Perhaps it should go without saying that these are unprecedented times we’re living in right now.
But this is a news publication, and as a journalist, it’s my job to state such things and capture the image of what’s happening whenever the situation warrants.
We have never had a situation such as the one being brought to us by the COVID-19 pandemic; an escalating story that has gripped the world, the country, the province, and all of us right here at home.
We’re a very fortunate people when we think about it. All too often, when some sort of catastrophe or even a sickness starts to spread, it tends to be on the opposite side of the globe in what North Americans label as “third world countries”. Not our home, not our problem. That’s not to say we don’t see chaos in our part of the world – gun violence shatters lives in the United States in a horrific ‘routine’ sort of way, and at the more regional level, the city of Saskatoon has become infamous in recent years for its alarming crime stats of its own.
But a pandemic surrounding a virus has shown itself to be a whole other animal for us everyday Canadians.
I know that everyone reading this story must have at least a solid idea of what we’re dealing with right now, but in the interest of preserving history by way of this publication and providing the full picture for anyone who may end up reading this in ten, twenty, or even a hundred years from now in the archives of The Outlook, I feel it’s important to point out what exactly the enemy is that we’re fighting at this unpredictable time in our human history.
So, what exactly IS COVID-19? Well, first off, it was being called simply the Coronavirus before it got the reboot treatment. Its full name is Coronavirus Disease, and the ‘19’ part signifies the year it was discovered in 2019. It’s an infectious disease that causes respiratory illness – not unlike the flu – with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, having difficulty breathing. The virus that causes it was first identified during an outbreak investigation in Wuhan, China.
COVID-19 is spread primarily through contact with an infected person when they sneeze or cough, and it can also spread when someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. Washing your hands frequently and practicing good personal hygiene is one of the best ways to help guard yourself against it.
It would almost be a fool’s errand to try and paint a picture regarding the hard stats surrounding COVID-19 because by the time you read this piece, the numbers will have jumped, bounced and fluctuated multiple times. But again, in the interest of preserving history, here’s where we stood right now with the disease at the time this article was written by yours truly.
As of March 22, 2020, at 6:00 PM, the Government of Canada reported that the country had a total of 1,430 confirmed cases of COVID-19, along with 41 probable cases, and a total of 20 deaths from the infectious disease.
At the provincial level in Saskatchewan, as of the same date, there were 52 reported cases of the disease, with 33 confirmed and 19 presumptive.
Again, those numbers will most definitely have changed by the time this story hits the press and gets posted to our website. That’s the sneaky and scary little bugger of a disease that we’re trying to deal with, people.
Over the last couple of weeks, life has taken on a new look and a new direction as we all try to do our part in battling this fearsome new opponent. Canada has closed its borders to all non-essential travel. School classes have been suspended indefinitely. Public events have been cancelled or postponed. Gatherings of even modest-sized crowds have been prohibited by the Saskatchewan government. Health care workers find themselves on the front lines of this thing because of the obvious demand for their services, showing themselves to be even more dedicated and virtual superheroes in the eyes of the public. Local businesses and storefronts have either reduced their hours and restricted their capacity or have shuttered their windows and locked their doors altogether for the time being.
As a result, the act of what’s been called ‘social distancing’ has become the new norm; staying at home with your loved ones and restricting your outings in an effort to stop any further spread of COVID-19 and ‘flatten the curve’, as health officials are saying.
If we didn’t live our lives behind screens before, we sure do now.
In the Outlook and surrounding area, people are doing what they can in the wake of all of this. Businesses are reaching out and helping to get their products and services to the people who need them most. Delivery of goods has become an added practice to a number of stores that have elected to remain open. There’s even been a Facebook page created entitled ‘Eat Drink Shop Outlook’ that’s centered on everything Outlook-related in order to continue supporting local businesses and outlets during what’s going to be a trying time for the economy.
What’s on the minds of the people right here at home? Well, that’s what I wanted to find out this past week. With everything going on and so much that seems to change on a daily basis, if not an hourly basis, I wanted to try and capture the mindset of everyday citizens who call Outlook and the surrounding regional area home. Usually, I do that by way of calling someone and setting up an appointment to interview them face-to-face, or even going out with my digital recorder and doing ‘on the street’ interviews, but that kind of practice would be really frowned upon right about now, wouldn’t it?
So, with the need to ‘socially distance’ from each other, I simply put the word out on social media that I had questions I wanted to ask people, whether they be teachers and students affected by the closure of schools, or anyone from the general public who was interested in providing their views and insight. I emailed, I messaged through Facebook, I texted others, and I was fortunate enough to gather a handful of people who chose to take me up on my offer. For that, I thank them.
What follows is but a glimpse into the thoughts and opinions of a number of everyday Canadians who are all just trying to cope with the hand that COVID-19 has dealt us.
Amber Turton of Outlook works as a combined lab and x-ray technologist. In the midst of all that is happening, she says Canadians have been given ample opportunity to prepare themselves and that criticism of government officials may be unfair.
“I think every measure has been taken to protect Canadians so far,” said Amber. “There are many different tools, from 811 to the online COVID-19 assessment tool, to assist us in being knowledgeable and responsible for our actions through this crisis. Many have criticized the government for not acting swiftly enough or being prepared, but until recently it was thought that the risk to Canadians was low. It was not until the last week or so that we have become aware of the consequences of not social distancing, self-isolating, quarantining and closing our borders. We have been given every opportunity in this last week to do what we need to protect ourselves and those around us going forward.”
With COVID-19 being a concern to Canadians from coast to coast, particularly because of how it targets the most vulnerable of citizens, Turton feels confident in her ability to recover from it, but fears for those who may have to fight for their lives in they were to become infected. Still, she says the Turton family is coping as best as they can.
“We are coping as well as we can,” she said. “As an essential services worker, I still report to work as always, and this has helped maintain a certain sense of routine for my family. We have kept our shopping practices as they always were. Our routine as a family has changed significantly with the closure of school and activities, and we are taking the opportunity to be creative in coming up with other ways to stay active and keep our minds occupied. We read, we watch educational documentaries, craft, and take the time to do some neglected jobs and projects around our home. Our children are dedicated to completing whatever school projects they were able to take home, and we will take advantage of online learning opportunities as they become available to us.
With the COVID-19 pandemic eating up so much of our daily informational habits, Turton hopes people will do their research and promote ideas and tips that will prove helpful and beneficial to everyone dealing with this situation.
“While I mostly feel that every aspect of COVID-19 has been well covered by the media, I feel that the rumblings of a lack of personal protective equipment for front line workers has not been well addressed through official channels in the media,” said Amber. “I would appreciate something official with regards to this, along with what is being done to rectify this situation. What I wish more people knew is that some of what is shared on social media is not always helpful, or even true. When sharing, one should think hard about the legitimacy or source of a story and whether it is going to add something positive to the public discourse, or whether it will add confusion and lead people to behave incorrectly.”
Turton hopes that people will follow the instructions being given to them by health officials and each level of government in order to help minimize the damage being done by the disease.
“We may not have asked for this, but we must lean into this temporary reality and do what is necessary,” she said. “If we don’t, I fear our civil liberties will be at risk and surely this nightmare will continue much longer than any of us would like it to.”
The impact of COVID-19 is sure to be felt for much longer, even after the disease passes us by.
“I feel certain that these conditions will continue for longer than a few weeks,” Amber noted. “While the majority are adhering to all the principles necessary to flatten the curve, there are many who are not. If this behavior continues, this situation will continue to be drawn out. Even if we are able to put a swift end to the spread of COVID-19 in our province, I suspect that the fear and memories of this time will linger for a long time to come, and that some of the changes we have seen to how we conduct our everyday lives will persist well into the future.”
Maureen Weiterman of Outlook, known to many circles as a dedicated volunteer and community-minded individual, says she wishes Canada had taken steps sooner when the pandemic started reaching heightened levels.
“Well, we started to prepare too late, didn’t close the borders soon enough and didn’t impose mandatory quarantine soon enough,” she said. “We’ve done better than some others.”
Weiterman at first thought this thing could turn the corner soon, but now believes it could linger on for a longer period of time.
“I thought at the beginning we would see some light at the end of the tunnel by the end of April, but I don’t think we will be back on our feet until fall,” she said.
Veronique Pelletier lives in Outlook and works in the hospitality industry as a server in Saskatoon. She carries two views on how Canada has been handling the pandemic, and her insight may also echo what many parents are feeling now.
“I as an economist and mother have two separate opinions on this question,” she said. “A - as an economist I know that behind the scenes so much is happening to figure out a situation we have never had. What has been done so far is fascinating and very well done, as slow as it may seem to the rest of us. B - as a mom I feel lost and terrified that help won’t happen fast enough. All the extra help doesn’t occur until May or June (GST for those who actually get it, I am not one of them). I am scared of being unable to feed my family and pay all the bills.”
Doing the sheer math alone when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 also has Pelletier worried.
“I am afraid of the spread because I myself have done the math personally,” she said. “The logarithmic (exponential) growth is terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. Here in Canada, according to my math the other day it is 1:5 (1 person infects 5 people, given the community spread); in Saskatchewan the numbers came out as 1:2.7 (1 person infects 2.7 people, this is an alarming rate); that's why we saw a doubling over night and over the night tonight it will do it again.”
Veronique’s situation at work and at home may help set the tone for what many other families are going to be facing in the wake of COVID-19.
“At this point we are holding up okay,” she said. “I am still currently employed, but if my math and knowledge serve me correctly, I will be laid off by the end of the weekend at the latest, but my hours are drastically cut back. We do activities together but there has been more screen time. I struggle with anxiety when I am cooped up too long, so once in a while I drive to the city and sit with one co-worker (same person every time) just so we can talk, no one else involved and we are already around each other each day since this began.”
Pelletier says people need to take this situation seriously and not be led to believe that anything surrounding the pandemic could be a farce, which can happen these days with the impact that the media has in some circles of life.
“I think there is a lot of fear involved in the media,” she said. “Fear is necessary, but sometimes when you force an abundance of fear into people, they eventually think it's a farce and the media has led us as a society to believe that. The government has taken every step I have told everyone they would take (I was mentioning what they had to do last week). Do I think some things are just not good enough in their plans? Yes, I do. The biggest concern was what the banks were going to do, and they chose wisely as the later choice would have been a bad decision. People need to take this seriously and abide by what they are told to do.”
The act of hoarding grocery items has certainly become a craze in the wake of the pandemic affecting our daily lives; toilet paper has basically become rolls of gold in many peoples’ eyes. Veronique sees it as something of an experiment.
“The hoarding is a bit crazy, but this is a sociological issue,” she said. “The hoarders go out and there is maybe a few of them, but it changes the perspective of the average person that if I don’t go and get a bunch of whatever then I won’t be able to when I need it. The problem is people are going into massive debt to not ‘starve’, they are purchasing things that can’t be frozen or kept for too long. It's a sociological experiment right now that is also fascinating to watch.”
Pelletier hopes to see normalcy return within months, but she says it’ll be much longer before Canada recovers from an economic standpoint.
“I think normal life for the regular family will resume within six months, that's a hope as a mother and wife,” she said. “The economist in me knows better. This won’t fix itself in such a short amount of time, this will take numerous fiscal quarters to correct itself. I forecast a minimum of two years before we recover. My forecast is limited right now as the data is limited for my stats.”
Outlook resident Julie Hlagy, who works for the Sun West School Division, believes Canada is doing what it feels is necessary and with the steps taken so far, she hopes it will make a difference in combating the disease. Though she’s obviously worried as both a citizen and a parent, she doesn’t want to put out more fear than there already is in her world and the one around her.
“I think I am still in shock over all of this. It’s just unbelievable,” she said. “Never would I have thought this would happen. You see these situations all over, but for it to actually be happening, it’s surreal for sure. We have not 'stocked' up on anything. I have just been purchasing as normal. I do not want to assume the worst and I don’t want to put more fear into my kids then they already have heard.”
Like virtually everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the future plans for Julie and family.
“We have had appointments cancelled. I don't even want to travel to Saskatoon at this point,” she said. “My daughter's father was supposed to be coming to visit her from out of province. We have family all over and who knows when we will actually get to see any of them again. My youngest has a birthday in two weeks, and now I don't even know how to plan for that anymore. Everything is out of sorts right now.”
Hlagy thinks some of the social media humor surrounding the disease and its worldly impact is reaching an eye-rolling level, and she also sees the hoarding and over-buying as perhaps ways that people are indirectly trying to cope.
“Think before you do. Is it really necessary to 'hoard' all these things?” said Julie. “The jokes, while some are hilarious, are also getting ridiculous. I get why some people feel the need to over-purchase in times like this. It is a scary time, and it’s just how some people cope. It’s a matter of self reassurance.”
Julie is hopeful that things won’t last as long as most people think they will, but she’s also keeping a level head on her shoulders.
“I am really hoping it won’t be long,” she said. “I don’t like that the kids are out of school already. I don’t like being out of work. I’m sure it will be a while, but no clue as to how long. Just have to hope we as a province took the steps needed (and continue to) to slow the virus down.”
So, what about the kids in all that’s going on? How is this affecting our younger generations? Where do they stand on COVID-19 and its impact on their lives? Well, for starters, school has been suspended indefinitely in the province of Saskatchewan at a time when there were roughly three more months of classes left in the year. The overall marks that a student had earned at the time of school closures is what they’ll end the year with, and they’ll automatically move on to the following grade.
It's by and large the most bizarre scenario to come out of the hallways of our local schools.
It’s also something of a double whammy situation. If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t dealt a fatal blow to the rest of the school year, the job sanctions by the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation in the pursuit of a better working contract were already affecting it, with extra curricular activities such as provincial basketball finals cancelled.
It's like pouring just a few droplets of water on an ant hill before seeing a foamy wave come crashing in and wiping the whole thing out.
But all isn’t lost. With our increasingly tech-driven lifestyles, the learning can continue for students from home with courses being offered online, affording kids an opportunity to improve their grades. The Sun West School Division, for example, has provided a special ‘Learn from Home’ online hub that can be accessed at resourcebank.ca and clicking the ‘Hubs’ link.
Kids are also spending this time away from classes connecting with family, perhaps in ways they haven’t had the time to do before. You could say, in an odd sort of way, that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought families together, not just in the obvious physical sense because we’re holed up in our homes daily, but in an emotional way too. We’re hugging family a little tighter, and we’re asking each other how we’re doing much more than usual.
Arlyn Lee, a Grade 5 student at Outlook Elementary School, is sad that school is closed for the time being, but also provided this writer with a ‘good/bad’ scenario.
“Bad because I don’t get taught like I would at school and I don’t really get to see my friends that much,” said Arlyn. “Good because if there was the coronavirus at school and didn’t close it down it wouldn’t be good.”
Lee plans to spend the time away from OES learning from Mom and Dad (Lana & Jeff Lee) and perhaps taking advantage of online learning classes. Meanwhile, Arlyn’s sibling Larkyn, a Grade 7 student at Outlook High School, also sees the school closure as a good/bad scenario.
“I see this as both,” said Lee. “Good because we all need summer like school breaks. Bad because if school is done for good then how are the Grade 12’s supposed to get the grade they need to graduate?”
Larkyn plans to use the time spent away from class to continue learning.
“I still plan to keep up my education,” she said. “It’s not like summer break. I don’t plan on changing the way I’m learning right now.”
Larkyn believes that school may indeed open before the end of the year, but her final comment to this reporter is perhaps a mindset being shared by students of various ages and grades.
“What’s on my mind right now is how am I supposed to teach my siblings with nothing to teach them and how am I supposed to learn right now?”
Caleb Turton, an 11-year old Grade 6 student at Outlook High School, was taken by surprise when classes were called off, and touched on how he intends to spend his time away from school.
“It took me by surprise a little bit when I heard that school was being closed, but I was also concerned about it,” said Caleb. “I see the closure of school as good and bad. The good is that it limits the spread of COVID-19, but the bad is that some might not be able to continue their studies. During my time away from school, I will be staying home and practicing social distancing, but I might also do some puzzles and coloring and other things. I also do plan to continue my education with resources from the Sun West School Division’s resource bank, and things like online printable worksheets and things from school that I need to finish.”
Turton’s social life might take a hit during the pandemic, but it’s all about people remaining calm in order to get things under control.
“This situation has affected my social life because I might not be able to be out and about, and I might not be able to see my friends as much as I did, or not see them at all,” he said. “In my opinion, I think there is a slight possibility of school re-opening, but that depends on if we can all stay calm and work together to help get COVID-19 under control.”
William Norris, a Grade 12 senior student at Dinsmore Composite School, hasn’t been all that worried about the closure of his school because he’s hoping to take advantage of online learning tools. Still, there are other factors in the situation that provide more question marks than answers.
“I understand the reasons for cancelling schools to limit the spread of Covid-19 and in general, I agree that it was the right move. That being said, I'm not happy that it had to be done,” said William. “Honestly, I don’t know how I plan to spend the time away from school. I'd been working on my correspondence class for a while, but now that I have no access to the class, I don't know what to do with myself. I'm hoping that access to online classes/schooling is up soon. There are a few classes that I really should have and I would be at a disadvantage if I did not (or could not) take them. One of the classes I am currently enrolled in is a prerequisite for my post-secondary education in the fall. Not sure what would happen in the case of me not being able to complete it.”
Norris is seeing everyone around him impacted by the pandemic, particularly from a social point of view.
“I haven't seen anyone who isn't directly related to me since all of this went down,” he said. “I still stay in constant contact with all the important people in my life, but I can no longer spend any time with them because of the threat Covid-19 poses. Our family is self isolating.”
William has doubts about the odds of school actually reopening before the end of June arrives.
“If I'm honest, I doubt that school will reopen this year,” he said. “It's been said that it would not make any sense to close schools for a short period of time and therefore, long-term closure is very likely. It is too bad that events such as grad will not happen this year, but it is better than everybody getting sick.”
As an immediate post-secondary student, Norris doesn’t see his education after high school becoming too affected due to the COVID-19 situation.
“I don't believe that my post-secondary is going to be affected too much by this closure,” said William. “Provided online classes are restored in the near future, everything will be fine. I only truly need to be able to finish my calculus. The rest is just general stuff.”
Eight people of various ages and from various walks of life. They all have questions, they all have concerns, and they’re all just learning to cope with what life is right now under COVID conditions.
Just like the rest of us.
This was but a mere glimpse into how our family, friends, neighbors and fellow Canadian citizens are dealing with such an unprecedented situation that COVID-19 has presented to us. There are many more stories out there that perhaps one day, when this has finished altering our everyday reality, can be told and recorded. This unpredictable time in history must be captured in one way or another.
But for now, patience and perseverance. Common sense and practical precautions.
Take care of each other out there, people.
There are far too many stories left to be told.