July 2, 2021

On the last day of second-year university, I wrote my last exam on a Friday afternoon. That was the last thing after a tumultuous few weeks of final papers, projects and exams. I finished writing it, barely remember driving home, told everyone not to wake me… I’m exhausted, I already ate, leave me alone. I fell asleep around 6pm and woke up the next morning at 11am. That’s 17 hours of glorious, blissful sleep… and I remember it well because it’s, by far, the longest continuous sleep I’ve ever had.

And when I woke up the next day, I suddenly felt like I was in a vacuum. “Now what?!” What paper or project do I work on? What exam do I study for? There were no answers of course, but as the saying goes… when you stare into the abyss, it stares right back at you. Now what?

The government 3pm briefings were something I’d gotten used to. If you were here watching with me, you might have heard me screaming at the screen… not at Dr. Henry or Minister Dix… but rather, at the reporters serving up the softball questions. “Ask him this!” or “Ask her that!” I’d (very ineffectively) yell… and usually, nobody thought to ask what I’d desperately wanted answered. I took to Tweeting certain reporters, and a couple of times, by coincidence or because they listened, my specific questions got asked and answered… but now… this vacuum of silence. This abyss of zero information.

This is, of course, good. No news is good news. Usually. We can all hope we never see Dr. Henry on TV again, except when she’s receiving her well-deserved Order of B.C. and Order of Canada. But perhaps there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome as well. This pandemic has held us all hostage for more than a year, and even if it’s letting us go, there’s visible reluctance all around. I’m not saying we’re going to miss it, but certainly parts of it. I’m not saying I need to see the Henry/Dix 3pm gathering every day for the rest of my life, but there’s no doubt it held great importance for many people… and, truthfully, I will miss it. And while we’ve all become very used to masks and distancing, and the mental stranglehold of that – even if Henry/Dix are telling us don’t worry, take them off, gather, whatever – it’s going to take some time. You don’t jump into the abyss… you lower yourself in slowly.

Yes, I do think Dr. Henry will receive (and deserves) those honours. As much as she received criticism and death threats and all the rest of it, in the decades to come, when this whole experience is looked back upon and textbooks are written as to the proper way of dealing with pandemics, British Columbia will be near (if not sitting on) the top of the list. Pandemics incur a lot of collateral damage… lives, businesses, jobs. Mitigating that properly, navigating the subtleties, juggling thirteen flaming chainsaws without getting hurt; it’s no small feat. Look around at the rest of the world for comparison. We, around here, have been very lucky indeed.

I’m going to try to sleep seventeen hours tonight… though I will fail miserably. But one thing that’s changed… I used to go to sleep on Fridays with a bit of dread, not knowing what to expect after the weekend media blackout. That’s now gone, and I certainly won’t miss that.

June 10, 2021

The most notable fact that emerged from today’s C19 update was one that was implied by the numbers… but it was nice to hear it stated officially: that the Ro (R nought) of C19 in B.C. is now below one. This is the number that indicates, on average, how many people get newly infected from someone who’s already got it. A number less than one simply states this thing is fading away; if everyone is infecting, on average, less than one other person, we’re very much headed in the right direction.

The Delta variant is likely to affect the velocity with which we ultimately get close to zero, but it doesn’t matter too much. If we keep doing what we’re doing – primarily, keep getting vaccinated – it’s hard to imagine that number bouncing back up. Like I said yesterday, it’ll never go away completely… but it’ll be relegated to just one more other annoying seasonal disease that’s very controllable.

One thing that’s clear with respect to how the PHO handles things; they will be cautious and certain before they pull the plug on any restrictions… for one big reason: once a restriction is lifted, it’s not coming back. It would take a serious derailment for something to be re-imposed after it’s been removed. At least, that’s the idea… which is why even though it looks like today is a good day to take a step forward, it’ll always wait till next week. This comes from watching what’s happened around the world and, unfortunately, will happen again… where people’s impatience, rather than the science, drives the policy. But here, they’ve set conservative but achievable goals… and they’re sticking with them. Accordingly, everything is pointing to moving to the next re-opening phase on June 15th, where outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed, indoor parties of 50 people will be allowed (with C19 provisions in place), provincial travel restrictions will be lifted, liquor will be served till midnight and a number of sport and gym-related restrictions will be eased.

Dr. Henry has taken a lot of crap from people for what they consider her heavy-handed, draconian and excessive policies… but the fact is, these policies have worked really well. In hindsight, all the people telling you “You see, it wasn’t so bad” should be reminded that it was *because of* — not *in spite of* — these policies that we made it through this relatively unscathed, compared to so many other places.

And again, don’t take my word for it. Those other places who are so keen and impatient on reopening ahead of schedule… are places where things are likely to look a lot different.

May 10, 2021

As expected, Dr. Henry spent a lot of time today talking about data… withheld, public and/or otherwise. My opinion hasn’t changed; as mis-interpreted as “too much data” may be for some people, I’d still want it to be out there. I understand the arguments against sharing everything… and I could probably strongly argue that side of it as well… but as much as I’d understand the reasoning, I still wouldn’t agree with it… and, anyway, going forward, more data will be made available. Good… I want to see it.

And looking at numbers around here, there’s reason to be optimistic. Vaccination rates are the highest ever, and going full blast… and case numbers, while still relatively high, are trending downward. Twenty deaths in three days isn’t great, but that’s due to the high case counts two weeks ago. If the present trends continue, the numbers will continue to dwindle down… and restrictions will be lifted and restaurants will open and some semblance of normalcy will slowly start crawling into sight… and perhaps we’re at the point where taking everything into consideration, we can measure it in weeks, not months. In the next few days, we’ll start seeing some tentative plans of how things might look sooner than later; we might see some positive, welcome changes shortly after the long weekend.

As much as it’s impossible to please everyone, the fact is… that B.C.’s handing of the P.1 (Brazilian) variant has been top notch. Understanding how it spreads, the restrictions and physical distancing and restaurant closures and gym closures and targeted vaccinations… have prevented what likely would’ve been a far worse outcome. Seeing some of that data that they like to keep to themselves likely would’ve helped explain some of those decisions that for many seemed too drastic. It wasn’t too drastic; it’s what was needed… and it’s what’s optimistically paving our way out of this.

Cautious optimism is certainly better than reckless pessimism… of which there’s still plenty around. Looking forward to that disappearing too. We’ve all had enough.

May 3, 2021

I’m writing this while watching today’s provincial update with Dr. Henry and Minister Dix. I used to watch this every day, but not so much anymore. What’s interesting is that, recent details aside, it’s the same old thing… and why wouldn’t it be? The message hasn’t really changed. Or, at least, shouldn’t. This is a perpetual Public Service Announcement. Act responsibly, be kind, do the right thing, etc. To a great extent, I think they realize they’re preaching to the choir. There’s not a single person watching this today thinking, “Gee – that’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll start doing that.”

One thing to clarify… hearing them claim that 41.5% of eligible B.C. residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. The key word there is “eligible”… because if you remove that word, the correct number – the number I’ve been tracking – is 36.5%… and the reason is that, at some point, the eligibility list, which at present does not include anyone under the age of 18, will change… and that denominator will change, and the percentage will drop. But for now, according to what they’re saying, it’s 41.5%… and that number should grow to 100% well-before July 1st. It won’t, because, as we know, not everyone who’s eligible for a vaccine will want one… but it’s a good target. It would be achievable, but it won’t happen… not because of lack of supply or logistical challenges. It’ll simply be because of vaccine hesitancy and denial.

What happens after that is as good a guess as any. Will that mean we’ve reached herd immunity? Probably not. The answer last year might have been yes, but these new variants are more contagious, meaning a higher Rø… meaning a higher percentage threshold of immunity is needed. The hard-set 15% of naysayers were never going to have their minds changed. But it’s in the next 25% where you’d find that tipping point… the “maybe” crowd. Somewhere in the 60% to 85% range, where herd immunity exists.

But also, reaching herd immunity here in B.C. might not mean much when we’re such an international hub of travel. We’re 30km from the U.S., which will never reach herd immunity. We have flights coming and going from every high-risk area, present or future.

I am all in favour of vaccine passports and anyone screaming about freedom and human rights might be forgetting the convenient fact that nobody has the human right or freedom to impose disease upon anyone else. Keep your mask-less face and anti-vaxx attitude far away from those who want no part of it. If you think you’re free to not wear a mask or get a vaccine, you must to agree that those who disagree with you should be free to not want you around. I fully support a “Covid-free passport” requirement for entering this province… and notwithstanding the optimism with respect to locally getting things under control sooner than later… we are not an island, and we will never be truly isolated from this virus.

But that doesn’t mean things can never get back to normal. They can… and they will. It might just take longer and it might look a little different. One way or the other, though… we are racing towards a finish line.

April 16, 2021

Perhaps the biggest misconception I had with all of this is evident in the thoughts I was posting around this time last year… basically, “We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it together if we all stick together and do what we need to do, together.”

Haha… how ridiculously naïve.

This thing will end one day, but it certainly won’t be like I pictured it. No VE Day with people dancing in the streets and randomly hugging and kissing each other. No… just a lot of disparate groups, all of them grumbling about something different.

We will never hear the end from the naysayers… the anti-vaxx, anti-mask crowd. The ridiculously short-sighted people who want to question everything, as if that’s the right way to critically think. Question everything. Doctors, politicians, specialists, scientists… all of them are wrong. It’s difficult to piece together logical arguments where you can make it all fit together, because most of those people don’t agree with each other to begin with… but people try… and that’s where you get the real wing-nut opinions. They will grumble about it forever.

The crowd that’s been doing the right thing from day one… and finds themselves exactly where we were last year, if not a little worse… waiting for their vaccine, being careful, and watching reckless behaviour all around them. Their grumbling is more quiet, but evident.

The crowd that’s been vaccinated and now feels invincible and is screaming to open things up. What’s the delay? What’s the problem? I’m willing to take the risk! Let me in! Very loud grumbling.

The crowd that, for actual health reasons, can’t be vaccinated and is counting on herd immunity to keep them safe “in the wild”, now realizing that it may take years… or if it’ll ever even happen. They’re more quiet, but justifiably pissed off.

The heroes of the equation; not just the scientists who developed the vaccines, nor the countless researchers who, over decades, contributed placing pieces to the puzzle that was finally solved. Them too, but I mean the front-line workers who, for a year, have been putting themselves at risk to benefit the greater good; everyone mentioned in this paragraph has faced backlash from those in the paragraphs above; they could’ve done it better, sooner… or, shouldn’t have done it at all. Many are feeling underappreciated… and grumbling about it

The politicians, the leaders, elected or not… who certainly didn’t choose this, and who’ve been making the best decisions they can, faced with difficult choices that are bound to upset someone. Love them or hate them, let’s all appreciate that they’re in no-win situations. For every person that considers Dr. Henry a reluctant-but-capable hero, there’s someone issuing death threats. At some point, all of them have made a specific decision that someone found completely wrong. People grumble at that. The politicians grumble behind closed doors.

I guess there are two ways to finish a marathon. We’re all familiar with the guy who’s never run one, trains his heart out, struggles… but makes it, and falls into the arms of his wife and kids at the finish line, tears of joy for all of them at the accomplishment. Yeah, that’s great, we’ve all seen that movie.

But there’s also the guy who trained really hard, as he does every year, trying to beat his personal best… he almost broke 4 hours that one year, and this time he knows he can do it. He pours his heart into it, but struggles nonetheless… and barely breaks 5 hours. He crosses the finish line, pissed off and upset, scoffs at the flowers and “Way to go dad!!” sign that his family is holding up.

“Let’s just get the hell out of here”, he says to them as he shepherds them into the car. To hell with this, he thinks. To hell with all of it and everyone involved.

I might sound like I’m grumbling myself… but I think that’s pretty much going to be it.

April 13, 2021

The good old “abundance of caution” is back in the news, thanks to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which, like the AstraZeneca, is in the spotlight for potentially causing blood clots. Both of those are adenovirus vector vaccines, as opposed to the mRNA Pfizer/Moderna vaccines (no accusations of blood clots there), so that adds to the correlation.

Here are some numbers:

In the U.S., close to 7 million doses of J&J have been administered. There have been reports of 6 potential cases of blood clots. That’s less than a one-in-a-million chance of developing this particular complication… and one of those cases was lethal, so there’s a close to one in 7 million chance of dying from the J&J vaccine. If it’s responsible for that.

Of the 6 cases, 100% of them were young women between the ages of 18 and 48.

Here’s something else that young women ages 18 to 48 do… they take birth control pills, and they have babies. If you throw that into the mix:

We hear that 1 in 1,000 women on birth control develop blood clots. The number is actually a little lower… more like 0.3 to 0.9… as in 3 to 9 out of 10,000. Also relevant is that in the 3 months after giving birth, that number goes up to 40 to 60 out of 10,000.

I really have no idea how much of that applies to these particular women, except to note that throwing a one-in-a-million factor into it changes nothing. It’s the sort of rounding error that gets lost in the mix. Insurance companies view events beyond one-in-a-million as “impossible”, which makes them easy to insure.

Nevertheless, in this age of litigation and ass-covering and risk mitigation, the CDC and FDA slammed on the brakes until everyone dances around a bit and indemnifies themselves, and then they can get back to it.

In the meantime… as with AstraZeneca, I assume the U.S. is sitting on large shipments of unused J&J vaccine. J&J has, for the moment, halted shipments to Europe. Don’t let it go to waste! We here in Canada would welcome it with, literally, open arms.

Dr. Henry and Premier Horgan and Minister Dix continually remind us all that our infrastructure presently supports much more vaccine-delivery capacity than the supply that’s feeding it. Great! Please secure a few million unused doses of that J&J and get it up here. Perhaps don’t make it the first choice to give young women (optics), but I know a lot of old men (I’m one of them!) who’d happily, unquestionably, without hesitation and with profound gratitude accept it.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen… one, because we here in B.C. have zero leverage to be asking for anything… and two, the Americans will quickly come to their senses and realize that even if these two vaccines, J&J and AstraZeneca, actually introduce a one-in-a-million chance of a complication, the benefit is far outweighed by the risk… and the intelligent thing would be to resume vaccinations as soon as possible. As soon as the $2,250-per-hour lawyers are done with it, they’ll be back in business.

March 26, 2021

The good news with numbers is brief. Yesterday, B.C.’s vaccination rate went from nine point something to ten point something percent. Today, so did Alberta and Ontario… all of which allowed me to change the percentage to one decimal place instead of two. That’s one small step for a decimal point; one giant leap for significant figures as it pertains to reaching the end of this thing. I look forward to Manitoba joining the club soon.

And that concludes the numbers-related good news.

Today, B.C. had over 900 new cases… for the first time since November. What’s also bad is that the new-case growth rate was over 1%… not a particularly good direction for the trend to be heading.

Here are the weekly new-case averages per week, starting 6 weeks ago:

433, 441, 480, 559, 537, 560, 699. There was a nice dip a few weeks ago… right around the time Dr. Henry was calling it a turning point; it’s up to us, yadda yadda… so, how’d we do? There you go.

We’re likely to see the new-case numbers crawl over 1,000 in the next few days… so, to be clear, we’re very much in a 3rd wave… the question is, how bad will it get? Nowhere near as bad as it’d be if we didn’t have improving weather and vaccines. But nowhere near as good as it’d be if we didn’t have variants… and if we’d all properly followed those rules we used to be so good at. Half of that we can’t control… but the other half…

Now it’s Spring Break; people are traveling and doing their own thing. This is how we roll, and for the people who’ve simply “had it” with the pandemic, none of this matters. Ask me in two weeks how much it really matters, but as good or bad as it gets, when it comes to reaching the finish line, it’s not that we’re not running towards it as fast as we can… it’s that we keep pushing it our further. It’s a tough race to figure out when the finish line keeps moving, but it’s even more frustrating when we’re the ones moving it.

Stay tuned for Monday’s numbers… and don’t hold your breath for any radical change in restrictions. If anything, we’re presently going the wrong way.

March 20, 2021

Last Summer, there was a question I wanted to ask Dr. Henry… it was after the big initial wave had died down, and things looked ok at the time, but Dr. Henry kept warning about the impending second wave in the fall (which certainly happened) and how it would overlap with “respiratory season” (which didn’t… more below) – the time when all of us get sick and numbers always spike up, just not so seriously.

Colder temperatures leading to lowered immune systems, the climate where viruses thrive, people being inside more and in closer proximity… it’s annually the combination to leads to everyone, at some point, catching some version of the sniffles.

The question that I wanted to ask was… why would we expect anyone to be catching colds and flus from each other? With masks and social distancing and hand sanitizers everywhere, how would it work? Like how would we transmit a common cold to each other… but not C19?

The question was eventually asked by one of the reporters at one of the daily update briefings, but the answer wasn’t too convincing, from what I can recall. It was a bit vague… more to do with those illnesses being more contagious, etc… but still, they’d have to be pretty darn contagious to make their way past a lot of defences we’d all put up.

As it turns out, nature answered the question better… which was, there was next to no “respiratory season” at all. Speaking for myself, I inevitably get sick at some point over the winter… and I can usually tell you where or from whom I caught it. Stuck in a crowded ski lodge for an hour with a room packed with heavily breathing people and poor ventilation? Stuck in an airplane for a few hours? Getting infinite kissy-kissies from relatives?

Not really surprised that this year, I didn’t get sick. How could I? From whom? When and where? For the first time I can ever remember, no winter cold.

Did you? Certainly, nobody in my immediate circle got sick with any virus. A spot of food poisoning perhaps, but nothing contagious.

Which leads to ask an interesting question, one that Asians answered centuries ago… but we didn’t follow suit: Are masks now going to become much more normalized in Western society? They most certainly will not be mandated, but it’s the same as sunscreen… no one should be giving people dirty looks for doing whatever works for them… and I wonder… how common will masks be on planes? On public transit? These habits that we’ve normalized actually make a big difference. Forget C19 and the risk of death; let’s just talk about the risk of inconvenience. The risk of catching a cold, perhaps having to miss work or some event you were looking forward to.

And I do get it, some people will say to hell with it, I don’t care about catching the sniffles for a few days if it means I don’t have to worry about it after that. Just catch the seasonal cold, get it over with, and get on with your life. Makes sense too.

I’m undecided, to be honest. Chances are, if I don’t take it seriously always… ie, all the masks and social distancing and hand sanitizer I’m doing now, I’ll probably catch something at some point… and, therefore, what’s the point at all. That’s probably my version of it; get the seasonal flu shot, which from now on will be juiced up with the latest and greatest C19 formula… and go back to living… with a little bag of Kleenex in my pocket.

March 11, 2021

Like many things, it depends how you look at it… and that generally leads to a bit of disagreement.

I happened to be reading a news story about a cassette tape that a girl lost while on vacation in Spain. Twenty years later, she saw it in an art gallery, part of a “Sea of Artifacts” exhibit by an artist who’d been documenting plastic pollution and making art out of it.

The girl contacted the artist, and the tape was sent to a professional audio restorer who managed to extract all of the music from it – an eclectic collection ranging from Shaggy and Bob Marley to a bunch of Disney numbers.

So, what’s the story?

Is it about the variety in musical taste of some random 12-year old girl?

Is it about serendipity, synchronicity and the universe?

Is it about the resilience of cassettes? It’s impressive; lost at sea for 20 years, travelling 1,200 miles in rough, salty seas… and it’s still playable. The inventor of the cassette tape died recently (aged 94) – I’m sure he was impressed.

Is it about how plastic is so ridiculously indestructible that we really need to be aware of what we’re dumping into the ocean?

Like usual, it depends who you ask and it depends on their agenda. Today, on the one-year anniversary of the WHO declaring Covid-19 a global pandemic, I’m thinking back to all the news I’ve heard, read and written… the spins I’ve muddled through myself, trying to figure out what’s really going on.

Today, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a bit of relaxation in restrictions… outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are now allowed. Also, today, I should point out that our case numbers and ICU admissions are flat… or, keep going up, though not by rates that anyone would call alarming.

It’s been like this from the beginning; somewhat conflicting information that’s left up to interpretation. If you already know the agenda you’re trying to promote, you’ll be able to extract it from there.

I will keep it simple, and this is, as always, only my opinion… outdoor gatherings are probably fine, totally fine. They have been, for a while. Ten people sounds about right, officially, but what does that even mean… if you take over a football field, why not 100. The issue is don’t get too close to someone, and not for too long. You chances of inhaling a lethal viral dose of C19 are next to zero if you’re outdoors. But rules need to be defined, especially because the numbers are not going down… because as straightforward as the rules are, they’re generally not being followed by a significant number of people, and that plays into the math. If 95% of the people stick to the rules and 5% don’t, what can we expect? What if it’s 80/20? What if it’s 50/50?

Once you factor all of that into it, these haphazard-sounding decisions suddenly don’t feel so random or unexpected; they’re not. Like life, it’s all a calculated risk… and the path that’s evident now is one where the numbers don’t get worse, but stay flat or slide downward toward zero… while at the same time slowly and methodically reducing restrictions. It makes sense, though everyone will grab onto the story from different sides and pull in their direction… “numbers aren’t improving”, “see, why did we ever need restrictions”, “I told you it’s ok to get together outside”, “ICU cases keep rising”.

Here’s a generalized suggestion to every single person: Keep doing what you’re doing; we’re all headed in the right direction collectively… you do you, I’ll do me, and we will all eventually hit the finish line. Nobody knows what that percentage split is, but it doesn’t matter… whatever it is, it’s working for us now. If you’ve been sticking to the rules, keep doing so. If you haven’t, I’m sure you won’t start now. And hopefully, that’s all factored into this and it doesn’t matter.

No matter how you look at it, I’m sure we can agree on that.

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March 5, 2021

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of interesting responses, as expected… with no real answers, just everyone’s individual opinions. Also as expected, because there’s no right answer.

The summary is probably this: A lot of people, dare I say perhaps the majority, have some negative part of their life that is irrelevant with respect to what they provide to the world. They are brilliant musicians, but they beat up their spouse on occasion. For some people, especially those for whom there’s a personal connection, that’s too much. For others, the quality of their work outshines their personal shortcomings, especially if said shortcomings don’t matter to them. If you’re not trans or couldn’t care less about LGBTQ issues, you’ll keep reading Harry Potter without missing a beat. If you’re sympathetic enough to the cause, perhaps it’ll cause you to think about it. To each, his or her own… and that’s a big, wide chasm… a huge spectrum. There’s no fine line where this falls to one side or the other; it’s very personal – and different – for everyone.

I guess I would similarly draw the line. If it’s important and personal to me, perhaps it crosses that chasm. I sure as hell would not go to a Roger Waters show to watch anti-Semitic propaganda thrown in my face. But I would certainly go to a post-mid-80s Pink Floyd concert headlined by David Gilmour, should that ever happen again. And as far as the music that’s a mix of those two things… yeah, it’s tainted, but its importance to me will never go away.

On a similar note (haha!!), exactly 200 years ago, Beethoven was in the midst of composing his Missa Solemnis, and his 9th symphony… perhaps as close to musical perfection as we’ll ever get. But Ludwig himself… after his brother died, he spent years fighting with his brother’s widow, Joanna. The biggest fight was a custody battle over Karl, his nephew (their son)… and it was vicious… so much so that it led Karl to attempt suicide some years later. Beethoven, as it turns out, wasn’t the most pleasant of fellows… controlling, overbearing… traits that got only worse as he got older and his hearing worsened and his slow lead-poisoning kicked in.

And… I’ll be honest… there’s absolutely nothing that could come to light about Ludwig Van Beethoven that’d ever make me turn off his music. It would be optimistic to think that just because someone can create perfection, they themselves would be so perfect as well… and we can leave it at that. I’m good with that.

And speaking of being optimistic… let’s head into the weekend with some optimistic news: Given the new vaccines, the expected shipment schedules, the extending times between doses and the increasingly good weather, Dr. Bonnie Henry thinks we may start turning the corner to “post-pandemic” as soon as summer. That’d be less than four months before things feel pretty close to normal. I’m good with that too.

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