We Have to Stop Pretending We’re Better Than the United States
If you’re a fellow Canadian, you’ve probably been somewhere in the middle of a debate on reopening your province or town/city that you didn’t necessarily want to be in at least once in the last few months. That’s not to say you don’t necessarily have a strong opinion about the whole situation, but more so that you’re probably exhausted of hearing about it all. If you’re in Ontario, the centre of the exhaustion was, at one point, a single photograph of Trinity Bellwoods park in Toronto.
For some background, the photo was taken near the first week of many non-essential Ontario businesses reopening. That week, to so many Ontario residents, effectively meant the end of the pandemic. Hooray, we can go back into the garden centre at Loblaws! So, it’s over then? COVID just gave us a break because we worked really hard to flatten that curve? We’ll be sharing drinks at Mandarin again next week? Cool.
Sarcasm aside, I do believe that some back-patting is appropriate right now. If you, as an individual stayed away from others, wore your mask, and disinfected religiously, then you as well as I do that the stress of it all can take a toll on you. Just months ago, we lived in a world where we could touch our face every once in a while and we might not be anxious about it for hours on end. We adapted to a new world order fast, and we should be proud of it.
But the battle isn’t over just because we got used to fighting it.
The Trinity Bellwoods shot is a great snapshot of exactly what’s wrong with us. All of us. And I don’t mean to say that we’re all individually responsible for each of the people’s actions who turned the park into a plague party, I mean that collectively, I don’t think we’re doing enough to stop it.
Today, I ran an errand for my mother, who’s hip dislocated last week, and something strange happened to me. The place I had to go to, a pool maintenance store, had two people working there, and were only allowing two customers in at a time — which was rational considering the size of the place. When a woman who worked there held the door open for me to come in, she made an effort to tell me I could take my mask off. I was caught off guard by it, but I didn’t feel that it was sinister. What was stranger is that when I told her I’d rather keep it on as I wouldn’t want to get her sick, she laughed off my response. She told me she was “healthy”, as though that would somehow change my mind. What was her mentality there? I can’t be sick in the future, as I am not sick right now is an affront to the concept of time passing, and the more I try to find any sense in it, the more brain cells I’m losing by the minute.
Although that was certainly the first time anyone had encouraged me to shop maskless, I can say with confidence that I have not been shopping once this month where the majority of the people in the store were wearing masks. But any news I see of U.S. business reopening there isn’t a naked face to be found. Footage of grocery stores I see from our Southern neighbours online look much more into the mask thing. In contrast to my pool maintenance store experience, Walmart has actually enforced a mask rule for all of their in-store U.S. employees. I have yet to see any Ottawa store where all employees inside were wearing masks, at best I’ve been to stores where most employees were wearing masks (the one exception being the LCBO, where all employees I saw were masked).
Walmart is a store chain who’s stores have hosted WWE-style wrestling events among the shopping aisles. Corporate Walmart is unsafe enough to condone drop-kicks and chair swings, and still has safer policy than any grocery store I’ve shopped since March. Walmart has a history of endangering and underpaying their employees and is still doing more for their safety than Loblaw, Metro, Farm Boy, you name it. We’re living in a world where I’m citing Walmart as a champion of health and safety.
I assume next month I’ll be blogging about how Denny’s became the gold standard in quality health food.
And, for the record, Walmart isn’t an outlier in mask-stinginess. Costcos around the United States ask all customers who can to wear a mask while shopping, and if you’re a fan of watching public freak out videos, I’m sure you know they’re not afraid to kick out those who don’t comply. Here’s one particularly lively example.
So, what can we, as individuals do better? After the pool store employee tested my mother’s pool water and I was checking out, I asked her about her earlier mask comment, and she doubled down with anti-mask comments before trailing off. I didn’t get much clarity. I thanked her in the usual upbeat tone I reserve for strangers and wished her a good day. I let it go.
And in retrospect, I don’t think that’s good enough. I should have at least made it clear that there’s no practical reason for me to take my mask off.
In the case of pool store lady, I don’t know where her mask hatred comes from and I don’t really need to know. The reality is that we know masks work. Sure, Dollarama and Farm Boy might not enforce masks but there is one work setting that masks are absolutely enforced here: hospitals. Anecdotally we know that masks work because the buildings in which the most people who know medical science work are using them. Practically, we know they work because of all of the studies we’ve heard on the news. It shouldn’t be a political stance to wear a mask. It’s really, truly bizarre to me to even think we have to consider it one.
I hate that I have to talk about this, but while we’re talking about politicizing medical science, let’s get a couple of things out of the way: There’s a giant wormhole of misinformation going around to discredit masks. If you haven’t heard of Plandemic, I envy you. The conspiracies spouted in it have absolutely no legs to stand on. There’s a lot of wild crap in it, but one big takeaway is that wearing a mask “activates” COVID-19, which will apparently just lays dormant unless you wear one. No, I’m not making that up. The way I see most of the higher production conspiracy plugs is quite simply a way to make money. Alex Jones makes a killing, and I imagine Mikki Willis — the failed documentary filmmaker that created Plandemic, and its main subject Alternative Universe Hippie Jenny McCarthy (Judy Mikovits) just want the same success. I don’t think there’s a bigger story behind its creation, only the alarming rate at which it was spread and legitimized.
The only political divide that has anything to do with Plandemic should be a divide between people who are susceptible to believing in debunked stories and people who aren’t. It shouldn’t be paralleled by any mainstream political divide, but it seems that the year is apparently still 1950 and as such, believing in proven science is still partisan. At least in The U.S., Conservatives are always more likely to fall for conspiracy theories and fake news than those who lean between center and left. Republican voters are more likely to believe vaccines cause autism, a sentiment often echoed by Judy Mikovits, the doctor featured in Plandemic at conferences and even the title of her first book. More recently, 40% of Republicans on an online poll believe that “Bill Gates wants to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant location-tracking microchips in recipients”.
I mention this only because I want to get past the expected argument of “something something both sides” when we talk specifically about discrediting science, because there are really only two ways to rationalize it, and neither of them leave any room for ‘whataboutism’:
1. It’s proven to be a problem that affects one side of the political spectrum more and therefor needs to be addressed as such if we have any chance of solving it.
2. It’s besides the point, viruses don’t care who you vote for.
This article isn’t for people who wholeheartedly believe that Bill Gates created 5G phone technology in a lab so that he could give everyone Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it’s for everyone else. And for the record, I’d love to argue about the left vs. right politics in regards to COVID-19 and in regards to mainstream conspiracy theories another time, but since neither apply to the personal experiences that I’m writing about now I’ll take a rain check on it.
What I think does apply to all of this is Nationality. Because regarding my friends and family who aren’t science skeptics and who do trust their doctors, there is one constant argument I hear from my friends and family that it could be: We are not the United States.
It’s the same argument that we all use to rationalize criticism of Trudeau. Yeah, I don’t agree with him on that, but at least he’s not as bad as the big orange guy. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into on far too many issues since 2016. I don’t like the pipeline plan, but hey at least our leader has never bragged about sexually harassing teenagers on live television. I’m disappointed by broken promises of election reform, but at least we’re not separating kids from their parents and keeping them in cages with aluminum blankets. It makes us feel better, but it’s a terrible way to rationalize bad politics (If you’re a die-hard Justin Trudeau fan, sorry to target you, but it’s the truth).
And it wouldn’t be infuriating if I didn’t personally hear it constantly, in one form or another. Sure, we are doing better than the states in dealing with COVID-19, both through policy and by setting an example. Our Prime Minister isolated from his family for 14 days, abstained from unnecessary testing, and until he was caught passing a provincial border for a cottage weekend it was hard to criticize him for anything pandemic related. When I listen to news about Bolsonaro hosting barbecues with 30 people, or Donny T boasting how he gets COVID tests daily among major testing shortages, I am grateful. Grateful especially considering that those two leaders who infamously shrugged off the pandemic lead countries that currently rank first and second in total cases.
But just being better isn’t good enough. Canada currently ranks 13th in the world for confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 39th in the world for population. We currently have more confirmed cases than China, and we’re not even testing people who are showing symptoms but recovering at home. We’re doing badly even without a media disaster to illustrate it.
When that woman said “we’re healthy” as an excuse for me to take off my mask around her she might have meant herself and her co-worker were both healthy. She also might have meant the city of Ottawa, where we are healthy in comparison to Toronto after a recent spike in cases there (and a spike in Montreal that hit months ago). She also might have meant “we” as in Ontario, who are healthy compared to our neighbours in the state of New York. She might have meant Canada. It doesn’t really matter. Any way you spin it, there’s no excuse for encouraging carelessness. ‘The Royal We’, whoever it may refer to, can be healthy today and hooked up to a ventilator tomorrow.
So please, Canada, do better.