Sheltering in Place During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Month of Sheltering In Place

Even though I'm Canadian, I've long preferred the American expressions for things. A "furlough" is the temporary leave of absence that employees don't choose, and in recent times has referred to employees during government shutdowns in the United States. I think "donut" is a funnier way to spell doughnut, which is the Canadian spelling. And "shelter in place" is a term I learned during the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, and is my preferred term for "stay at home" or "lockdown" during the COVID-19 pandemic.1

My first day of working from home full time was March 13th, a month ago today. My manager knew which way the wind was blowing, and beat the wider company's order to work from home by a week. Our organization, Customer Service, has a lot of experience working from home, as many of us working from home once a week before the pandemic to begin with, plus others on my team not located in Toronto or Boston had their home office setup already.

I find myself well-placed for this. I've tried to avoid the words "privileged" or "lucky" because, while undeniable, they don't fully account for decisions I made in the four years of living in Toronto. One of them was to establish a space in my apartment for working. Another was to start the habit of buying in bulk for necessities and get them delivered on a regular basis. A third decision was to learn how to cook for myself. In a previous life, I ate out tremendously, and knew how to cook maybe one meal that wasn't macaroni & cheese. Now, my fridge is half full of ingredients to cook (with deliveries each week) and half full with leftovers. (The third half is taken up by beer.) Twentysomething Richard would marvel at the full fridge and the fact that I have a full set kitchen utensils that I use regularly.

The other aspect that puts me well-placed is introversion. I've overheard people on the street say it has been hard for them as an extrovert to have to stay home all day and not have an office to go to and the ability to visit friends. On the flip side, however, as the crisis started, I saw the jokes by introverts who mockingly asserted this should be easy for them, since they were used to being alone and now get to do it all the time. I had a hard time with those jokes.

Introversion (being comfortable with being alone) is not the same thing as shyness (anxiety about establishing new relationships and maintaining existing ones). In the first couple of weeks, my social anxiety took a back seat to anxiety about the pandemic. I found that frustrating because, due to an overly anxious Valentines Day, I resolved to restart the work I had done about the social anxiety. I'm less anxious about the pandemic after considering what I have control over, such as washing my hands, staying away from crowds, "s o c i a l  d i s t a n c i n g" (which sounds funnier when said ominously), and muting keywords related to The Virus on Twitter. I've also accepted I don't have control over when we will sufficiently flattened the curve, or when therapies or a vaccine become available. I've done and will continue to do everything health authorities have asked of me, all the while keeping an eye on the impact to civil liberties.2 The improving weather will be a test for Canada's resolve to stay away from crowds or travel unnecessarily. It will test my resolve. Now that pandemic anxiety has subsided, it won't be easy to work on my social anxiety, as there the number of social situations in which I meet new people are going to be few and far between. I can still work on the feelings associated with it, though.

Other aspects of my current life that have me well-placed:

  • Two bookshelves full of books and DVDs, at least a quarter of them unread and unwatched, and a long-enough watchlist.
  • Friends and family who not only check on me but care about me
  • A job which keeps me busy during the day, and that I can effortlessly do remotely, with a reduced cost of living (which I haven't fully understood) and savings that make it possible for me to donate to food banks.

I'm grieving for a lot of things as a result of this: the quiet that now surrounds my apartment, making downtown Toronto feel like a small town; having to work from home when I moved here so I could work in an office; no in-person gatherings of any kind; the oxygen that the crisis sucked out of the news and conversations; travel plans I've had to cancel and visits by family that are a lot less certain now. The opportunity is in time gained. I don't plan on starting any new hobbies, but rather jump-starting old ones, like synthesizers and running.

Walking and exercising outside hasn't been cancelled. Cooking isn't cancelled. The economy collapsed but Canada's social safety net kicked into overdrive. Medical science around the world has been put on hold to work almost exclusively on one problem. People in Toronto, as they so often do, are more or less coming together. My balcony hasn't been cancelled. So I'm still optimistic in the ethic sense of the word. We'll get through this because we, at least in Canada, are embracing the challenge, and when we embrace the challenge, our track record is very good.


  1. I also liked "shutdown" for a while, seeing as how we weren't locked in our homes, but rather anything that involved lingering, such as restaurants or concert venues or libraries or art galleries, were shut down. "Shelter in place" quickly replaced that in my mind, though. ↩︎

  2. I'm signing up for decentralized privacy-preserving proximity tracing the day it becomes available. ↩︎

Two Months of Sheltering in Place

The weeks have gone by a lot faster these past 30 days than the first 30 days. Toronto is slowly loosening it’s restrictions, allowing curbside pickup from retail stores, though all restaurants are still open only for delivery or pickup. So far none of the restaurants I get food from have closed permanently, though I don’t have a lot of hope for the diner across the street from me. I take a walk each day, weather permitting, go grocery shopping for snacks once a week, and as of today, I finally have masks that fit me. A family friend, Ruby, made them for not just our whole family, but my sister’s in-laws as well. We call them our Ruby Masks. It was a heartwarming gesture, one I've seen friends on social media gush about as well when their friends make them masks. I don't know if we're all in this together, but a lot of people are stepping up.

My task list is just as long as it was before the pandemic. If I've said "I'm too busy to do [xyz]," well, that wasn't the reason. I watch more movies than usual, with Saturday having become movie night with co-workers. We stream it over one of the video chat services, and we make up for the low quality with camaraderie during the film. There’s a demand for a service like this, even in a post-pandemic world, or a world in which movie theatres still exist, because of the distributed nature of teams and friends. A browser plugin won’t cut it.

The weather is warming up, and even in a cold May, I’m out on the balcony in the sunlight. I went on my first bike ride of the pandemic to Trinity Bellwoods Park on a warm Saturday, which was followed by a week of cold weather. That all changed this week. I can finally drop my parka off at the dry cleaner.

I've taken two streetcar trips, both of which were back from a computer repair place, having walked to get there. I took note of the time and ID number of the streetcars, but that has been at least 2 weeks ago. The next streetcar I board, I'll be wearing a mask. I still keep track of every place I go using Foursquare's Swarm. While before the pandemic it was a game, the winner getting more points based on how many places they visit, now it has taken on the sombre task of logging where I was in case I need to retrace my steps up to 14 days later.

All concerts I had tickets for to this point have been either cancelled or postponed. I expect the same of June concerts, and any concert happening this year. I know why sports leagues have not cancelled their seasons (they traffic in optimism), though it's all but certain no games will be shown in front of live crowds in North America in 2020.

It's easy to rationalize away the things I miss. "Restaurants weren't such a great experience anyway." "Concerts always had annoyances that I don't miss." "Museums are boring." But I'll go to them when they re-open, taking any precautions that's asked of me. I'm still optimistic that we will get to enjoy what we enjoyed before the pandemic, just in a different way.

Three Months of Sheltering in Place

Ontario has only flattened the curve, and it has reached a plateau. I would have more confidence in the approach Canada's second largest (and therefore second greatest) province took if we've increased hospital resources if we need to accommodate a rise in cases, but I don't have a close enough read on that. So far the large outdoor gatherings that finger-wavers thought would lead to spikes have been benign, but I expect a second wave sometime in the colder months when we spend a larger amount of our day indoors. As long as we've developed runbooks and we've increased resources available for when (not if) the second wave hits, I'm not too worried about the strain on our health care system. Canada's neighbour to the south, that I'm not so sure about.

The Ontario government has split the province into two regions, which is to say The Greater Toronto Area (which I cal Ontario 1) and outside the GTA (Ontario 2). I largely support the move since the province is too big (and therefore too great) to administer as one unit in a situation like this, but I worry since I've in the region that isn't opening up as much as the other region. I've taken to calling it "loosening up" since that has been my feeling of the last two weeks. The reasons for that are:

  • I get beer delivered rather than pick it up at the LCBO, a process which has made it a lot easier to drink every craft beer made in Ontario. If I was drinking only on weekends or on nights before a holiday, in order to cut down on the next day's brain fog. The pandemic changed that habit to about a beer a day. Only one on days before a workday, though. This is only to take the edge off, not to drown my sorrows.
  • The City of Toronto has opened some of its major streets as activeways for people wanting to get some exercise and maintain physical distance on weekends. I don't expect the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway to be permanent, or at least not open to cyclists and whatnot in the colder months, but it's a big hit, and I hope they learn something from it for next year's warmer months, pandemic or no pandemic.
  • Businesses re-opening and the possibility of increased ability to do things if we wear a face covering (which I'm on board with), even if it means no concerts or street festivals for a little while. I'm trying not to rationalize not being able to do things ("I didn't like [x] anyway"), but it has given me the opportunity to reflect on what I miss and what I don't miss.

We're getting there. The months of May and now June have passed faster than the months of March and April. I still have optimism about treatments and a vaccine, if only because the survival of the current system depends on it. As we've seen with the rise in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, it has long been obvious that the current system was not tenable for a very large portion of North American population. Due to the confluence of the pandemic, the resulting furloughs and layoffs, the slow, painful, agonizing death of a Black man at the hands (or, rather, the knee) of police caught on camera in Minneapolis, the resulting fall in popularity of an already-unpopular President, the overdue removal of monuments celebrating the lost effort to conserve slavery, the painful and welcome realization that Canada's institutions are not necessarily less racist than those of the United States, hopefully a new system (which still welcomes treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19) will take its place so both the United States and Canada can truly emerge better for having gone through this pandemic.

Four Months of Sheltering in Place

The one thing that has kept me going, from the gloomiest times in March of this year, is that time marches forward no matter what. I look at my Timehop recap of where I went and what I said on this day in previous years on a daily basis, the years seem both so long ago and like it was yesterday. Either way, time will its way, and this too shall one day be in the past. I never lost track of what day it was, thanks to still having a job. (Co-workers lost track of what weekday it was, so I'm not saying continuing to work and have a weekend was the only reason.) I stuck to my Sunday routine and did everything I was allowed to do while taking all the precautions asked of me.) I've read the various articles about experiencing time differently, and that could be true for March and parts of April. That said, May, and especially June, went by about as quickly as they do outside of a pandemic. I experienced a loosening up from the pandemic anxiety as stores opened up again (or closed for good), and restaurants started offering patio service. My beloved diner even came through with a re-opening, first with takeout and then with patio service, which I take advantage of on Saturdays, weather permitting. While planning ahead has been more difficult (no plane travel until at least Christmas, for example), I have been taking it 2 weeks at a time, and that has worked well for my peace of mind.

The other ideas that keep me calm come from an interview with epedimiologist Larry Brilliant. From that I get the confidence there will be a vaccine. (Also a treatment for those that, rolling my eyes here, choose not to take the vaccine.) this quote near the end stands out: “Everybody needs to remember: This is not a zombie apocalypse. It's not a mass extinction event.” To my knowledge there's no obvious treatment, but our knowledge of the virus grows, and, if they're not 100% guarantees, I have yet to hear someone say treatment will definitely never come and that a vaccine is impossible. All signs point to the scientific community coming to a full understanding of the virus this year.

Also encouraging has been that my office has opened up. I have the benefit of living in downtown Toronto, and the office is a 12-minute bike ride away. I'm only comfortable going in twice a week, mainly to get a break from the construction noise across the street from my apartment and to sit in a comfortable chair, and not taking transit to get there. I don't have a plan for the colder months other than working from home, though generally speaking, Toronto has been good about clearing the bike lanes of snow.

I haven’t taken up any new hobbies or restarted many old ones. I have been biking for leisure as much as possible, and have just started doing self-guided architectural tours of Toronto. I’ve been cooking at about the same frequency, but double the amount each time. That and gaming take up most of my time, and reading books has come to be a habit again. I'm still listening to full albums like I had started a few years ago.

I have been spending a lot of time on my balcony. So much so that I have dinner out there regularly, and I now have a storage box so that I make less frequent trips to get things.

In the box I have paper towel, a glass or two, placemats, cutlery, and earplugs for the times I want to have breakfast or lunch out there when construction across the street is happening. I expect to be able to stay out there through September, and possibly October if warmer weather prevails that long. Because of how well things have gone these four months, the only thing I have to plan for is cold weather during lineups to the grocery store, and so far trips have been minimal because I cook using meal kits that are delivered to me weekly.

I've also been making a number of fixes to this blog. It's been nice getting back into the depths of Drupal 7 again, which has had some life breathed into it recently. I've restored the following sections: my bookmarks, no longer syndicated from anywhere; my Flickr photos, which will start being syndicated here shortly, and the station pages of my SkyTrain Explorer section. This is all in anticipation of an upgrade to Drupal 8, though there's at least two years until I have to do that.

Five Months of Sheltering in Place

I'm still riding bikes, and still going to the office once or twice a week. I bought a sturdy lawn chair so I could sit in the park next to my building. I reasoned that it would be a useful thing to have post-pandemic as well. I'm otherwise sheltering in place because there’s no events to attend. At least there are still places to go. I remain optimistic that we'll get to the other side of this pandemic, but I'm also getting used to the idea of not attending any more events in person in the year 2020.

Toronto mandated masks inside public places (and common areas of private places), and has been steadily re-opening businesses, especially restaurants for dining in. Dining solo isn't such a great experience to begin with, but it adds back vibrancy to the city streets. During the pandemic, wearing a mask is the price to pay to go to stores, and that's a fairly small price. I don't think I'm going to like doing it for more than an hour at a time, though, which may come into play if I go on a group day-trip, something I'm considering as a way to get out of town for a few hours.

In an article where the headline signalled pessimism, an interview with Bill Gates in Wired actually gives more hope:

for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022. That is only because of the scale of the innovation that’s taking place. Now whenever we get this done, we will have lost many years in malaria and polio and HIV and the indebtedness of countries of all sizes and instability. It’ll take you years beyond that before you’d even get back to where you were at the start of 2020. It’s not World War I or World War II, but it is in that order of magnitude as a negative shock to the system.

(Although the criticism is that it relies too heavily on the idea that innovation will save us when there are established practices for this sort of thing.)

I'm still single, and while this year started off with a date (and for once, a second date), while dating apps reported a surge in signups, I can't report increased matches, so I decided to take all of August off. It was always time-consuming to spend an hour swiping in the hopes of making a match, and then trying to think of something original but sincere and getting to what I call the "values conversation" (i.e. getting beyond small talk to discuss what each other wants in a relationship). Matches seemed to get fewer and further between, so I'm taking the hint and re-tooling in that department.

I haven't learned any new skills or read many books during the shutdown period. Every time I start to feel bad about that, I recall that I've been cooking a lot, writing in my blog more, sitting on my balcony and in the park more, and focussing on learning how to relax, something I'm not sure I've experienced in a while. I have started learning Chinese again, using the Duolingo app, and recalling my time in university, the courses I enjoyed the most were those that assigned short essays based on course readings, i.e. no research outside of the texts already suggested. I'm looking to take such a course again, possibly in a field new to me. One that isn't computers (self-learner) or political science (my university major).

Six Months of Sheltering in Place

Summer is almost over. I’ve so far weathered the pandemic by continuing to have a job, already having made a bulk purchase in what was temporarily in short supply, and by keeping active by biking the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway. The office opening up in July gave me respite from the construction across the street. I bike there and back once or twice a week, partly for a change of scenery and food options, but mostly for some peace and quiet.

Winter is coming, but not before Toronto’s typically magical autumn. I tried to plan a day trip out of the city, but I ultimately couldn’t think of what I’d do once I'd arrive at my destination. A boat trip to Toronto Islands soothed the soul in July, and I have some upcoming vacation where I hope to recapture that feeling. The farthest east I've been has been the office, the fathest north I've been is College St., and the farthest west I've been is Windemere Ave. and Lakeshore Drive W. (one end of the aforementioned Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway). I'm hopeful the City of Toronto will continue to encourage active use of the city while the second phase of the pandemic (acceptance of possible shutdowns if cases surge too fast) before the next phase (the safe introduction of a vaccine).

My main worry about the pandemic was not so much getting the disease but the boredom of events not going forward. Only by knowing what we know now (wearing a mask if you can't physically distance, going outside is relatively safe) do I think some of Toronto events could take place. I'm thinking mostly of one of Toronto's best events, Nuit Blanche, where the city becomes an outdoor art gallery and is celebrated now by all 4 corners of it. I'm hopeful an in-person event can be held next October, 13 months from now, instead of this year's online-only event.

I've more or less avoided virtual events. Concerts and movies aren't the same on the smaller screen and my lesser sound systems. I've helped organize an event normally held in person, so I understand the amount of work that goes into it, and the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto's upcoming premier event, Thorrablót, will be online-only as well. In-person events is a prime reason I live in a city, and the hope that they'll return have me staying put until we enter the vaccine phase of the pandemic. If I was worried Toronto had turned into a quiet small town during the initial emergency phase of the pandemic, car traffic has returned, restaurants are open (in limited capacity), people are walking the street (masked and unmasked), so big-city life is making an attempt at a return, at least.

I continue to have questions about Canada's, Ontario's, and Toronto's handling of the pandemic. Are hospitals at increased capacity if they have to accommodate a sustained surge? Are better treatments on the way? When the vaccine is approved in Canada, how will health units deliver it? Will I be able to fly home to British Columbia to visit family for Christmas?

In the meantime, I'm making plans to take a course or two in case boredom sets in again. I will miss the deadline for the fall semester of continuing education courses, though the course I stumbled into for this season will be about an unlikely subject: myself. I hope to one day get a chance to talk about that.

Seven Months of Sheltering in Place

Since last time I checked in, I had a couple of days of vacation in the same week, meaning two 3-day weekends in a row. I spent one of those days on Toronto Islands again. I played several location-based games, and even ground-truthed a couple of microconfluences. The other day I kept open in case I was needed for helping with an online event the Icelandic Canadian Club held. It was a great success!

I've gotten the hang of wearing a mask, and most shops are open and tensions are a lot lower than they were up until about June. I didn't need to line up outside of a grocery store the few times I needed to go, not that I spent a lot of time waiting to get in. Winter is coming, and I hear people being worried about having to stay outside in the cold before getting provisions, but I don't anticipate that being a problem. I'm more comfortable with buying things again, though almost all online. I recently looked at my new year's intentions for 2020, and other than a big trip that I never got too deep into planning, I've more or less done everything I set out to do this year. That's been somewhat of a surprise.

In late September, I dined in a few times, once at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, another couple of times at the diner across the street from me. Up until then, I had dined exclusively at my apartment (either my own cooking or takeout), or the "balcony" outside the diner across the street. Other than those cases dining at the restaurant on Toronto Islands (both times outside), I did not dine at restaurants. Dining alone is bad enough to begin with. Dining alone and having my guard up was worse.

The gods smiled on me, and while I approached the bike rides along the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway of September 26th and the 28th as the last of the year, the City of Toronto extended them into October. There are noticeably fewer people on the roads, but Ontario announced increased restrictions on gatherings, calling it Modified Stage 2. That meant no dining indoors at restaurants, and gyms closed. I don't go to gyms, but I know it's a part of a lot of people's lives. Extending ActiveTO was the right move, and I'm looking forward to hearing what's in store for the colder months so that I can stay active. I've lost count of how many times I've ridden along the Activeway, and update my long Twitter thread about it each time.

The course about me started a couple of weeks ago, and it's going well so far, having made my way through 4 workbooks already. I've registered for an American literature course in March, which optimistically states is an in-person course. I anticipate it being held online, even if a vaccine is available.

Throughout the pandemic, I've never felt days melting into others like some people have felt. It doesn't feel like an extension of March, and having a job there I work Monday to Friday, weekends felt like weekends. At work, I would grace Wednesdays with the "What a week, huh?" meme from 30 Rock, but I had to suspend the running joke because it had lost its pre-pandemic edge. I hope to return to days where I can drop the image macro in chat again.

Eight Months of Sheltering in Place

As feared, ActiveTO has come to a close. On the last day possible, I did get out to the eastern eastern section of the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway, and there were few others there. I learned of some routes to the east side of Toronto that should come in handy during the warmer months, especially if there are activities at Woodbine Beach. Taking transit there was a bit of a slog pre-pandemic anyway, and there are safe bike paths even without closing the street to cars. The mission was to see the eastern section of it before it ended, and my mission was more than accomplished.

I see the tweet that started the above thread appeared in Cycling Magazine and Toronto Storeys along with others who celebrated the freedom to cycle on a major city street.

In less excellent news, my fridge went kaput. This after almost 5 years of living here. It's not a secret that I'm using my building's common area fridge (because I left a detailed note with my contact info in it), and the delivery date for a new one keeps getting pushed out. I made an order from Best Buy for a mini fridge after striking out on Kijiji. I would have liked to give a used fridge another home, but that was not to be. The Best Buy fridge will fit in a good spot, and I imagine I'll be able to sell it when I don't need it. It was also cheap enough that maybe I'll keep it, which would mean having to move with it when that time comes.

I'm about as busy at work as I was before the pandemic. I'm still on the board of two non-profits, with no plans to change that. While the Icelandic club has met on its regular schedule and convened virtual events, my neighbourhood association has been less active. From reading the websites of other neighbourhood associations, I get the sense this has been common.

I'm worried about not finding a replacement activity to keep myself moving (it's going to be running, isn't it?), and I'm worried about having to cancel travelling to British Columbia for the holidays. I'm much less concerned about myself getting the coronavirus than I am passing it on to my parents, who are senior citizens. A co-worker decided that because of the pandemic, it's fine if you say this year doesn't count. He meant towards aging, but I'm applying it to my yearly streaks of going home for the holidays and running in a race.

The very, very good news about an apparently effective and likely safe vaccine was a payoff for my optimism at the outset of the pandemic. I don't expect to receive a vaccine until well into the new year, but this is more or less on schedule for what we have been told to expect. It is, in the words of Churchill, the end of the beginning.

Nine Months of Sheltering in Place

Toronto is in lockdown, the most restrictive since the pandemic began. It means no dining out, no gyms, and curbside pickup for retail. No barbers or hair salons. I had decided not to get a haircut after March anyway. I would have been comfortable with getting a haircut, but I'm using the pandemic as an excuse to grow my hair. It's still not an Italy- or Spain-style lockdown, since there's no penalty to going father than 100 metres from one's abode. In my mind, it's still more of a shutdown.

As feared in November, I was inactive the whole month. Earlier this month, trying to list things I enjoyed that had a positive effect on me, I recalled that I hadn't run much, so I've kickstarted that again, starting over with Couch-to-5k, the program that got me into it in the first place. So far so good, as I've completed the first week of the program.

I have been using a mini fridge for about a month now, which keeps beer cold (I would buy individual bottles for that night only, not wanting to store them in a common fridge) and means fewer trips to the amenities room. A full-size fridge still has a mid-January delivery date, but this is a big improvement.

With the Christmas holidays approaching in late November, I decided, for the first time ever, not to travel home to Vancouver Island to see my family. I'm less concerned about what I'll contract and more concerned about what I'll spread. I don't love the idea of spending a whole day travelling and wondering whether I've done everything that's asked of me plus the time spent isolating plus the time spent wondering if that was enough, to see my family for a few hours, and then going through the whole thing again on the way back.

I've always sensed that we were a family where we weren't heartbroken if we couldn't get together, and that's going to be the case here, too. There's parts of B.C. I miss like crazy (the people, the mountains), but I always remember the parts I don't miss as well (the rain, how every conversation inevitably turns to the topic of real estate). I hope there's something to see over the holidays in Downtown Toronto that doesn't require a car, and if not, my bookshelf is 2/3 unread books. And FaceTime is a thing. So I think I'll be OK.

Ten Months of Sheltering in Place

Christmas came and went. For the first time in my life, I did not go to Vancouver Island for the holidays, and did not go to Vancouver to see friends. I kept the family tradition of eating Pizza Hut pizza on Christmas Eve alive, as did my family. On Christmas Day, I cooked Christmas dinner for myself. Turkey (though fried, not baked) with Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy. With that under my belt, I'm hopeful that for Christmas 2021 I'll be able to help my family cook it. I spent New Year's Eve wandering around my apartment looking for fireworks, and instead finding people on their stoops and wishing them a Happy New Year, then staying up to watch the replay of CNN's NYE coverage.

Before the holidays started, the Province of Ontario announced that enhanced lockdown measures would start on Boxing Day. While Toronto stores were open for curbside pickup, York Region stores and malls were open, and the predicable happened. Currently, as of this writing in the second week of January 2021, all of Ontario is subject to a "stay at home" order. (I wish it was a "shelter in place" order.) This is different than a curfew…somehow. I had read that theory about Quebec's 8 PM curfew was to cut down on people visiting for dinner and staying late. It seems unclear to Ontario's police forces what reasons people will be allowed to claim for not being home. I interpret the exception for exercise allowing me to continue running, though I expect not to be able to take a self-guided architectural tour of Toronto without being asked what I'm up to. Beyond that, not much has changed for me, since there's nowhere for me to go except the grocery store and restaurants for takeout. I don't expect a supply chain disruption this time, since it's at a pandemic equilibrium. I still have years' worth of soap and toilet paper, and that was from not wanting to have to go to the store for it so often pre-pandemic.

Vaccination is taking place, happening slower than expected at the outset. I don't expect to get mine until well after older, higher-risk and essential groups of people get theirs. Though I normally favour American terms, I've taken to calling it "the jab" after the British term for it. While I wait, I'm getting ahead of the anxieties around vaccines by listing them and adding to a thread of anxiety-causing headlines I come across.

It feels like end-of-March/start-of-April again. I'm re-visiting an infographic of things that I can control and things I can't control on a daily basis again, though this time around, toilet paper is plentiful, both in stores and in my own storage. I expect this two-month period to be the worst of it, but I don't know what to expect afterwards.

Eleven Months of Sheltering in Place

We are still in lockdown. The previous weekend, the Ontario floated two trial balloons, one suggesting the province would reduce restrictions, another to say they would go on for longer. I've done more or less what I've been able to do since the outset of the pandemic, which is to say go for daily activity (and, now, thrice-weekly runs) and get takeout from restaurants in my neighbourhood. To help pass the time, I have long active streaks in the Duolingo app (language learning), Headspace (mindfulness practice), and Timehop (years in review). If I worried about not being able to do a Toronto Architecture walking tour for a month, the cold weather and icy sidewalks might have dissuaded me anyway.

I started taking my dental health seriously just before the pandemic started. My first appointment during the pandemic was like a scene out of E.T., the Extraterestrial, with doors having zipped plastic and everybody wearing masks. It turns out the dentistry was renovating their practice anyway, and my recent appointment was a lot more comfortable, with glass doors while still undergoing the same precautions.

I finally replaced my 2010 MacBook Air, which barely runs Zoom, with a 2020 M1 MacBook Air. It's the fastest computer I've owned, by far. I plan on trying out the Cloud Ready operating system to turn my old MacBook Air into a Chromebook, mainly to see what it's like. I haven't touched my PC gaming laptop much since buying it in October, though that should change soon with the purchase of a controller. I've only opened the box of the Raspberry Pi 400 I bought in November and haven't turned it on yet.

Since last month, I've kept busy, as usual. I still have a full-time job, my two non-profit board positions. The Icelandic Club is about as busy as ever, with events shifting to online. We are getting good at it, starting a speakers series and keeping alive our movie nights.

I've spent time reflecting on the fact that I'm the sole member of my household. It has been nice not to worry whether I'm bringing the novel coronavirus to anyone I live with. Not in any way to diminish the work that goes into taking care of a family, not by any means, but living alone is a lot of work. If I don't keep my living area not only tidy but clean, and don't do all the dishes, and don't do the cooking, nobody else will. I've lived alone before, and I did much less around the apartment than I do now. There have been cartoons and discussions about how the pandemic made it harder for those living alone, and that is definitely true to a strong extent. I've been careful to deal with what I can control, and try to let go of what I can't. Now that every day in Toronto is longer than the last for the next few months, I'm hoping to get more sunlight each day and get psychologically ready for whatever we're calling the era after COVID-19 vaccines are widely distributed.

A Year of Sheltering in Place

First, the summary for March: Ontario only recently lifted its “strict stay-at-home order” for Toronto, which most people interpreted as a strong request. Retail shops opened to limited capacity while restaurants still cannot accept dine-in patrons. The vaccination effort in Canada has only really gotten off to a start. While the government had set that expectation, it has been frustrating to see the United States jump out to a 30% to 7% lead as of today, March 13th, though we are told that this week marked the first major delivery of vaccines to provinces. If critics of the Ontario government are to be believed, the provincial authorities had planned on the federal government not delivering on its promise, and thereby blaming them for the ensuing mess. All signs point to that not being the case, with the feds more or less meeting the expectation and municipalities picking up the slack of setting up the infrastructure.

I didn't run much in the last two weeks of Feburary/first two weeks of March due to some achs and pains plus cold weather. I did set out to walk for an hour every Saturday and Sunday with shorter walks during the weekdays.

A Year of Sheltering in Place

My pandemic "anniversary" is today. The February 29th, 2020 headline that helped me realize that COVID-19 was here and a serious threat was the Toronto Star's “The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses” (see below).

Headline in the Toronto Star on February 29th, 2020: The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses

Even so, at work, for the first two weeks of March, we would wash our hands when entering and leaving, and we had the feeling was we were doing enough. I worked from home on Friday, March 13th, as I normally would do so once a week or so. That day the rumours inside the company that they would assess the situation in a week after that, but my direct manager called it right away, urging us to work from home the following Monday. Every month on the 13th of the month, I would write a summary of how I felt and what I did. I've collected them all in once place, in chronological order, at justagwailo.com/sheltering-in-place.

Up until then, I was planning a big trip though the United States. It was to start in Kansas City, to catch a Royals game, visit the Negro League Hall of Fame, and stroll through downtown. Then I would go on to Las Vegas to take in a show (Penn & Teller) and a baseball game, and more or less that’s it. Then on to Portland, OR to visit co-workers and friends, with the possibility of swinging through Vancouver, B.C. on my way home to Toronto. Luckily I didn’t buy any tickets or book any hotels, as airlines in particular struggled to figure out how to compensate travellers who weren’t going on their planned trips.

My last haircut before sheltering in place happened a week before, so I had a couple of good hair months while many people were upset that barber shops and hair salons were closed. I joked to my sister that I was growing my hair out, though I realized this was a good opportunity, as not many people would be interacting with me for a while. I haven't gotten a haircut since. The current plan is to celebrate receiving a vaccination by waiting a few weeks and getting my mane shorn.

Things that have kept me sane:

  • Watching a movie every Saturday night with co-workers, organized by one of our line managers at work. That was an inspired decision by her, and helped us get to know each other a bit better.
  • Keeping active through #ActiveTO by biking the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway in the warmer months and kickstarting running in the colder months.
  • I initially doubled the amount of cooking I did per week, but reduced it slightly when it emerged that I was bored with 6 servings of a meal. I still cook more than pre-pandemic times, in part to eat healthy, but also as a way to pass the time because there are no events to go to.
  • Weekly calls with my parents and getting closer acquainted with my siblings, all of whom are in British Columbia.
  • Doing architectural tours of Toronto when the "strict stay-at-home order" was not in place.
  • The two trips to Toronto Islands.
  • The time fixing my blog (the one you're reading!) was worthwhile.
  • Studying Chinese through Duolingo has been fun, with much of what I leared in university coming back to me. Don't worry, I'm aware of the implications of a white guy learning Mandarin, and my motivations are a bit different than the criticisms levelled against doing that.
  • While not something I talked about much publicly, I have an interest in mindfulness, and a perk from my employer is a free account on Headspace. It has helped calm the nerves and give me strategies to avoid thinking about COVID-19 so much.
  • Something I go back and forth about is drinking alcohol. My rule before the pandemic was no alcohol on a day before a work day. I've bent that rule to one beer an evening, and it has to be an Ontario craft beer. At the outset of the pandemic, I worried about having to go to the LCBO to stock up, but I caught wind of the Ontario Beer Delivery Index (after relying on a poorly-maintained page by a running group). A recent article in The Globe and Mail on Canadians' relationship to alcohol, especially during the pandemic, has put my decision in perspective.
  • Two great purchases during the pandemic:
    • Good speakers for my work area, though it will be my last Sonos purchase, most likely, as I'll replace the system entirely in the years to come.
    • A sturdy lawn chair for sitting in the park. If I wasn't going to venture far, I still wanted to sit in the neighbourhood park and relax during sunny days, which Toronto has an abundance of.

Things I avoided:

  • I didn’t attend many virtual events. At work I was on an always-on Zoom, so I didn't want to be reminded of that. That said, I don't think I suffered Zoom Fatigue, because videoconference has been a normal way of communicating for a while now. I did attend a virtual meetup or two, but I generally avoided lectures or live musical events, because they reminded me of missing the in-person events.
  • I didn’t start any new hobbies. No sour bread baking for me. I attempted to commit to PC gaming with mixed results.
  • I didn't binge-watch anything. I almost always had a full day at work on weekdays, plus an apartment to keep tidy, plus other volunteer commitments, so I was busy enough that I didn’t watch several episodes of TV shows. That’s to say I didn’t watch any episodic series. I watched all of The Crown one episode per day, and restarted watching The Expanse, also one episode per day. I plan on restarting watching Westworld, having forgotten where I left off (DVDs don’t keep track of the episodes you’ve watched like streaming services do). I assumed I would watch more movies during the week. The aforementioned Saturday movie night helped with that.
  • I avoided bringing COVID-19 to somebody. Living alone means there was nobody in my household to bring it to, assuming I ever carried it. (The truth of the matter is I don’t know until I get an antibodies test, which I hope to get sometime before receiving a vaccination.)
  • I did not go home for the holidays for the first time ever. Staying in Toronto over the Christmas holidays was the right decision. My family kept a Christmas Eve tradition alive, and I even cooked Christmas dinner!

Surprises:

  • How busy the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto would be in hosting virtual events.
  • How inactive the neighbourhood association became. We made our voices known in a virtual setting, though there was less activity in the neighbourhood to respond to. The local park’s redevelopment was postponed until this year, and few new developments were announced, though all developments proceeded, so we kept aware of those as best we could.
  • I thought I would spend more time gaming, but that has not come to pass.

Frustrations:

  • The way people were talking about the virus was as if COVID-19 were a death sentence. I don’t want to quote “survival rate” numbers because a) I don't think they're real and b) every single person who talks that way never cites their source. That said, at times, it felt like some people believed it killed everybody on contact. Also, we won’t know for some time what the effects of someone who has tested positive for it are.
  • Dating felt next to impossible. I matched online with some women over the course of the year, but with no desire on my part to meet up.
  • Having experienced a rough Valentine's Day just before the declaration of a pandemic, I set out (yet again) to do something about the isolation. An in-person counselling group was just the ticket, and after a few sessions, my mood improvded tremendously. It moved online due to the coronavirus, and was for the most part about coping with the anxiety introduced by the pandemic. I decided to skip it, joining the virtual sessions for guest speakers only.
  • Not owning a car meant braving public transit, which at the outset was a great unknown, to venture out farther than city limits. I took transit maybe 2 or 3 times, just to run a couple of errands. I didn't get the sense that any other town had much to experience anyway, but I decided against hiking trips because I don't drive. Maybe I might be more comfortable this year as vaccines increase in uptake.

Regrets:

  • I regret not joining a mutual aid society. That would have been quite the learning experience.
  • A course on urban planning for non-planners that ran late at night in my time zone would have been bearable for the one day a week it happened, but I decided not to enroll. At least the course is recurring.
  • Beyond the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer, which were eye-opening to me (someone who considers their eyes open), I don't think I learned much else over the course of the year. I read fewer books than hoped for, and even work seemed to stagnate (though my manager doesn't fully agree, and he has a point).

I had time to reflect on the things that were shut down that I missed, and what the pandemic revealed to be the reality:

What do I think I miss Reality
Concerts I attended them alone, and never met anybody. It was annoying when someone nearby would be talking, or would walk in front of me (thankfully I’m tall), or would bump into me (I would be constantly making way for people).
Dining in restaurants I dined alone about 95% of the time before the pandemic anyway.
Going to the pub I do miss the pub nights when it would be a watch party or a meetup, especially if it was a basketball pool draft. One pub in particular was my go-to for a first date, since it was a public place with the privacy of the surrounding din.
Working in an office I definitely miss that, having moved to Toronto for that experience. I’ve spent most of my career working remotely and it’s very isolating. None of the objections to aspects of working in an office have been compelling to me.

I didn't come out of 2020 stronger, nor did many people I know. It was a downgrade of a year. There were signs of hope at the start of the pandemic and they've only grown in number. 2021 looks to be quite the improvement over the last one.

Thirteen Months of Sheltering in Place

The March weather was unseasonably warm, and restaurants were allowed to open their patios, so extroverts were happy to see each other again. I was happy to get out of the house and break out my lawn chair and sit in the park. The one closes to me is under construction until at least September of this year, so I am walking 10 minutes to a park nearby. It does not have a closed-off dog off-leash area, so dog-owners have taken over the middle of the park for that. That said, a little over a week ago, the Ontario government declared its third state of emergency, and this time all patios are closed province-wide. Still not much change in the way I do things, at least, but the mood in Toronto is quite dour, especially after extreme uncertainty about when people are going to get their vaccine.

To help pass the time, I'm taking a course on Moby-Dick, the classic American novel by Herman Melville. It's been a dream of mine to read the book, having long been a fan of whales. I'm halfway through the book at this writing, and only now do we meet the namesake of the book, if only briefly. There's a lot going on in the book, the changes in styles, the copious references to the Bible and Shakespeare and other literary works, helpfully explained in the footnotes of the Third Norton Critical Edition edited by Hershel Parker. I've been to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, having made a day trip there while on a business trip to Boston so I'm already primed for some of the references in the book.

Just before the declaration of the state of emergency, I did an architectural tour and made a trip across town to buy DVDs. I'm hopeful that the vaccination situation will improve by the warmer months, and so I'm planning day trips, with the hopes of Kinmount being one of them. I have renewed interest after the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto (which I'm the secretary of) produced two episodes on the failed Icelandic-Canadian settlement there, the first one documenting the history of the settlement and the second one documenting the research and monument that stands in honour of the lives lost there. We plan on making those episodes available at our Saga Connections page later this year.

I'm looking forward to biking more as the weather warms in Toronto, both as a commute to the office and for activity. April seems to be a critical month of the pandemic for Ontario, with the hope coming from the effective vaccines dashed by a confusing rollout. I continue to do the things that I have control over and try to let go of the things I can't, and to continue doing what's asked of me even if we haven't gotten what we've asked for from Ontario's provincial government.

Fourteen Months of Sheltering in Place

This month was uneventful except for one day. Up until then I had spent a month wondering when I'd get a vaccine. I had registered with UHN when they offered appointments to 18+ in my postal code, and quickyly shut it down after getting too many registrations. I also registered with my local Shoppers Drug Mart and with Rexall, thinking that while it didn't cover all the bases, at least it covered some.

That was in late March. Hoping for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, but willing to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine, I waited another month, with the messaging from health authorities being "Get the first vaccine you can." In the meantime, I made sure my email filters didn't sent the drug stores' emails to my spam folder, and started accepting every call that rang my phone. On Sunday, April 25th, intending to sleep in that day, I heard my phone's text message and email notifications chime almost simultaneously. That could only mean one thing, so I leapt to my computer and filled out the appointmnet form. It being 10 AM and the next available appointments being available at 10:45 AM and noon, I decided I wasn't so anxious for it that I couldn't have a relaxing breakfast and watch an episode of the Icelandic political drama The Minister before making my way a couple of blocks.

They pharmacy asked me to be there no more than 10 minutes early, but since I'm early for everything, that was too much to ask. I arrived 20 minutes before my appointment, and 10 minutes later I had a shot in my arm. I took a vaccine selfie, but only posted it to Facebook, thinking by then it was a widespread enough phenomenon that nobody needed the inspiration anymore. (I do regret that I didn't post to Twitter, since I would have enjoyed the wave of likes there.)

The late-breaking news is that the Ontario government paused the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that came on the heels of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization making a preffered vaccine recommendation, which gave a lot of people the feeling that there was mixed messaging around the "Get the first vaccine you can" messaging. I don't know exactly what to expect for my second dose, but I do feel a lot more protected than I did two and a half weeks ago.

Fifteen Months of Sheltering in Place

Toronto feels like a city gain.

On Friday, Ontario opened up retail businesses to limited capacity and allowed outside dining on patios, and while I managed to avoid the lineups and had breakfast by my lonesome outside my favourite diner, it felt like a breath of fresh air had swept through and that we could breathe again. There was also the late-breaking news that a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would be offered to those a part of Generation AstraZeneca (which includes yours truly) 8 weeks after the first dose instead of the customary 12 weeks, and that we could pick our brand. There are several (thankfully short) articles on the tradeoffs involved, though it must be said that the necessity of what really amounts to flow charts is the result of public policy and messaging. How hung up am I on it? I wasn't going to vote for the political party in power the next time an election rolls around anyway, and I don't know anybody who is, so I'll take it as a win that I have some agency in the decision.

The better weather means eating outside on my balcony more, and I aim to eat all three meals there as many days as possible.

I've been listening in on Clubhouse, the drop-in audio voice chat mouthful application, and heard one person says "we've spent fifteen months inside," and until then it didn't sink in how long it has been since I've attended an in-person event. My American colleagues are returning to the office as to weeks ago, and we're treated to scenes of fans at sports games while all events in Toronto have been cancelled until at least after Labour Day.

I did get to see illegal fireworks on the May Two-Four long weekend, which made me feel like a real Torontonian. That weekend also featured a one-day-only edition of the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway, which I caught the very end of. No more for the rest of the summer, so I've been taking an hour-long walk on weekend days. It has been impossible to plan more than two weeks ahead, but with vaccine uptake what it is, I now expect that time horizon to expand for the rest of the year. I have vacation coming up, making day trips a lot more feasible. I expect to spend most of my waking hours at home still, but this feels a lot better than the previous 14 months.

Sixteen Months of Sheltering in Place

Checking out Toronto Vaccine Day

I knew Toronto was trying to set a record for most COVID-19 vaccinations in one day at a single venue, but signups were so popular that I couldn’t get an appointment. I had managed to get on the waiting list for a pharmacy beforehand, and on the actual day, Toronto Vaccine Day, I walked by Scotiabank Arena mainly just to see the crowd. By the time I got there, the line had dwindled, but it wasn't obvious that I could waltz right in, so I walked back home and felt happy about the exercise I got. About 15 minutes after I got home, I saw a tweet1 that said they were taking walk-ins. So I biked back down, and bada bing bada boom, I now have the Moderna shot as my second shot. I couldn't believe how efficient and fast the whole process was. The only thing that seemed to have gone wrong was the music outside the stadium, in order to make it feel like a party atmosphere, made it hard to hear the attendants. This wasn’t the venue I most wanted to get a vaccine at (Rogers SkyDome was), but this’ll do just fine.

Relating the story to my America co-workers later, they thought it was awfully Canadian of me to get a vaccine in a hockey arena.

I've always liked the British expressions for things, and "the jab" as the term for the vaccines always gave me a smile to my face. As a result of that, and influenced by the UK bot that preceded it, I created the Twitter bot Fully Jabbed Canada as to track second shot uptake as they started to become available to Canadians.

It's been two weeks since that second shot, meaning Canada considers me fully vaccinated. As a result, my morale has improved significantly. Ontario had already started allowing dining on patios (which have been taking advantage of at the diner next to my place) and in-person shopping since my last report, and as of this coming Friday, the provincial government is lifting more restrictions a few days early than planned, like they did the last time. The plan had been well-received (somewhat shocking for how it had handled the locking down in the first place), and I get the sense that they are learning to underpromise and overdeliver. The pandemic doesn't feel over for me. I'm making plans to go hiking and meeting up with local friends again, and visiting art galleries and museums and planning day trips with more confidence.


  1. Actually I got notified by Nextdoor, which linked to that tweet in a post, so it seems a bit lucky that I saw it in time. ↩︎