.

Robert Holden is a painter who lives in Glen Haven. He paints the exteriors and interiors of homes and businesses. He’s a one-man show and has been in the business for about three years. Holden is also a single dad to a six-year-old daughter. He’s not sure about the painting jobs he’s had lined up for the next several months and he’ll check on their statuses this week. Those jobs will depend on a lot of factors, including if the clients have money to pay him and their own comfort level having him on site, even though he works outdoors and on a ladder. His biggest concern is finding care for his daughter when he’s at work. There’s no school, no after-school program, and no local daycares open. Most of his family is out of province.

Really, it’s up in the air for me. It’s very stressful. I don’t think people get the issues single parents have that families don’t.

He’s going to look into the self-employment funds from the federal government, too.

I’ll have to figure it all out quickly. When you work for yourself, you’re self-sufficient and in control. All of a sudden, that’s gone.

Shannon Newton runs a couple of home-based businesses, including a newborn photography studio and another shop called Something Cute Prints where she sells nursery artwork she designs herself. She tells me she’s lost 11 photo shoots and a day of mini Easter sessions scheduled for late March. She told me over email she put shipping for her artwork on holiday mode because the postal service she used (not Canada Post) has limited services right now.

That alone will be a potential loss of over $500 for the remainder of March. Since the future is unknown, this loss could possibly continue into April. I imagine my overall loss of income is estimated to be close to $3,000 at this point. Financially, this will hurt but that is the boat everyone is currently in right now. We are making the best of it. I do have savings I can rely on but it’s still a tough situation to be thrown into.

Newton is now editing the photos from shoot she’s already done. She also has a three-year-old son at home without daycare, so that routine is gone. She’s been keeping him entertained with drawing, reading, colouring, and learning to sign the alphabet. They’re also going through potty training now.

We are in a unique situation where, while he is not diagnosed yet, he is likely autistic. This makes it very difficult to explain what a global pandemic is, why he is no longer in daycare, playing and learning with his friends. His entire schedule has been upended. I do completely understand that was necessary for the protection of the children. He will start to wonder what happened but he cannot find the words to ask me what is happening and I am unable to really explain it to him.

Newton says she is keeping in touch with other newborn photographers from around the world, some of whom have decided to stay open, while others shut down for three weeks.

We are all trying to decide what is best for our businesses, while respecting the social distancing rule. This has not been easy on the photography industry but I know we will all bounce back down the road.

Robert Campbell is a local musician I know. Through a chat on Facebook, he told me he and his wife, Cailin Green, who perform and tour together as Campbell and Green, lost all of their income. That includes several shows, but also voice and other lessons Green offers. She also directs a 25-woman choir and that’s postponed indefinitely. He says Green will try to offer some lessons via Skype.

Both had decided months ago to stop touring for a bit after performing across Canada and Europe. Campbell says the touring was taking a toll on their health and both battled colds, bronchitis, and Norwalk virus.

We were lucky to make the decision to hunker down a bit.

Cailin Green and Robert Campbell have lost several gigs and had to cancel music lessons because of COVID-19. They’re working on a show they’ll host online. Photo: Campbell and Green.

The couple had downsized from a house to a condo, which they own, so Campbell says they don’t have a mortgage to pay, but do have other bills.

Campbell says he and Green, like many other musicians, are thinking about offering an online concert.

I hope people realize the things that keep them happy in their lives is music, art, movies, writers. Everyone needs music and art to feed the soul.

He says he’s been chatting with other musicians about their own gigs, and says some of those people live hand to mouth now.

They don’t know what they’re going to do. If this goes on for a month or two, it might be pretty shitty for them. It’s hard to think of all my friends out there. They make shitty money at the best of times. I send love to everyone. And wash your hands.

Shari Tucker owns a travel agency and is working to get her clients back to Canada. Photo: Peartree Photography

Shari Tucker owns her own travel agency for luxury and adventure travellers. She’s losing income, but she’s also been spending at least the last week trying to get her clients back to Canada. Some are in Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia.

Even when people start booking trips again, Tucker won’t get paid right away. That’s because clients don’t pay until after they return from the trips. So, that could be six, nine, or 12 months, depending on when the planning started. Right now, she’s working for free just to bring people home.

She says while her clients aren’t oblivious to what’s happening, some are unaware of what’s happening in Canada.

There are some people I’ve had to say, ‘You have to come home or you’re at risk of staying there for an indefinite amount of time.’ Until all the clients are back in Canada, I am on call 24-7.

Tucker says she’s not sure if she qualifies for the money the federal government announced for the self-employed. She says a loan wouldn’t help because she doesn’t have equipment and works from home. It would only pay her salary. She worries, too, about the guides and the drivers in the locations where she sends her clients. Those workers rely on wages and tips, all of which will disappear as fewer people travel. Locally, she knows how the cruise industry will be affected, along with the small businesses on the waterfront and beyond.

It sucks. The biggest way to support business is to buy local, whatever it is.

I know for sure when the all clear is made and flights come back, I know the clients will come back.

Dianna Major is a dental hygienist who runs her own independent clinic in Lower Sackville. Like other dental offices in the province, she’s had to close her doors for now, except to patients needing emergency care.

As of right now, it’s for three weeks for sure, but I expect it to be longer. Some colleagues are already planning to shut down for three months. You can’t set up for virtual teeth cleaning.

Major worries about those patients who need regular care every three or four months. Those patients, who would have issues like gum disease, may see the problems worsen. She says patients can try to continue to do care at home, although she knows that in a time of stress, people tend to get out of their routines.

Dental hygienist Dianna Major runs her own clinic in Lower Sackville. She’s shut down for three weeks, but expects that to go on longer. Photo: Contributed

Major doesn’t employ any staff, but has a cleaner come in once a week to clean the clinic. She says her suppliers will be affected, too.

I would imagine they are stressed about this, as well.

Major says she has time on her hands. She’s keeping her exercise routine. Since she has medical training, she applied for one of the jobs to work in the testing clinics that will be popping up around the province. As for finances, she has a small cushion to help pay for clinic expenses. Personal expenses might have to come from her line of credit.

I think it’s going to be a time of self-discovery. I mended a sweater today. I don’t think I would have had time to do that before. It’s going to be interesting.

While there are now measures in place for the self-employed, organizations have long called for ongoing support to help them and low-income workers. Earlier this week, Basic Income Nova Scotia called on the federal government to start implementing a basic income for the long term. Yesterday, I talked to Elizabeth (Mandy) Kay-Raining Bird from Basic Income Nova Scotia. She says there’s more talk about basic income now, pointing to a letter signed by political leaders and academics from around the world. (You can read about that here).

I think this pandemic has brought the notion to the fore, which is good. Basic Income Nova Scotia is concerned that these events can happen again. There are fragile occurrences all the time that put people at risk. We really need to think more broadly instead of responding to incidents like this.

Raining Bird also pointed to the pilot basic income program in Ontario that was cut short by Doug Ford’s government, putting people at risk. With the basic income, those participants found better, safer housing, went back to school or took courses for upgrading, and ate better food.

What they thought they had was something to plan around, changing their lives on an ongoing basis.

Raining Bird says a basic income can support those who are self-employed and other entrepreneurs, artists and musicians, and low-income workers. She says both government and business have been guilty of transferring full-time jobs into part time or contract work that is less stable.

What that means is people aren’t safe and they don’t have the benefit of supporting themselves in the same way.

Whenever I write or tweet about low-paying jobs or the gig economy, there are always people who tell me those people just need to work harder or find a better-paying job. But this crisis is proving that what we need and miss the most are the services and work provided by those people we pay (and often value) the least. Right now, people who work in grocery stores are providing an essential service, yet they are still making minimum wage or not much more. They’re also being exposed to hundreds of people each day, making their jobs dangerous ones, too. On our time off, we take in concerts, theatre, art galleries, restaurants, bars, and other venues, but these are all unavailable to us right now. When we aren’t in a crisis, we want these people to work for next to nothing or “exposure.”

Many of our community work and organizations would never survive without volunteers. Now these services are at risk because the people who provide them, mostly seniors, are themselves at risk.

Service work, art, music, restaurants, pubs, and volunteers all have an incredible value in how we run our societies yet they are rarely compensated properly for it. I miss many of these things now. These are things that make our lives better, more enjoyable, fun, and interesting. These are jobs that keep us connected to others. But we haven’t done enough to make their lives better every day. That needs to change and not just in a time of crisis.

2. The funeral home business still helping families through grief

I recently read the obituary for someone I know who passed away last week. The obituary said there would be no celebration at this time because of COVID-19. The funeral home included a statement on its main page that addressed COVID-19. Like other businesses, funeral homes have had to adjust. This funeral home, Mattatall and Varner in Truro, is no longer allowing public visitations, although private family viewings are permitted because they are smaller groups. There are no receptions taking place. While there are no services, webcastings of services are available for free (the webcast is not new here; Mattatall and Varner just dropped the $125 fee. They’re also using the webcasting services for pastors and ministers at local churches who want to offer services, but whose churches are closed to the congregations). Bruce Varner and I chatted yesterday about the new rules around funerals. He says they are following all the public health rules, including those around gatherings of more no more than 50 people. Staff can stay home if they don’t feel well. Varner says they have signs asking those in the funeral home not to hug, kiss, or shake hands. He’s said he’s had to adjust to not shaking hands with family members.

People are thanking us for taking the lead and saying this is what we will do and won’t do. I am confident I made the right decision because I followed the protocols.

Varner says not having services does take the pressure off some families who are dealing with the stress of grief and even health issues and may not want to be around large groups of people. But Varner says saying no to services now is also respectful for some families, too.

That would be more troublesome for a family to have a service and no one comes.

Bruce Varner at Mattatall and Varner Funeral Homes in Truro. Photo: Mattatall and Varner.

Some of the services haven’t changed with this funeral home, though. Truro is one of a few communities in the province, besides Lunenburg and some places in Cape Breton, where there are no burials between December 1 and May 1. That’s because many small-town cemeteries are run by community groups and volunteers. So, burials won’t happen until at least May anyway.

Varner says he follows a Facebook group where funeral directors from across North America connect. He says some directors in the U.S. are not adhering to rules there.

Brett Watson is the president of the Funeral Services Association of Canada. He works in Alberta where, like Nova Scotia, there are restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people. In Canada, funeral homes fall under provincial jurisdiction, so he couldn’t speak to what every province was doing about funeral services, but he says more directors are doing arrangements over the phone or emails. Webcasting of services has been around for a while and is more common in urban areas. In some cases, families share live streams themselves through their laptop or iPhone. Watson says the biggest problem for the industry right now is getting the right supplies for the embalmers like masks, gloves, and disinfectants, because those are all being diverted to the healthcare system.

We’ve been trying to reclassify as an essential service because in a crisis like this you need to have that equipment.

As for the grieving process for families, Watson says most funeral homes have a good network of grief counsellors, either on staff or in the community, and access to literature and videos on how to cope with grief.

Most people have pretty good support with their family and friends. Some people have some sort of support they can fall back on.

Many funeral homes, he says, have planning in place to deal with natural disasters and other tragedies like plane crashes. As for working in a pandemic, Watson says they’ve been looking at this issue since the 1990s.

We knew it was coming.


Small History NS, a Twitter account that shares bits of news from rural and small-town newspaper published between 1880 and 1910, has been sharing news clips about past outbreaks in communities across the province. On Wednesday, Sara Spike, the historian who researches these news bits (the tweets of their time), posted this:

On Tuesday, she shared this piece of news.

But Spike has also been sharing how communities dealt with disease:

And even signs of hope.

I’m looking forward to more of these tweets!


No public meetings this week.

On campus

All events are cancelled.

In the harbour

11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
16:00: YM Enlightenment, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41


The weather has been pretty good through all of this. It’s allowed people to get out for walks and families to take their kids on hikes, all while practicing proper social distancing, of course. I am loving all the sun that comes in my living-room window while I write.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. Went to Sobeys today for some groceries. Had a brief discussion with the cashier, perhaps in her sixties. She worn no gloves when she took my cash and mentioned how she had no disability benefits. Cashiers at groceries are essential workers yet don’t seem to have any protection. Hopefully that is not true and these people are being taken care of.

    Riding my bike back I took notice of the beg buttons at pedestrian intersections. Hey HRM traffic, might those not be a possible means of Covid-19 transmission? Just another good reason to get rid of them.

  2. The Coast was a good read until Tim left and then Jacob Boon was OK and then into a narrow niche and quickly went off a cliff. In the ‘good news’ section we continue to have Frank ‘extracting the Michael’.

  3. As for the funeral homes, I would suggest stop embalming (which is a wasteful, harmful, pointless process anyway) and move straight to cremation. It’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people, I’m sure, but if you think the hospitals could be overwhelmed, that’s nothing compared to how to dispose of potential millions of corpses once this thing really gets going. That paper published by the Imperial College is predicting upwards of 2 million dead in the USA if they continue on their present course. Cremation is a lot easier to accept then watching bulldozers pushing bodies into mass graves.

  4. Nice piece on the Coast Tim. Here’s hoping.
    What about the hundreds of construction workers in this city who don’t get to “work from home”?

    Stay low everybody.