I know a lot of Americans are thinking about Thanksgiving right now. Canada had its Thanksgiving in early October, and it might’ve been the thing that led to the surge in new COVID cases we’re seeing right now. If you’re still considering some kind of gathering, please use my country as your warning.
“My concern has really come in the last two weeks, the impact of the Thanksgiving weekend.” Dr. Bonnie Henry
Summer was good in BC. We flattened the curve. We had, arguably, the best response in Canada—especially when you think about how susceptible we were. BC has the largest Chinese population in Canada, due to our proximity. We also share a border with Washington, which had one of the earliest outbreaks in the US. But we also had Dr. Bonnie Henry, the top public health doctor and the face of BC’s response. Because we had a doctor speaking to the province, instead of a politician, the people of BC were more likely to believe the news and follow the guidelines.
All through the summer, I continued to work in my classroom—a small office with enough space for large tables for each student. My classes are usually small—only 3 or 4 kids, for only an hour at a time—and during the spring and summer, our entire attendance was under 10. My bubble was my parents, who were helping me with the farmers market. Mask compliance among the customers was always more than half or higher.
Things felt safe. I remember writing here that COVID didn’t feel like a disease I would catch, but a circumstance that we have to deal with for a while.
So when Thanksgiving neared, having a family dinner wasn’t even a question. It’s usually a small gathering anyway: my parents, me, my brother and his wife, and my other brother and his girlfriend. My mom had only gone back to her public school job the month before, and most everyone else works in small offices with few people. The one outlier is my brother, the downtown bus driver—but I know he’s wearing a mask, along with all the Translink precautions.
We had our Thanksgiving dinner, and we were fine. We’re still fine. (The only exposure among us is me, and that happened at work.) But when the world is dealing with a pandemic, one can’t judge risk based on personal experience.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the most trusted face of the US COVID response, recently spoke to CBC News. “Canada, which was supposedly doing so well, is also getting into trouble. There’s a lot of community spread.”
In the early spring of COVID, BC saw seniors homes and assisted living facilities hardest hit. But almost among those very first confirmed cases was a dental conference which took place in Vancouver. “Community spread” is what happens when the population grows compliant. Restaurants opened up for indoor dining—with space between tables, with frequent sanitation—but still, cases rise.
Cases will continue to rise as the weather gets colder, wetter. This past week has been miserable. It’s dark, it’s rainy, and I’m still here, alone, in my apartment. There are only so many crossword puzzles one can do.
November is busy in my family. My dad and both of my brothers have their birthdays this month, and we usually have at least one family dinner, if not more. But when Dr. Henry announced new restrictions, my mom texted to ask how we felt about dinner for my dad’s birthday on the 11th. “It’s not a good idea,” I said, and everyone agreed. Ours might be a small family gathering when compared with others, but it’s too many disparate households coming together, too many of us in high-risk jobs.
It’s been particularly hard this month, as I’m also coming off my two-week complete isolation after my exposure. I’m back to teaching in only one office again, 3 days a week, the same group of kids and my boss. That’s my bubble right now. I pick up groceries once a week, sometimes takeout as a treat. The other day, I put $20 on my Starbucks card just to have something new to look forward to.
We don’t know what Christmas will look like yet. Last year, I celebrated my birthday on a beach in Hawaii with my two favourite travel companions. This year, perhaps I’ll bake myself a cake, drink a little champagne.
I’ll make a wish for a happy new year.