News

1.  Graphed: COVID-19 in Nova Scotia

The latest charts are here, and they include the 31 new cases announced yesterday. I really like these charts, showing total and daily breakdowns of new cases, hospitalizations, total tests, and so on. They provide an easy visualization to help understand how things are changing, day-by-day.

They also make me think of the graph of an exponential curve floating around out there, showing the rise in the amount of time we are spending looking at exponential curves.

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2. Non-medical masks are now recommended

Mask by Marie MacMullin

We’ve gone from “don’t wear a mask” in public to “maybe you should wear a mask in public.”

Both Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, and the federal chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said yesterday that wearing non-medical masks in public may help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The practice won’t protect those wearing masks, but might prevent asymptomatic mask-wearers from spreading the virus to others.

One of the worries around mask-wearing is that it can cause people to fidget and touch their faces more. It may also cause a false sense of security and lead to less vigilance on distancing, which is the most important practice when it comes to slowing the spread.

Yvette d’Entremont recaps the latest recommendations and the reasoning behind them, and she interviews Marie MacMullin of Formal Tailoring in Hammonds Plains, who’s been sewing masks 12 hours a day.

“I was saying to my friend this morning that I’ve never worked so hard to make no money,” she said.

When asked why she’s doing it if not for money, she laughed.

“Jeez, have you ever seen a Cape Bretoner that’s gonna be idle? You can quote that. Do not keep a Cape Bretoner idle,” she said.

“As long as I can get a cup of tea and actually get to drink the tea I would be in heaven. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

A friend of mine in Toronto bought a fabric, clearly non-medical mask at a convenience store and posted a photo of himself sporting it on Facebook. One of his friends berated him for using medical supplies much-needed by professionals. Er, no. I fear that we are going to go from people being yelled at in public for wearing masks to people being yelled at for not wearing them.

3. Dr. Strang’s daily update

Dr. Robert Strang answers questions at a briefing on March 31, 2020. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have a shot of him from the day he wore his Montreal Canadiens tie. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

Late April. That’s when Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Robert Strang, thinks infections will peak in this province.

The big news yesterday was that, as community spread has been confirmed and testing capacity has ramped up (it’s now running 24/7) the guidelines on who can get tested have loosened. Travel is no longer one of the criteria.

Read Tim’s full daily update here.

4. 3D printing human airways on the South Shore

The Lunenburg branch of the South Shore Public Library. Photo: G Hines via Google Street View.

Over at CBC, Shaina Luck has an interesting story about the Lunenburg public library using its 3D printer to make models of human airways for doctors.  Local ER doctors will use the models to practice their intubation skills in cases where COVID-19 patients who need to be on ventilators can’t be intubated by going in through the mouth and down the throat.

Luck writes:

“This is a procedure emergency room physicians are trained to do, but don’t do frequently. And I think the informal statistics are once in your career,” [Dr. Thomas Dietz] said.

Dietz said he has not performed the procedure for roughly eight or 10 years, so he was anxious to practise. During research, he found a design for a 3D-printed model of a human airway on a website for emergency room doctors, and reached out to his local library for help…

“[The 3D-printed model] feels remarkably similar to a real human neck in terms of trying to find the landmarks, the lumps and bumps that guide you to where you need to make your incision,” Dietz said.

The library made three models, and they’re being used by doctors in Lunenburg and Bridgewater.

5. Could we please stop being racist?

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden. Photo: Dalhousie University

Noushin Ziafati has a story in the Chronicle Herald on racism and pandemics.

The piece opens with Dal student Muyu Lyu, who is from China, describing his own experiences with racism in Halifax, and saying he’s hearing about a lot of similar incidents from Asian students. Dal professor OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the Faculty of Medicine also weighs in:

“I’m profoundly tired by it and saddened by it and enraged by it and frightened by it,” said Dryden…

Dryden noted that Canadians have been having conversations about discrimination and racism in the context of public health outbreaks since the start of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that gave rise to homophobia, followed by the SARS outbreak and the 2009 swine flu pandemic that gave rise to anti-Asian sentiments.

“It wears on my soul and my spirit to know that we are still having these conversations about racism, whether it’s anti-Chinese racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, that we’re still having these conversations around racism, health, pandemics and healthcare.”

6. Woman frustrated with poor nursing home communication

Magnolia residential care home in Enfield. Photo: Facebook

At Global, Aya Al-Hakim talks to Heather Comeau, whose 87-year-old mother tested positive for COVID-19, and is quarantined in her room at the Magnolia nursing home in Enfield.

Comeau is upset about the lack of communication from the home, and says her mother is confused about why she is in her room. Al-Hakim writes:

“We’ve tried to tell her that there’s a virus, but the [nursing home] told me not to tell her what she has because they don’t want her to panic, so she is really anxious,” [Comeau said.]…

I’ve been trying to get in touch with people at The Magnolia, I’ve been calling nurses. They have personal care workers that work on each floor and calling them and nobody seems to answer the phone or call me back.”

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, nursing homes have been preparing for potential staff shortages, and even getting VON nurses —  a charitable home and community care organization — to help.

Al-Hakim also interviews Magnolia spokesperson Tracey Tulloch, who admits communication could be better, but talks about the challenges facing staff too.

Three staff and two residents of the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

There was a heartbreaking interview several weeks ago, I think on the New York Times Daily podcast, with a woman whose husband was in a nursing home affected by the outbreak in Seattle. He was only supposed to be there briefly, as he rehabbed following surgery. Now he was stuck, people around him were testing positive, and she could not get any information at all from the facility. This situation is not as bad, and it’s encouraging that the spokesperson recognizes there are problems, and, it seems, there are efforts to improve the situation.

This situation creates yet more heart-wrenching dilemmas for families of people in care.

7. Man encourages women in abusive relationships to seek help

Photo: www.futureswithoutviolence.org

Last week, police charged Stephen Beckett with second-degree murder in the death of Tracey MacKenzie. Prosecutors are calling it a domestic homicide.

At CBC, Emma Davie and Preston Mulligan quote MacKenzie’s friend, Gerald McCowan, who says he was worried about the relationship:

McCowan said he wishes his friend had spoken out or left. He urges all women and men in the same position to do the same.

“I hope that they get the courage to reach out to somebody and ask for help,” he said.

Davie and Mulligan also quote Shiva Nourpanah of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia:

“You don’t have your normal safe places. If you used to visit your parents, if you used to go out, we know your normal relief activities have been very strictly curtailed,” Nourpanah said.

“The odds are stacked against victims of violence. This is absolutely a recipe for disaster.”

Suzanne Rent has a recent Examiner feature on the increased risk of domestic violence during the pandemic.

From the story:

Rates of domestic violence have spiked across the world in countries where there are lockdowns or where social isolation measures are in place. According to Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence non-profit in Jingzhou, a city in Hubei Province, at one police station in the city, the rates of domestic violence were three times higher this February than rates in February 2019…

Still, there are ways to keep women and children safe and connected, even as most of us stay at home.

Neighbours, Friends, and Families (NFF) is a public education campaign that helps raise awareness of the signs of abuse so those closest to women who might be abused can help keep them safe. NFF offers 150 campaigns across Ontario, including those that are culturally diverse. It also has free online training to teach people how to recognize the signs of abuse.

The program did some work in Nova Scotia at least 10 years ago. Its researchers are based at the University of Western Ontario and they work with employers on how they can help assist employees facing abuse. Barb MacQuarrie is the community director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children at the university.

MacQuarrie says it’s important to stay connected with the women who may be experiencing abuse at home. That’s tougher now since we are all practicing social isolation or social distancing. Still, MacQuarrie says we can stay connected through social media or phone calls.

Our whole message is helping people feel less isolated and we need to do what we can to reach out to them. This is a whole new barrier for us.

Isolation is already an issue facing those women being abused. Anything and all we can do to break through that will increase safety. Just because we don’t have the same face-to-face contact anymore, we still need to stay connected.


 Views

1. More war as metaphor

Yesterday, Tim wrote about why war is the wrong metaphor for the collective struggle against COVID-19. I was about to write “the fight against COVID-19,” which would kind of make the point about the ubiquity of war metaphors.

Tim wrote about how, for many, life during wartime carries on as normal–which is clearly not the case now:

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.

I’ve noticed a few really interesting piece lately that explore this idea further. This week’s On the Media podcast, from WNYC, features an interview with Eula Bliss, author of On Immunity: An Inoculation. Bliss says:

Viruses don’t have nationalities, they don’t have politics. This virus does not have intent. It can’t be negotiated with. There will be no truce. This is part of why it’s a bad metaphor. None of the situations that we would expect from war translate.

I, like many of you, I suspect, was taught about the immune system using war metaphors. Viruses and germs attack the system. The white blood cells are the soldiers who fight them off. Our entire conversation about cancer is dominated by these metaphors. We wage a battle against it. We emerge victorious, or we succumb after a hard fight. We are so used to war metaphors — the war on drugs, the war on terror — that we don’t even notice them.

Bliss suggests a variety of other metaphors for the immune system, including a public square:

In order to maintain a level of immunity within the community, everyone has to participate… This is now very obvious as disease spreads quickly across the globe. No place is remote enough that it’s not going to be touched by this disease. People might feel off the grid, or removed, or out of the way. That’s a psychological mirage…

We need some way of justifying actions that don’t have the usual justification, and the usual justification is self-interest or profit… We translate information that we learn about our bodies being under threat to our nation being under threat, and that happens at a level of thought that is not entirely conscious…

The metaphor that I find the most productive around disease is the metaphor of an education. I was interviewing a professor of immunology at the University of Iowa, who is also an infectious disease expert, and I asked him to give me a very thorough introduction to the immune system. This took about two hours, and he made it all the way through these two hours without ever using a war metaphor. My favourite phrase that he used was “pathogens tutor the immune system.”

Earlier in the podcast, co-host Brooke Gladstone referred to seeing COVID-19 as a rampaging rhino.

In Sojourners, a long-standing progressive Christian publication from the US, Aaron E. Sanchez also writes about the limitations of the war metaphor:

Our flawed idea about how war forges unity is rooted in the deeply flawed historical memory of World War II that has less to do with the actual history and more to do with post-war John Wayne movies and more recent Clint Eastwood films. Those movies rewrote the morality of the actual epoch. They replaced suffering and death with a rugged individualism defined by masculinity. Bravery was easy to imagine when the bullets always missed. These movies showed squared-jaw GIs fearlessly liberating Paris, as bands of brothers, but never showed them beating Mexican-American zoot-suiters in Los Angeles in 1943 or rounding up and interning Japanese-Americans.

In our imaginations, everybody did their part on the home front and in the factories Rosies riveted. Rarely do we think about the hundreds of hate strikes that white workers undertook to protest the hiring, promotion, and paying of African-American workers in defense factories.

You saw a lot of this kind of thinking in the UK a few weeks ago (less so now). We’ll show that virus! We got through the Blitz and we’ll get through this! As if the virus has intent, and you can stand up to it.

Back to Sanchez:

The pandemic has succeeded because it does not recognize all the things we have created to differentiate ourselves. To continue to believe that we are at “war” with somebody or something does little to address that we are now more than ever bound to one another and share responsibilities and obligations to one another.


Noticed

This friggin’ logo used to haunt me as a kid. ParticipAction is a non-profit group encouraging fitness. When I was a kid, they ran ads comparing the fitness level of 30-year-old Canadians unfavourably with that of 60-year-old Swedes. Somehow, in my mind, this was connected with the horrors of my elementary school phys ed classes, where we participated in Canada Fitness Award drills, and doing things like climbing ropes in the gym. Some kids raced up the ropes. I flailed and struggled while the phys ed teacher made fun of me.

ParticipAction is still around, although I think they had a hiatus for many years before relaunching in 2007. They are still encouraging Canadians to get active, and have an app and a design horror-show website.

After many years away from the gym, I decided to sign up again last June, and had actually been enjoying going a few times a week. Once the pandemic hit, of course, that came to an end.

My disposition is such that my default attitude towards fitness in these circumstance is “Why bother? We are all doomed.” But I recognize that isn’t a particularly healthy approach, so I’ve been trying to find ways to stay active, beyond dog walks.

And, amazingly, one of those ways is using ParticipAction. Every day at 1pm Atlantic time, the organization runs a Facebook Live workout that lasts 10-15 minutes. I tried it for the first time yesterday, and it was great. The host, Natalie (didn’t catch her last name) was the right balance of encouraging but not over-the-top for me. (I hate bootcamp-style stuff.) She stood on a yoga mat in a bedroom, and led us through three different exercises, giving three different ways of doing them, to make them more accessible. Each exercise had a version that could be done sitting in a chair.

I literally just pushed my desk chair out of the way and did the workout. It was that easy.

A couple of months ago I’d also started doing a weekly Tai Chi class with my father-in-law. Our instructor has been posting videos of the Tai Chi moves online, together with a warmup. So my father-in-law and I now have a standing appointment at 10:30 each morning. We call each other, run through the warmup together on the phone, then each do our own Tai Chi practice solo.

I also happen to be married to a yoga instructor, so I’ve practiced with her a few times, and now that she’s taking her courses online with weekly Zoom sessions, I’ll follow along with those too.

I know there are a plethora of workout apps out there too. I have a few of them installed on my phone and hate the hectoring that comes with having notifications turned on. “You can do it!” “Don’t give up!” Yeah, yeah, just because I haven’t used your app for a couple of days doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything.

For another project I’ve been working on, I interviewed University of Ottawa professor Michelle Fortier last week. She is a physical activity psychologist, and she spends a lot of time studying what motivates people to exercise, and she’s a big believer in just doing whatever you find enjoyable. She says people tend to focus too much on gyms, and think that if they can’t go to the gym they’re not going to exercise properly, but that’s just not the case. In a 2018 La Presse story, she said:

There is a lot of research showing that most of the population does not like high-intensity, rigorous exercise. Instead of training hard and feeling like you have to watch Netflix [to distract yourself], why not do more moderate exercise that you find pleasant and would want to do again?… If we’re talking about regular physical activity, why not go for a walk outside and look at the view around you instead of looking at a TV screen? [My translation.]

If you can get yourself moving at all, something is better than nothing. I still have to fight myself to do it a lot of the time, but so far being at least somewhat active is winning out over my tendency to despondence and sitting around all day.


Government

City

All scheduled subcommittee meetings are cancelled. Halifax council will have a virtual meeting on Thursday.

Province

No public meetings, virtual or otherwise.


In the harbour

10:00: Mol Paramount, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
10:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
11:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
11:30: CMA CGM Tage, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
13:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Baltimore
18:00: Tropic Hope sails for Palm Beach, Florida
18:00: Atlantic Kestrel sails for sea


Footnotes

Tim has earned a well-deserved nomination for a Canadian Association of Journalists Award. He’s nominated in the Online Media category for his series The Wrongful Conviction of Glen Assoun.

I noted also that Foreclosed, from the King’s Investigative Workshop, is up for an award in the Data Journalism category.

Congrats, and best of luck to the nominees.

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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  1. I’m confused.
    Nursing homes are seemingly the most dangerous situation of the covid-19 pandemic. At least that appears to be the case in Canada. So staff there, being the most likely way the virus can enter the facility, are now having their temperature taken twice a shift. Not being tested for covid, having their temperature taken. The science seems to indicate that there could be many carriers of the virus who show no symptoms. Also, there seems to be a period, unclear as to exactly of how long, where a person has the virus, and thus possibly contagious, but has not yet shown symptoms. So this deadly virus, in a situation where it concerns the most vulnerable, will not be subject to extensive and vigorous testing.
    I remain confused.

  2. With regard to mask-shaming: I found a couple of N-95 face masks at the bottom of a drawer. I had bought them a few years ago when I was doing some paint-spraying. Now I’m hesitant to use them for fear that people will call me out for wearing a medical-grade mask instead of a home-made one. I’ve already been called out for hesitating to turn some kids in for using school playground equipment.

    1. Me too, there are probably thousands of N95s in toolboxes and drawers. If what I have read is correct hospitals will only accept donations of unopened boxes of masks. Makes sense, no?

    2. I was thinking the same thing. What is adding to the confusion is that N95 is not actually medical grade. It is a very common industrial standard that has been recognised as equivalent or sufficiently so, and in this time of emergency has been allowed to be used for medical purposes. The mainstream media has conflated the two and led to a great deal of public misunderstanding. Like many people I have numerous slightly-used N95 masks lying around my shop and in various toolboxes and like you, I am a bit reluctant to wear them in public.

      1. I’d give them a good cleaning, add a strategic dab of paint or shmutz to mark them as obviously not hospital-worthy, and use them.

  3. On “Man encourages women in abusive relationships to seek help” – the article notes Gerald McCowan “urges all women and men in the same position to do the same” and yet the examiners headline and commentary basically ignores male victims of domestic violence.

  4. Thank you to the Halifax Examiner for addressing the problems with using war as a metaphor for tackling COVID. The UN Secretary General has called for an immediate global ceasefire, so people in war torn regions can have life-saving aid to take on our common enemy – coronavirus. As Muriel Duckworth famously and repeatedly said-“War is stupid”

    Please add your name and share along: https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/global_ceasefire_114/

    Congratulations to Tim on the nomination for the Glen Assoun series-bravo.

  5. With respect to paticipaction.

    I am reminded that in the mid90s I was in a session on social marketing which was the big new thing then. Presenter was someone from the agency who developed Participaction campaign. Head of the agency was a guru at the time whose name I’ve long since forgotten.

    Anyhow, the presenter told us that they made up the point comparing a young Canadian to an old Swede, knowing that no one would question it. And no one never did!

    Totally fake news…