The state of wearing masks and the pandemic, late July 2021

Sometimes I’ll read an article that nearly perfectly matches what I’m thinking, and this Atlantic article on wearing masks is one of them. It’s free to read, as is all of their COVID-19 coverage, so the link below should keep working. And yes, I did feel a bit weird reading at the end that the free coverage is in part due to sponsorship from the Chan Zuckerberg (re: Facebook) Initiative.

Case numbers in BC have doubled over the last two weeks, and are back into daily triple-digit territory. For me, it’s really simple, with Reason #1 being dominant–I don’t want to catch COVID-19. We simply don’t know enough about long term effects for me to be comfortable lowering my risk for the (admittedly welcome, but ultimately minor) benefit of going mask-free in public indoor spaces, especially transit.

4 Reasons I’m Wearing a Mask Again by Katherine Wu, The Atlantic

Max stats: Pandemic version

As of today, it’s been two weeks since I had my second Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19. This means I’ve reached about the maximum immunity granted by the vaccine, which is nice. I am free to drop wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and in doing so would present only a minimal risk to myself or others. This is good.

But this is bad. The much more contagious delta variant is spreading at the same time that vaccinations are starting to stall out. A minority of the population who are hesitant to get vaccinated (for whatever reason) may undo a lot of what we have achieved in getting around 80% of the population covered. The thought is we may now need 90% or more–which seems unlikely.

There are few people who would not be tired of the pandemic at this point. I really hope that come fall I’m not reporting high case loads again and a renewed mask mandate.

As always, we will see.

(And for now I’m going to keep wearing a mask at least when using public transit. I’m pretty sure something like 90% of every cold, flu and other ailment I’ve gotten came from a fellow SkyTrain or bus passenger, so it’s totally worth the minor inconvenience.)

It’s BC “Masks are recommended but not mandatory” Day!

It’s also Canada Day, though celebrations have been tempered (to put it mildly) by the ever-growing discovery of mass graves of children at former residential schools, which were Canada’s answer to “Yes, we as a nation can be as racist and horrible as any other!”

But that is quite another discussion. This one is still political, in a way, but not as straight-up horrible.

It is about masks.

Today, the BC government is lifting the provincial state of emergency that has been in place since March 2020, and is also moving to Step 3 of its re-opening plan. This lifts a lot of restrictions, though for a lot of people, it will come down to one big change:

Masks in indoor public spaces are going from mandatory to recommended.

Today when I was out and aboot, I still saw people in my condo complex and out in the park and on sidewalks wearing masks, so I suspect a lot of people will still wear them even if they don’t actually need to. My own plan is to wear a mask where it seems sensible (I think you don’t need them outdoors unless you’re in the middle of a mosh pit or something) until a couple of weeks after my second vaccine shot. I get the shot on July 4, so that would mean wearing a mask until about mid-July. I also suspect that once we enter flu season in the fall and assuming masks are still by choice, I will don one when riding the petri dish of germs and maladies known as public transit, because I am pretty sure that’s where most of my bouts of flu and colds have come from. I’ll also keep washing my hands a lot (washing when I come from outside is now as automatic as locking the door behind me).

All this is assuming our recovery stays on track. There are fears the very contagious delta variant will derail things. If I could, I’d squeeze another train metaphor in here. On the plus side, we are nearing 80% vaccinated in BC, so we should be close or possibly even ta herd immunity now.

Time will tell.

Two perks of the pandemic

Have I talked about this before? I may have, but I am lacking in imagination at the moment so I’m going to talk about this again.

As the title says, there are two perks to the pandemic that I have seen so far. Yes, there may be others, but these are the only ones that seem meaningful in a greater sense.

  1. Work From Home. WFH is awesome. No commute, extra time for sleeping and exercise or doing whatever I want. Being able to step away from the desk and raid your own fridge for a snack. No distracting co-workers coming to your desk. It’s great. I don’t miss the office at all. I guess I am a solo player that also happens to work well with teams.
  2. No illness. It’s ironic that as a pandemic swept the globe I have not had a cold, the flu or anything like that since January 2020. This is pretty much unprecedented, and it’s all due to one little thing: avoiding people. Basically, every time I have gotten sick it’s been someone else’s fault.

If I think of more, I’ll add more later. But really, these are the biggies and I would miss them dearly if I had to go back to an office. So my plan is to somehow arrange to never have to do that again. My plan is in its early stages.

Shot fired!

Into my left arm, to be precise.

Today I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to protect against COVID-19. It could be up to four months before I get my second shot and it’s not guaranteed to be Pfizer, though I am actually optimistic that it will be the same and will be ready in less than four months.

The actual process itself went very smoothly and efficiently. Outside the Anvil Centre in downtown New Westminster, I was directed to use some hand sanitizer, put on a mask (over the one I already had on) and then basically follow the arrows on the floor inside and talk to someone at each appropriate point. Within minutes I was sitting in my chair, confirming that my allergies (to penicillin and a few adjacent antibiotics) do not induce life-threatening reactions and getting ready for the jab.

Since it had been a long time since I had gotten any kind of vaccination shot, I was going to ask the woman administering it what it would feel like, if I should do anything to prepare or whatnot, but before I barely had my mouth open to ask she had stuck me and it was over. It was basically a quick pinprick. It was delightfully underwhelming.

I had to wait 15 minutes before I could leave, with my escape time conveniently showing on a sticky note on the plexiglass partition in front of me. The last minute seriously felt like five minutes. I was also struck by how drastically my smartphone usage has evolved over the years, as I don’t have a single game installed that might have kept me entertained for a few minutes.

As I write this in mid-evening, my left arm is feeling sore and a lot of the strength has ebbed away. I tried opening a pasta sauce jar at dinner, and it resulted in a lot of giggling but no open jar.

I am sort of expecting side effects to worsen overnight as it seems they sometimes take 12-24 hours to materialize, but we’ll see. I am just happy and relieved to have the first dose done. I feel a tiny bit safer and can see a smidgen of light at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel.

P.S. Pandemics suck.

Inevitable “Goodbye and good riddance to 2020 aka The Year of the Plague” post

I never wondered what it would be like to live through a global pandemic and now that I am living in the midst of one, I can say that I was right to never wonder about it. I mean, it could have been worse than it is–here we are less than a year* (!) in and already multiple vaccines are being distributed, promising an eventual return to something that might resemble what we used to consider normal.

With that as a frame of reference, I suppose we can be grateful for the following in terms of how things went.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could Have Been Worse: A List

  • The virus could have been much deadlier. Even a fatality rate of 5% would have wreaked havoc across the world (that would equal around 16.5 million dead in the U.S.).
  • Trump could have been President of the entire planet instead of just the United States
  • It could have been even more easily contagious. You think getting people to wear masks was challenging? Imagine if people had to completely isolate to prevent the spread. On second thought, don’t imagine it. You may never sleep again. :P
  • Transmission by murder hornet (credit to Tick for this one)
  • Vaccine-proof
  • Rewires brain to accept all conspiracy theories
  • Causes a really itchy rash in the worst possible spots

Anyway, it looks like here in BC the vaccine rollout is expected to take until Fall 2021, so roughly 9-10 months. This means that all the measures currently in place will likely remain in place for most of the upcoming year. It sucks, but I’m sure it will build character or something. Here’s to some kind of normalish existence returning before we bring on 2022.

* Never has a year felt so paradoxically long, where days and weeks felt like they stretched on forever, and yet also felt to have gone by in a blur

Today I learned what a bradykinin storm is

It’s apparently an effect of the COVID-19 virus’s effect on the body, which may be the cause of victims’ lungs filling up with gel-like fluid, “covid toes” and more. The good news is this research will help make treatment of COVID-19 symptoms more effective. Although the various sympyoms and side effects of the virus are frightening to read about, this is really a story of hope and how something as simple as Vitamin D may help those affected by the virus.

Story here: A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged

(This story was linked in Dave Pell’s daily Next Draft newsletter, which is great (if often depressing) source of news on the pandemic and other stories.)

Heel update: First and hopefully last in a limited series

When I went to bed last night I was sad because my left heel was still pretty sore from whatever mysterious thing happened to make it sore. I mean, I walked 19 km in just under three hours, but the right heel didn’t seem to mind, and I can’t recall the last time either heel objected to a walk so forcefully.

I regret to inform the six bots scraping this site that my left heel is still sore.

However, it is definitely improved over last night, so I am cautiously optimistic that I will not spend the bulk of my vacation hobbling around like an old war vet or a young protester after interaction with those supposedly there to protect and serve.

That said, I only walked to the store to get a few needed items, then another four blocks to meet my exercise goal for the day. The urge to walk more was approximately nil, which makes me sad, because I walk all over the place.

Tomorrow: Probably another update, hopefully the last.

As for vacation, the heel preoccupied my mind and body, so other than the store, I did a whole lot of nothing. I feel mildly guilty about this, so here’s a haiku about my vacation to make me feel like I did something:

Vacation

Take it to relax
But oh yeah the pandemic
Afraid to go out

Hmm, that wasn’t especially cheerful, was it? Or not cheerful at all. Maybe tomorrow, with the heel back to somewhat normalish, I will be more inspired to think in positive terms.

About that pandemic…

When I went grocery shopping today I noticed the 2 meter lines placed on the floor to remind customers to keep apart were looking rather worn and faded, which makes sense considering they’ve been walked on for close to four months.

Which then made me think that we have been living with the immediate effects of lockdown/quarantine/pandemic for about four months now and no real end in sight.

How will we adjust as this continues on? While some places have opened up early (with predictably disastrous results), only to close again, and large events like concerts being pretty much off-limits (unless you’re a certain flavor of idiot country musician) until–or if–there is a vaccine, it feels like more people are adopting a “just let it happen and get it over with” attitude.

Why people would feel this way is easy to understand–they are tired of having their lives upended by all the changes the virus has forced on them. They don’t like physical distancing or wearing masks or having to do take-out instead of eating at their favorite restaurant (though they can do the latter now in many places–time will tell how prudent eating out is).

What remains to be seen is where we go from here. Some people are engaging in a weird sort of anti-coping by doomscrolling. Others are decrying their “freedom” being curtailed and doing whatever the hell they want, safety be damned. Most are just plodding along, tired, but still understanding the necessity of following guidelines and the measures in place. B.C. has had it much easier than some places and things still seem to be under control here, so complacency is also taking root among come crowds. How careful do we need to be when it really doesn’t seem that bad? Why would the government allow things to open back up if it wasn’t safe?

Who can say what the future might bring, though? Recently I’ve been reading about some of the less-reported effects people have endured after contracting COVID-19 and the list of ailments is scary as all get-out. There is evidence emerging that some may suffer permanent organ damage, such as to their lungs. The virus is less than a year old and we know very little about it. The fact that it is infectious enough to shut down the world is frightening all on its own. It’s not the flu. It may turn out to be so much worse.

While the pandemic has in some ways become so much background noise, I wonder just how many people have thought about how long it will be before we return to “normal”–or if we ever truly will.

2020 has been a year of change and upheaval. And it’s only half over.

How things have changed for me, how they haven’t (Pandemic edition)

Like puberty, the global pandemic has been impossible to avoid. But at least this time my voice didn’t change.

While the future remains unwritten and hopefully won’t turn into a real life recreation of The Stand, here’s what’s changed (and what hasn’t) during life in a global pandemic.

Also, I like lists.

Here’s what’s changed:

  • Work from home. This is the biggie, of course. I started work from home (WFH) on March 18, so it’s been about two months, though it feels like a lot longer. The idea that this would happen at the beginning of the year was absurd. I expect to be WFH at least through the summer, which will mean at least six months total, and it could extend to the end of the year, which would be 10 months total. That’s a lot of commute time saved.
  • Speaking of commute time, I have no commute. I used to ride on two different SkyTrain lines and spend just over one hour traveling to or from work. Now I roll out of bed, cross the living room and I’m there. My commute has gone from over 60 minutes to under 10 seconds.
  • I am getting more sleep. This is directly related to no commute as I am getting up an hour and a half later now.
  • I am saving money. This is related to WFH and having no commute. I am not buying a two-zone monthly fare card (currently $131), plus my use of transit has dropped to near zero. I have been on the SkyTrain twice in the last two months, versus 44-50 trips per month previously.
  • I am gaining weight. Snacking is a lot more convenient. I am working on this, but I have added 5+ pounds since this began.
  • I am exercising less. I’ve been doing walks, both on and off the treadmill, but I’ve only done a single run outdoors. I’m just not comfortable running outside right now, even though I know it’s not actually high risk or anything.
  • Reading time has declined. I am currently five books behind on my modest Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2020 because my reading time used to be during my commute and, well, see the second bullet point. I’m starting to finally read again, so may start catching up on this.
  • Shopping has shifted online or been severely reduced. I’ve purchased stuff from Apple and Best Buy online (and Amazon, of course) and had it delivered, something I generally would not do (I’d just go to the respective stores). This usually means I wait longer to get something (which is fine). I-person shopping is always done solo and no more than once a week if possible. Shopping in-store is relatively unpleasant now due to physical distancing requirements and some members of the public being indifferent or actively hostile to these requirements. The online shopping experience has varied as follows:
    • Amazon: The closest locker is closed, so they deliver direct to door. Usually once they get in the building the drivers leave packages at the condo door. This means stuff could potentially be stolen. Not good.
    • Apple: They ship free (yay) via UPS. UPS comes to the building, they try buzzing our suite number (this doesn’t work, as the buzzer number is not the same as the suite number–which they can see if they read the list of occupants next to the buzzer), then leave a note and I have to pick up the package the next day at a store a few blocks away. This is not convenient, but it’s less risk.
    • Best Buy. They ship through Canada Post. If the package is large, the delivery person will leave a key to a Canada Post large item locker in the lobby of our building, across from the mailboxes. This is convenient, and I wished Apple shipped this way, even if it meant a day or two extra for delivery.

What hasn’t changed:

  • Work is mostly the same. With in-classroom issues eliminated, the actual work I do is much the same as before, I just do it from a desk at home instead of a desk on campus. I like WFH and hope to keep doing it because not having that one hour commute is a gigantic improvement in quality of life.
  • Still playing Diablo 3. But I’m nearly done getting my final character to level 70. After that, all the treasure goblins in the world will not bring me back (maybe).
  • Mealtimes and other routines, like a walk at noon. Times and locations have shifted, but the activities are still the same.
  • And other miscellaneous stuff.

This weekend marks the beginning of the easing of some restrictions, but I don’t expect things will change much for me. Physical distancing will still be in place when shopping and many mall stores will remain closed (like Apple, for example) or will be restricting their sales to things like curbside pickup. I guess we can go to provincial parks again (during the day), though as I type this it’s pouring rain. Normally that’s a bummer on a holiday weekend, but this time it may just help us flatten the curve a little more when so many people are anxious to get out and get “back to normal”–something I suspect will not be happening for quite a while.

The less friendly pandemic, Part 2 (Plus bonus more friendly)

The sign at Hume Park warning that the playground (er, “park feature or area”) is currently closed now has a new sticker on it warning of a $200 fine.

“You there, little boy. Let’s see some ID. You’re being fined 200 clams for riding on that swing set.”

“But I don’t have any clams.”

“It’s a metaphor, kid.”

“A meta for what?”

But while the city is turning up the heat in some ways, they are turning it down in others, as the first signs of going back to a kind of normal have emerged. Here’s another sign, this one at the tennis courts.

As long as you are unorganized and have few, if any, friends, you are good to play tennis again. So that’s something.

In the meantime, a weekend of unseasonably hot weather meant people were jamming the parks and beaches, physical distancing be damned. It will be interesting to see what new cases look like in a few weeks. The week ahead appears to be largely wet, so that should dampen a lot of venturing out.

Also in the meantime, I got confirmation today that the college is committed to online courses for the entire summer, as well as for the fall semester, barring those that require specialized equipment or face-to-face interaction–but only if it’s deemed safe to do so. It is expected that “most” classes will remain online.

My thinking on this is that they realize how difficult it is to do physical distancing on the campus–it’s essentially designed to jam people together, not keep them apart–and want to delay this until a vaccine or other effective workaround can be ironed out that would keep the majority of people safe, rather than turning an education into a trip through the plaguelands.

What this means is that I’m all but guaranteed to be working from home until September and may be working from home until December. Basically, for the rest of the year.

While I like my new no-commute very much. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this.

Treadmill walk: May day (Pandemic #11)

I didn’t intend to stop doing workouts and here it is almost two week since my last one. I am bad. And fat. But it is time to stop morphing into a sloth and morph into a slightly less pudgy human, and so I metaphorically dusted off the treadmill and did a workout tonight.

I made one small tweak–I set the speed to 6.0 (10 km/h pace) instead of the usual 6.5 pace. I was surprised at how different it felt. At 6.5 I have to hold onto the handgrips nearly the entire time, as the treadmill is pulling hard, trying to whisk me off the back. At 6.0 I can hold on with a loose grip and walk without holding at all, though 6.0 is probably near the edge of where that is possible, as I don’t feel entirely steady walking hands-free at this pace.

Overall, I felt fine. The slower pace helped and the 30 minutes went by quickly, even though it still took 30 minutes. The notable differences in the stats are pace (slower treadmill means slower pace, though I was comfortably under the official 10 km/h pace), fewer calories burned (naturally) and a lower BPM (also unsurprising, but nice to see it dropped as much as it did).

Maybe next time I’ll so a mix of speeds. Maybe I’ll actually try jogging. Maybe I won’t wait almost two weeks before doing something again. The world is full of possibilities.

Speed: 6.0 km/h (6.5 km/h)
Incline: 10

Pace: 9:47/km (9:31 km/h)
Time: 30:04 (30:04)
Distance: 3.07 km (3.15 km)
Calories burned: 251 (296)
BPM: 132 (141)