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B.1.427/B.1.429 (California, can’t afford ya)

There’s another mutation in town and they’re calling it the “California variant.”

Viruses mutate all the time (we know these things as we all become virus “experts” from reading too much pandemic news). And the world is now very familiar with the UK, South Africa, and Brazil strains, which have common mutations and are more easily transmissible.

But the California variant is new and improved.

Everything is better in California.

The California variant is doing its own thing. Which is scary. Its not like the other mutations and doesn’t appear to be a subset of them. And it has the potential to outsmart current vaccines, COVID-19 treatment drugs like therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, and the body’s immune system. Plus, “the variant produces twice as many viral particles inside a person’s body as other variants do, which suggests that it could be associated with more severe illness and death.”

Great.

Right now the California brand of contagion hasn’t come north to Canada (we do have the other three).

But we’re also not testing for this particular mutation (“N501Y” if you want to keep track), so it might be here and we don’t know it. However the border with the US is still closed, so the number of people travelling from the now not-so-Golden State is significantly reduced.

But we armchair epidemiologists know that the virus and its variants know no borders.

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Half a million

I can remember when the world death toll reached one million. It was back in late September. It was a terrible number. About six months into the pandemic, and a million people had lost their lives.

Today the US reached 500,000 deaths. Half a million lives.

It’s such a staggering number that National Geographic created a visualization to help illustrate the magnitude of the what all of these lives add up to in numbers that we can comprehend. Like:

  • “There are 525,600 minutes in a year. That’s one COVID-19 death per minute, for almost an entire year.”
  • “A line of 500,000 caskets, laid end to end, would stretch for 645 miles … from New York City to Indianapolis.”
  • “It would equal nearly all the fast-food cooks in the country … all U.S. Postal Service workers … all the school bus drivers in the US … all the inhabitants of Atlanta, Georgia.”
  • “Roughly the same number of Americans flocked to the Woodstock music festival in New York in 1969”
  • “If each death were marked with the blink of an eye, it would take 14 hours of rapid blinking to count off all the victims.”
    “500,000 is a hundred times more than all the stars visible to the naked eye.”

A hundred times more stars than we can see, a hundred times more terrible than can be imagined.

Top 10 countries by Covid deaths per capita
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The Sportsplex becomes a vaccine centre

A million years ago I skated here –– on the ice in winter and in rollerskates in the summer. Today the rink became a mass vaccination clinic. At first it will be 500 shots a day, with the hope that they’ll be able to eventually inoculate up to 5000 people a day.

Well, there’s no hockey these days, so the ice pad might as well be used for something, right?

A concrete pad at the Centre Wellington Sportsplex has been converted to a mass vaccination clinic that will eventually be scaled up to provide 5,000 vaccinations a day. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday
Seniors getting vaccinated on the hockey pad.

Jokes aside, it’s a big deal. A hopeful step toward what might be normalcy one day.

Ontario lags behind the rest of the country and other parts of the world when it comes to getting shots in arms. One of the main issues: vaccine availability. We have to import all brands of the vaccine because Canada doesn’t manufacture it. Once upon a time we did, but a previous Conservative government shut that shit down because, you know, why do we need to be spending money on a vaccine industry that one day might be needed to help save the lives of Canadian citizens in a global pandemic?

The US is way ahead of Canada in vaccinating people. Who saw that coming? Oh yeah, they recently voted in a responsible government who took on the challenge of saving US lives as priority no. 1.

I don’t blame our federal government. It inherited a country with no vaccination manufacturing capability. But it’s hard to watch our neighbours to the south on track to be mostly vaccinated by May when I’ll be lucky to get a jab by September.

Meanwhile, the arena and the good people giving the shots will be hard at work for many months to come, doing the best they can, and for that I am grateful.

Before I get my shot, I’ll be at the Sportsplex about 2-3 more times –– across the hall from the ice pad –– to donate blood at the mobile clinic. A few more episodes of output before that precious input.

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400,000

I’m watching the memorial in Washington for the 400,000 Americans who have now died from Covid-19.

Today is also Trump’s last day in office. But it’s Joe Biden anchoring the service — not Trump. And it’s the first time that Covid-19 deaths in the US are being publicly acknowledged, publicly mourned, in all of these long 10 months.

It’s a time to reflect but also to ask, How could this have happened?

Of course we know how it happened. But to think of 400,000 souls — just from the US — who are no longer on this earth, it’s staggering. And heartbreaking and beyond tragic.

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The end of a terrible year

It’s New Years Eve and I don’t know how to feel. There is a darkness and melancholy that cannot be lifted by the hopefulness of a new year, a new blank page, the possibilities of hope.

But we must try.

I want to have something meaningful to say. I want the last words of 2020 to burn in some goodness. I want to be that person who can say “2021 will be better.” But that’s not something I believe.

We reached record numbers in Ontario today: over 3300 cases in the past 24 hours. This number will climb as the selfish people who chose to ignore the guidelines start to get sick from their holiday gatherings and have since unknowingly spread it to the people and communities they came home to. Our hospitals, now at critical capacities, will need to find a way to keep going, to find room for all of the patients.

This rise in cases could have been prevented. I’m just so angry. And tired of it all.

Yes, there is hope in the coming vaccines. Yes, the virus will eventually be contained. But what will the world have learned then? The world has changed irrevocably. How long will we remember how bad things became, how we learned to adapt, what things we discovered we didn’t need in our lives anymore?

2020 has been the most surreal and heartbreaking and extraordinary (in a bad way) year I’ve ever known. I’m delighted to see the last of its cruel fire suffocate in the cold darkness.

But the problem: This is not really an end to anything. The virus thrives, the world is still fucked, people are dying at alarming rates. 2021 is just 2020+1.

Still, I know that things will eventually get better. Right?

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The mutation has arrived in Canada

Despite efforts to keep the new virus strain out of the country, it found its way in. Of course it did. It was first identified in a couple in Ontario, who originally said that they had no travel history or high-risk contacts. However today it was reported that they had been in contact with travellers from the UK.

A Canadian has also brought a case to Ottawa (travelled from the UK) and BC now has a case (also travelled from the UK). All four known cases have quarantined and are being monitored closely, and docs seem to be hopeful about containment.

When it comes to this pandemic, this new reality, I’m not hopeful about much. Some of these cases arrived before the UK travel ban (now extended to January 6), so who the hell knows where else it has landed and quietly festered.

Also today: Over 15000 people have now died from the virus in Canada. There were 10000 deaths by late October and 5000 by mid-May.

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COVID Christmas

We knew that celebrating Christmas was going to be a very different this year (at least for those who followed the rules and didn’t visit with anyone outside their bubble).

Yet knowing about it didn’t make it any easier. But we managed and we got through OK. At least we did.

Here’s how we distance-celebrated the holidays this year:

  • Driveway/garage visit with T’s brother
  • FaceTime call to T’s family in Alberta
  • FaceTime call to T’s mom
  • Driveway/garage visit with my brother

We were able to have dinner with my mom in her house (we’re bubbled). It was probably the only time I’ve been to a Christmas dinner with just three people at the table.

But we survived and did the right thing (no indoor gatherings). And just hoped that next year will be better.

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The pandemic somehow made me find some peace at Christmas

I haven’t liked Christmas much for about about 19 years, since my dad died. I do try to seem happy and attempt to get into the holiday spirit. But if I’m honest, all this fa-la-la-la-la-ing is annoying as hell. It makes me sad –– for me and humanity. It also makes me envious of people who get right into it, who feel some kind of joyful spark.

Yes I did feel that once, but I was a kid and my family was intact and making great memories. Without my dad, who embodied that childlike, whimsical, Christmassy vibe, my family seems to have lost all of that magic.

T and I celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s probably the only time I get into the spirit, and it’s lovely. This year was especially lovely. We shut out the world, exchanged locally-bought presents, ate a bunch of food, and dipped into the good whiskey. No covid talk. Just enjoying what we have. Being grateful.

And that’s probably the closest I’ve been to holiday merriment in a long time.

Is it because there’s a global pandemic going on? Who knows, but something just felt really good about our little Christmas. Isolated from the world and pretending it doesn’t exist for just a few hours.

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Christmas (but not quite) lockdown

The premier is putting the whole province on lockdown.

But not quite yet.

Cases are rising and hospitals are filling up fast, so the lockdown should be in effect as soon as possible, right? Get this shitstorm under control. But no, the lockdown has been been set to begin on Boxing Day. That gives people several days (including Christmas Day) to keep messing things up and super-spreading the virus. The reason for the delay? Premier wants businesses to have time to get prepared and sell inventory. So, business over lives. Unfuckingbelievable.

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Solstice running

As I’ve said before, running has saved me during this pandemic.

Turns out that I like running in the cold. Not too much below -5C, but I can hack it if there isn’t ice (because I’m afraid of falling and breaking something and needing to go to the hospital –– not where you want to be these days).

It’s the Winter Solstice and I was lucky enough to spend 5K in its gloomy embrace. Lungfuls of cold air and fresh, crisp air on my face.

The days might be getting longer now, but we won’t notice for months. The long dark winter looms, and we have a lot to fear, and endure. I hope that there are many days ahead that are above -5C degrees and ice-free. I will really need to be on that open road, reminding myself that I’ve made it this far.

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H69/V70 (B117)

The virus has mutated, which is something that viruses do. But this variant (H69/V70) can be 70% more transmissable. It doesn’t make us sicker, but it spreads much more easily. Needless to say, not good.

Right now the new variant is concentrated in England, but there may also be cases (or other variants) in South Africa.

England’s border with France has now been temporarily closed and most of the country is going under a strict lockdown. Canada has suspended flights from the UK for 72 hours.

Christmas is pretty much cancelled. And now we have a new form of the virus to worry about.

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4000 dead, more to come

As of today, 4000 people in Ontario have died from the virus.

It’s also the second day in a row that we’ve had over 2000 cases (a new record) in 24 hours. It’s the first time there has been 17,000 active cases in the province. But these days won’t be the last record-breaking days.

Cases are rising across Canada. Hospitalizations are increasing. Yesterday, the province told hospitals to activate emergency (surge) plans to ensure they’re ready for the coming spike in virus patients.

Sometimes it’s hard to even understand this moment, to wrap our heads around these times and fully realize what these numbers mean.

Christmas is coming and many will still ignore warnings to stay home and not mix indoors. I get it: pandemic fatigue is setting in and people like celebrating the holidays. But if they don’t stay home this year, how many will be dead next month?

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Inaugural (regular) flu shot

Today I got my first flu shot ever.

Up until now I’ve never felt the need to get one. I’d never seen it as important. I work from home, don’t interact with many people, and I’m healthy so dealing with the flu would be more of an inconvenience if I managed to even contract it (lately I’ve realized that this position is misguided).

Health officials have asked everyone who can get the flu shot to do it. First off: if you get sick with flu-like symptoms and you’ve had the flu shot, it’s a quicker route to diagnosing you with COVID-19. Also, you can catch BOTH AT ONCE (omg), which doctors say is a very dangerous situation. And if you get the flu shot, you’re a whole lot less likely to pass the flu along to someone for whom it might be deadly.

So we went and got the jab from the local public health unit. (For my first shot I wanted to be around a nurse and professionals in case I had a horrible allergic reaction, which is something I always expect is going to happen … It didn’t).

This was my inoculation since I was a child. So a really long time. And it was fine.

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Running in the fog and forgetting about fucking COVID-19

Sometimes I think that running is one of the things that has saved me during this pandemic.

Outdoor space and the freedom of movement. Being able to control my body for a sole purpose (just me and the road). Being in charge of just one thing: moving forward. At a time when we are experiencing so much restriction.

It’s sometimes meditative and sometimes challenging. But I never regret a run.

Today I was running in the cold and the fog. I love both (once I get over the chill and get into the groove). It’s December and I am thankful for each lungful of cold, fresh air.

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Inaugural inoculation

Today a woman (91-year-old Margaret Keenan) in the UK became the first person in the world to get the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine.

The great vaccination begins.

It’s going to be a long, long road to getting the world vaccinated. Perhaps years.

And while it’s a hugely positive step in the journey to controlling this catastrophe, it’s just that — a step. The worry is that people will now start letting their guards down — because they probably will. And we can’t.

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An hour of catharsis, of bliss, of acceptance

I miss live shows.

That excitement in the crowd as people navigate to a spot with the best view. The buzz of voices (before their owners are too drunk) waiting in anticipation. That swell of applause and yelling as the band takes the stage. Sometimes even the heat of other bodies filling the room.

But the very best part of live music is being a few feet away from a band you really love, that emerges from a blue-lit fog as apparitions, that breaks your heart with that first chord, then fills you with sweeping melancholy or exquisite elation. Often pulling and pushing into both.

There are no live shows anymore. Live shows might never be the same again. If they somehow return to dark, crowded clubs and packed anthemic-swelled arenas, it will only be after the world is vaccinated –– and we’ll still likely be wearing masks (which will suck the joy out of singing lyrics in your yelling voice). And this will be years from now.

Many artists are still streaming gigs from their living rooms, or band members have recorded their parts (also in their living rooms or sheds or whatever) and had an engineer stitch the audio together into a finished piece. It’s lovely, intimate experience, one that brings you into an artist’s life and home.

But musicians aren’t making any money off these performances, and indie bands are struggling especially.

Last night we bought our first ticket (‎€15) to an online performance –– well, more of a performance film: The Twilight Sad at Òran Mór. It was gorgeous.

No, it wasn’t a live show, and the feeling was nothing like standing in the middle of a rapturous crowd. We were, after all, sitting on the couch drinking large wines in our sweats. But it felt like something more than watching a recorded performance. Old songs were reimagined as new sounds. The same energy in the lead singer James Graham was there, like I’ve seen multiple times in his live performances. Cathartic and terrifying, mesmerizing and beautiful.

It felt like something more because it’s the best we can do right now.

During this pandemic we adapt, we pivot, we make do. Some might say we’re evolving too.

We take what we can get and appreciate it.

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Drive-by Santa

This is how you do a Santa Claus parade in a small town during Covid: The guy in the red suit comes to you.

We waited in the cold, with cookies and hot chocolate & Baileys. Others on the street gathered in front of their houses. People in cars would stop by and give updates on the parade’s location (it was supposed to last 3 hours and cover most streets in town).

It was about 1.5 hours late but we heard it for about an hour before its arrival in front of mom’s house: sirens and music echoing through the nearby. streets.

The parade consisted of one police car in front and one in back, an antique fire engine, and Santa Claus sitting in a sleigh in a flatbed trailer pulled by a pickup.

It lasted about 20 seconds.

It might not have been much of a display — and I admit to be being initially meh about it — but it just a really nice thing to do for the community. It brought people together, but apart, in a way to keep them safe.

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