COVID-19: Animals May Be Vulnerable To The Virus Too

On Friday, I did a blog post offering some context on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship to the environmental challenges humanity is currently facing.

As was noted in the post, COVID-19 is part of the coronavirus family which exists in mammals and birds. If the right conditions are present, these viruses, along with many other viruses and bacteria that can cause serious illness, can transfer from animals to humans.

The official term for that zoonotic. Just as humans can fall ill from contact with infected animals, viruses that cause illness in humans can transfer to animals. And in recent days, we’ve seen indications that COVID-19 may be doing just that.

On Sunday, it was reported that a Malayan tiger at the New York Zoo had tested positive for the virus. Other tigers and lions at the zoo are also showing signs of illness.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Animals May Be Vulnerable To The Virus Too”

COVID-19: Evangelicals Put “Faith” Ahead Of Public Safety

Last Sunday, evangelical church leaders in several American states went ahead with services despite the potential threat of spreading the virus.

Back then, the Trump administration was still touting the fantasy of churches being full at Easter. The administration made an abrupt about face on Monday, when they were presented with stark projections that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus in the next few months.

At that point, Trump extended the physical distancing guidelines to April 30. At the state level, though, some governors have undermined those efforts by exempting church services from the guidelines.

Generally, the governors that have done so head states where evangelical Christians are a major support base. And evangelicals have aggressively pushed back against any restrictions on their “freedom” to hold services.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Evangelicals Put “Faith” Ahead Of Public Safety”

COVID-19: Canadian Snapshot

Last Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 infection  total stood at 4,757. Seven days later, that number has increased to 12,537. So far, 214 fatalities have been recorded.

Quebec remains the case leader with 6,101 infections, with Ontario in second spot with 3,255 infections. Ontario received some stark news yesterday, with the provincial government releasing projections that COVID-19 could lead to between 3,000 and 15,000 fatalities in the next 18 to 24 months.

British Columbia (1,174 cases) and Alberta (1,075 cases) both had relatively high totals compared to other provinces. Of course, those four provinces are the most heavily populated, and also have major international airports where Canadians flying home from the United States and other locations were being directed once the outbreak began to escalate.

As for Saskatchewan, our case total currently sits at 220. You can find a province-by-province breakdown at this Government of Canada website.

COVID-19: Pandemics ‘R Us

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government has been criticized for attempting in the early days of the Wuhan outbreak to downplay its significance. Some of the criticism is fair, but the root cause of the pandemic goes much deeper than that. And if we’re to safeguard ourselves from future pandemics we need to be aware of what the cause is. Here’s a quick overview.

The COVID-19 virus is part of a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. They typically reside in mammals and birds, and are zoonotic, which means they can transfer from animals to humans.

Coronaviruses aren’t the only viruses/bacteria that have that capability. Rabies and the plague are two historical examples of diseases that transfer from animals to humans. More recently, there’s been Lassa fever (1969), Ebola (1976 and 2014-16), HIV (c. 1980) and assorted avian and swine flus — most recently, H1N1 in 2009. Then within the coronavirus family, we had SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Pandemics ‘R Us”

COVID-19: Global Infection Total Approaching One Million

Some time today, it’s likely that the number of COVID-19 cases in the world will exceed one million. We have a global population of 7.8 billion, so the total, in and of itself, isn’t especially remarkable. But what is remarkable is how the number has grown by leaps and bounds in recent days. And that trend, unfortunately, will only gather steam in the days and weeks to come.

As of April 2, the top ten countries for infections are the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, France, Iran, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.

Canada currently sits at #15 on the list of infections, but several spots lower when it comes to fatalities. The global top ten there are Italy, Spain, the United States, France, China, Iran, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Brazil and Portugal have been “climbing the charts”, so to speak, so they will likely start appearing in the top ten soon. You can find updated totals for infections, fatalities, new cases and per capita figures here.

COVID-19: Conservative Governments Push Agendas While People Suffer

If I’d done a blog post last April 1 on all the gnarly stuff that is going on right now, it probably wouldn’t have passed the sniff-test for a moment before people dismissed it as an outrageously overblown April Fool’s Day prank.

I wish the same could be said about this April Fool’s Day post about how two reckless and irresponsible governments are using the pandemic as cover to further gnarly agendas that, in both instances, are major contributors to crisis we currently find ourselves in. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. Here’s a breakdown.

In a March 27 post, I noted how the Trump administration had taken the unprecedented step of waiving the need for U.S. corporations to observe Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing pollution. Yesterday, Trump and his Republican supporters doubled-down on their disdain for the environment by rolling-back fuel economy standards brought in by the Obama administration to help the country meet its Paris climate targets and reduce air pollution.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Conservative Governments Push Agendas While People Suffer”

COVID-19: Federal Relief Program Update For Workers And Businesses

When our blog coverage of this pandemic got going on March 20 it was noted that government responses were coming fast and furious. That’s remained true to this day.

On the federal front, the government is close to rolling out its promised programs to help workers and businesses cope with the economic fallout from the virus control measures that have been put in place.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

This broad-brush program applies to anyone who has been laid off, is sick and is in quarantine, is at home caring for children and self-employed people who find themselves unable to earn income during the crisis.

To apply, you have to be over 15 and have earned $5000 plus in 2019 or the last calendar year (ie. March 2019 to March 2020). People who are currently on Employment Insurance are not eligible to apply, and if you’ve recently applied for EI your application will be folded into CERB.

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COVID-19: This Pandemic Is Exposing The Folly Of Magical Thinking

When I was growing up, one saying I remember hearing is “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” The takeaway for me was that opinions were… whatever. What really mattered in deciding a question was real evidence, expert insight and logical conclusions.

What a difference two decades of alt-right and social media makes. Now, in the minds of some people anyway, a person’s “opinion” should carry equal and even greater weight than actual evidence collected, analyzed and vetted by well-educated scientists using state of the art instruments.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” is how that sentiment is typically expressed. For a group that usually rages against “entitlement”, it’s especially ironic.

If we still lived as we did… oh, in Biblical times, or even the early 1950s, it maybe wouldn’t be a problem —at least, as big a problem as it is now. But we don’t live in Biblical times. Or the early 1950s. We live in 2020. And in our fast-paced technological world, we simply can’t afford to ignore what the scientific evidence  is telling us about our current reality on Earth.

Continue reading “COVID-19: This Pandemic Is Exposing The Folly Of Magical Thinking”

COVID-19: Self-Isolation and Physical Distancing

With all sorts of restrictions in place to promote self-isolation and physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people are having to brainstorm new ways of passing time and engaging with family, friends and the broader community.

Cut off from touring, for example, Canadian musicians have been live-streaming performances to entertain fans. Likewise, galleries and museums have been inviting people to take virtual tours of their collections.

Various artists have been reaching out too, both to express solidarity with people going through tough times and to share their talent with the world. Patrick Stewart (a.k.a. Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation), for instance, has been doing online readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The choice is particularly appropriate given that in the year the sonnets were first published, 1609, London was in the grip of bubonic plague and theatres were closed.

One home-based activity I’d like highlight with this post is tied to citizen science. I did an article on it back in November 2015 and the important role ordinary citizens can play in helping professionally trained scientists to collect and analyze data to advance research projects.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Self-Isolation and Physical Distancing”

COVID-19: Canada In A Global Context [Updated]

As of this morning, the global number of COVID-19 infections has exceeded 620,000. With the virus just beginning to make inroads into heavily populated countries in Africa, Central and South America, and south-east Asia that number is expected to soar in the days to come.

The total number of cases in Canada currently sits at 4757, which puts us at #16 on the global list for infections. A major wild card for Canada is the border we share with the United States, which has surpassed China and Italy in recent days to become the world leader in infections. With tens of thousands of Canadians having recently rushed home from winter getaways in Arizona, Florida and other “snowbird” locations, and the virus having a 14 day incubation period, our numbers will surely jump.

At present, Quebec has the most infections at 2021 2498 — which is over twice as many as Ontario which currently has 993.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Canada In A Global Context [Updated]”

COVID-19: U.S.A. Now Leads The World With Most Infections

It’s probably not the “America First” that Donald Trump had in mind when he was on the campaign trail in 2016 — or maybe it was, at this point, who really knows?

As had been forecast for weeks, the United States has now surpassed China and Italy as the global hotspot for COVID-19 infections. When comparing the performance of different countries in combating the pandemic, as was noted in an earlier blog post, different geographic and cultural factors do come into play.

Regardless of where a country falls on the spectrum between personal freedom and collective responsibility, though, there has to be a balance. And that’s where the U.S. fails grievously in comparison with the rest of the developed world. Instead of providing a decent social safety net with proper health, education and material supports for its citizens, it’s this weird hybrid of a First World/Third World country.

And with COVID-19 in full-swing there, the nation’s inadequacies are on full (and shameful) display.

Continue reading “COVID-19: U.S.A. Now Leads The World With Most Infections”

COVID-19: Changes To Government Response Plans [Updated}

A few days ago we did a post about different actions governments have taken to grapple with the challenge of coping with the chaos caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some of those measures, such as the GST and Canada Child Benefit top-ups,  the Indigenous Community Support Fund, income and property tax deferrals at the federal and municipal level, and a 10 per cent wage subsidy for businesses to keep people on the payroll*, are still in place. But some other measures have been updated.

Federal Government

On March 25, the federal government, with all party support, passed a revised $107 billion emergency package to provide relief to Canadian workers and business owners whose lives have been disrupted by the outbreak.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Changes To Government Response Plans [Updated}”

COVID-19: Cold Calculation

In addition to the toll the virus has taken on peoples’ physical and mental health, it’s exacted a huge economic toll. Around the world, stock markets have cratered and business has ground to a halt: putting many millions of people (small business owners and workers alike) at risk.

To provide short-term relief for Canadians, the federal Liberal government has stepped up with a $82 billion package to support business owners, families and workers who have had their employment impacted by the slowdown.

South of the border, U.S. Congress agreed Tuesday night to a $2 trillion stimulus bill after several days of political wrangling. The Democrats were concerned the bill focused too much on corporate interests and didn’t do enough to help ordinary Americans and provide support for much needed healthcare services.

The bill gives a one-time payment of $1200 to every American earning less than $75,000, and $500 per child. There is also $367 billion in support for small businesses to help make payroll, and $130 billion for hospitals.

The primary area of contention between the Democrats and Republicans was a $500 billion subsidized loan package for big business. As originally proposed by the Republicans, the hotels and golf resorts owned by U.S. president Trump would have been eligible for assistance. But the Democrats won a concession that businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials — including Trump and his family — would not be eligible.

Naked self-interest aside, politics are also in play with this stimulus package. With November’s election looming, Trump is desperate to kick-start the economy to boost his re-election bid.

How desperate?

Continue reading “COVID-19: Cold Calculation”

COVID-19: Global Snapshot

COVID-19 first appeared in China in December. Since then, it’s spread relentlessly around the world. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the virus a global pandemic.

When looking at the success each country is having (or not having) in dealing with the outbreak different factors obviously come into play.

Remote island nations may be facing significant hardship in years to come from rising sea levels due to climate change, but with COVID-19 they’re better off than countries that share borders with multiple other countries — especially where population densities are high.

Countries with underdeveloped medical systems might not have the capacity to accurately gauge how many COVID-19 cases they have. And getting honest stats from countries with authoritarian regimes –cough, Russia, cough — is problematic too.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Global Snapshot”

COVID-19: Duelling Governments [Updated]

On Friday, both the Saskatchewan government and City of Regina declared states of emergency to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the municipal regulations mirrored those enacted by the province. But whereas the province’s regulations prohibited gatherings of over 25 people, Regina city council restricted gatherings to five people or less. The city regulations, which were to take effect today and last for a week, also included closure of non-essential retail outlets such as clothing, toy, furniture and shoe stores.

Saskatoon activated its Emergency Operations Centre, but did not pass any additional restrictions on businesses and public gatherings as Regina had done. But on Sunday, the Saskatchewan government announced that it would be rescinding Regina’s restrictions. The Saskatchewan Party government justified the move by saying it wanted to ensure regulations were consistent across the province.

Under Canada’s antiquated constitution, provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over cities via s.92 of the BNA Act. So the province certainly has the power to rescind Regina’s regulations. But whether it should or not is another matter.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Duelling Governments [Updated]”

COVID-19: Safety Tips

Four rabbits demonstrating the proper technique for social distancing

A person can be infected with COVID-19 for up to 14 days before showing any symptoms. While pre-symptom transmission of the virus is possible, medical experts currently think it is less common than post-symptom transmission. Symptoms of infection include runny nose, fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

COVID-19 is commonly spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Transmission can occur through close personal contact, or by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Scientists studying the virus have determined that it can remain detectable for up to three hours in the air, four hours on copper, a  day on cardboard and 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms you are asked to self-isolate to limit your contact with other people unless you have been directed to seek medical attention. To reduce the possibility of transmission, practice proper cough/sneeze etiquette by coughing/sneezing into your elbow. Practice social distancing, too, by keeping two metres between yourself and other people. And you should also wash your hands frequently (and thoroughly) with soap and water.

For more information visit Health Canada.

COVID-19: Federal, Provincial & Municipal Response [Updated]

Government responses to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic have been coming fast and furious in the last few days. To help people get up to speed on what measures have been taken and how they might impact on them in the days, weeks and months to come here’s a breakdown.

Canada

With many Canadians facing financial hardship the federal government has announced an $82 billion package to provide short-term relief to workers, families and business owners. These measures include special GST and Canada Child Benefit top-ups, an Emergency Care Benefit for workers who must stay home and do not have access to paid sick leave and an Emergency Support Benefit for self-employed workers who are not eligible for Employment Insurance.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Federal, Provincial & Municipal Response [Updated]”

Sad Irony: COVID-19 And The Environment

Photo credit: Taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968

With our March 26 print publication, like pretty much everything else around the world, suspended, we’re making an effort to revive our blog.

We can’t match the capacity of the CBC to cover the local, national and international impacts of the COVID-19 situation, but one side consequence that I would like to highlight is the sharp reduction that’s occurred in greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution in countries that have experienced significant outbreaks. Continue reading “Sad Irony: COVID-19 And The Environment”

John Waters: The Full Interview

John Waters and Gary Varro at a dinner held during Camp, Trash, Filth

Our June 8-21 issue featured a cover story on legendary American filmmaker, author, artist and provocateur John Waters. It was in advance of a June 24 appearance he made in Regina as part of Camp, Trash, Filth organized by Queer City Cinema artistic director Gary Varro.

Waters’ contract stipulated no media while he was in town. He did agree to two pre-appearance phone interviews from his home in Baltimore. I snagged one, and wrote the above mentioned cover story, along with a second story using recycled and new material for the CARFAC SASK newsletter.

Now that both articles have been published, I thought I’d stitch together a fuller picture of my 25-minute interview with John Waters.

Could you offer a snapshot of what it was like growing up in Baltimore?

Well, the ’50s were horrible. You might know them from watching television and hearing doo-wop music and seeing cool cars, but it was a time of terrible conformity. That’s why rock ’n’ roll went crazy. That’s why Elvis Pressley was a Martian who scared the whole world. Then beatniks started, and hippies, then punks, grunge, gangstas, and now hackers. So there’s my history.   

Your family may not have understood what you were doing, you’ve said, but they were still supportive. What about life outside your home in Baltimore? Did you ever feel repressed?

I felt repressed, certainly, by people I went to school with. Most of the teachers I had too, especially in high school, would never encourage what I ended up doing for a living. I didn’t care that much, though. I wasn’t bullied because the bullies thought I was crazy, so they left me alone. And I created a lot of friends in my mind and even a character for myself. And I had a career as a puppeteer when I was 12 for children’s birthday parties. I also wrote stories that would horrify people at summer camp, and the counselors would call my parents. So that was always my comfort. Continue reading “John Waters: The Full Interview”

I Mother Earth

I Mother Earth got their start in Toronto in the early ’90s. Grunge was king back then, and the band, which featured brothers Jagori Tanna (guitar) and Christian Tanna (drums) and vocalist Edwin, definitely fit into that genre.

The band released two albums — Dig (1993) and Scenery and Fish (1996) — before Edwin embarked on a solo career. Two more albums followed with Brian Byrne as lead vocalist — Blue Green Orange (1999) and The Quicksilver Meat Dream in 2003 — before the band went on hiatus.

I Mother Earth got back together in 2012. And while they haven’t recorded any more albums, they have released a couple of singles.

On Saturday Oct. 8 I Mother Earth is in town to play a show at Casino Regina. Tickets are $35, and to give you a sense of what they sound like now here’s the audio for their 2015 single “The Devil’s Engine”: