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Second COVID Wave and Attempts to Normal Life in Ottawa

It turned chilly much faster than usual. As if we needed something else to worry about, Environment Canada predicts a colder and wetter winter. I’ve been wearing jeans since I came back from France and I occasionally throw on a hoodie or even my long jacket.

“You know, Feng, you don’t have to wear shorts just because it’s still technically summer. It’s 10°C. Your Canadian citizenship won’t be revoked if you admit it’s cold.”

But we won’t admit it and I can’t find the energy to complain about the weather yet.

It’s too early.

Last week, just when Mark started grade 3—or possibly because most kids in Ontario were finally going back to school and parents back to work—Ottawa announced the second COVID-19 wave had started and that, shockingly, “it was 100% driven by human behaviour.” Well, no shit. I’m shopping in Chinatown regularly, I swear no one is feasting on pangolin these days.

I noticed shoppers were stockpiling sugar, canned veggies and frozen pizzas last weekend, so I put social media and news distancing on hold for a couple of days to get a reality check.

“Alarming upward surge,” “alarming jump,” “wake-up call”—okay, got it.

Apparently, you’re supposed to blame the millions of planes landing in Canada packed with COVID-positive passengers, the millions of Americans crossing into Canada and touring around instead of going straight to Alaska, the millions of Canadians hosting giant house parties, the millions of neglectful and irresponsible parents sending kids back to school, the millions of Canadians not wearing a mask when having sex and more.

Yes, the atmosphere is a bit toxic.

“For fuck’s sake! Top scientists all over the world have been studying COVID for six months and the best we can do is cover our face and avoid other people? And we can’t even do that properly? We’re doomed!”

I know I’m being unfair but I wish we had more science, more data, more insight into COVID by now. Just testing is still a clusterfuck with centres at full capacity and long lineups. And with pandemic fatigue, it looks like 50% of people are now into conspiracy theories and 50% spend their time urging for Draconian restrictions that are not necessarily helpful or doable.

Further steps into Ontario’s reopening plan have been put on hold. Social gatherings have been limited again—10 people indoors, 25 outdoors. If you hear a party, you’re encouraged to call the snitch line.

We’re all wondering if we’re heading for a second shutdown. Apparently, 75% of Canadians would approve. I find it doubly puzzling—who can afford it and should we get used to shutting down the entire country every few months for the foreseeable future?

“Depends on how the question is phrased,” a friend of mine chimed in. “A one-week shutdown with the guarantee it helps? Sure. A winter-long lockdown without pandemic money? I don’t think so.”

There’s a sense of urgency to enjoy what we can before it gets worse, before winter—and winter is a big issue. If private, indoor gatherings are already largely contributing to the spread of the virus now, how bad it is going to get when socializing outside won’t be an option? And we do need indoor activities options otherwise we are basically trapped at home for six months.

I started going to the gym every day again. There are fewer classes and spots have to be booked through the app three days ahead but despite the inconvenience, I love the normalcy of sweating in the studio with 17 strangers (in case you were wondering, we stick to our spot and yes, we take off our mask). However, it’s probably not a sustainable business model for the gym—the facility is eerily empty both because people are scared to come and because of capacity limits.

Long lineups in front of grocery stores are gone, I think capacity limits were increased over the summer. Food prices are noticeably higher and it sucks. As far as I can tell, people do wear a mask as requited in indoor public spaces. You can also buy hand sanitizer bottles and reusable masks* (*and not “Marks”, my original typo!) everywhere.

I met a handful of friends for a walk and a coffee—including inside Starbucks, when it was too cold to sit outside. I’m not scared to go to the restaurant, mall or movie theatre but I can’t be bothered because both because restrictions make it inconvenient and I don’t feel like spending money.

I’m not overly worried about getting sick given our lifestyle in Ottawa. I’m not in denial either, but we’re doing our best to follow guidelines and I think the chance of airborne or surface transmission is pretty low otherwise we would all be dead or immune by now.

I’m worried about everything else, though. Feng is still out of work for the foreseeable future and I get fewer assignments because my biggest clients (tourism, events) haven’t been able to resume activities—travel restrictions to Canada are still in place along with a two-week quarantine when entering Canada and between several provinces/territories. Ottawa feels like a ghost town with plenty of “for lease” signs. Big and small businesses are filing for bankruptcy. I ended up comforting my accountant, the other day—that’s how bad the economy is.

I’m also worried about mental health. I’m bracing myself for the day I’m going to have to tell Mark schools are being shut down again—he loves grade 3 so far. My in-laws don’t want to see him anymore, which is a decision I respect but he’s going to miss them since they were his only contacts outside school. I’m scared of the future and I’m tired of dealing with uncertainty.

But I’m trying, I’m really trying. Right now, I can fake normalcy. Mark is going to school, I’m working a bit, I can see friends, go out, shop and get around. Life is pretty boring but reasonably safe and productive.

I need it to stay this way for a bit.


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