There are many ways to show respect. A good firm handshake is one—or at least it used to be, until handshaking was cancelled. Salutes have a distinguished history, although currently they're risky because you might touch your face. Tipping your hat always works, if you have a hat. And the dexterity during the doffing not to touch your face. Or any part of the hat that might later touch your face/head region. Actually, let’s just say the hat thing probably doesn’t work, either.
Luckily in our society where it’s getting hard and harder to offer a sign of respect, we will always have Photoshop. There’s nothing like a well-meaning bit of image manipulation to show a public display of deference. Witness this take on Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Robert Strang.
Strang and premier Stephen McNeil have kept up reassuring webcast news briefings every day for almost two straight weeks, becoming a pandemic duo that has earned comparisons to superheroes (not just Marvel’s, either), Muppets and enhanced lab mice. It’s gotten to the point where Strang addressed the issue at yesterday's briefing, held as usual in the media room on the ground floor of a government office building across the street from Province House.
"I get the humorous memes, and it's good to get a laugh once in a while. I thank you for that," said Strang. "But I'm here representing hundreds and hundreds of people in the health-care system—in public health, primary care, acute care, continuing care—who are working extremely long hours to do what needs to be done to help all of us stay safe. So when you're thanking me you're thanking all of those people.
The briefing had another bit of fun, well suited to a Friday afternoon. With governments at all levels and in many countries turning to extreme measures in hopes of maintaining economies through the COVID-19 doldrums—for example, prime minister Justin Trudeau today announced the government will cover 75 percent of salaries at qualifying small and medium-sized businesses to forestall closures—McNeil offered a lifeline to local eateries.
"There are a number of restaurants trying to stay open by doing take-out and delivery," the premier said. "We will now allow them to include alcohol with take-out and delivery orders." This change takes effect Monday, and the only hitch is that the alcohol in the order can’t cost more than three times as much as the food. Skol!
"With some of our cases, investigation is still ongoing, and it remains too early to say if there may be community spread. I can say that none of the new cases are connected to the St. Patrick's Day gathering in Lake Echo which we talked about yesterday," said Strang. "All of the attendees at that event have been contacted and testing has been done on those individuals and results are pending."
The Nova Scotia Health Authority put out an alert today "advising of potential public exposures to COVID-19." Two specific dates and places were mentioned: March 11 at Highland Eye Care in New Glasgow, and March 12 at the Bantam AAA provincial hockey championship in Antigonish. If you were there, then, and otherwise have been living under a rock, we have some disturbing news: You need to join the rest of the world in watching yourself for a new cough and/or fever and/or breathing difficulties. Call 811 if you develop those symptoms.
When the province started bringing out changes to prepare for COVID-19—last week, in other words, although it feels more like a month ago—the decision to close public school temporarily wasn’t that big a deal. Because March Break was happening anyway, tacking on an extra two weeks without school seemed more like an extension of the holiday than a hint that society was grinding to a halt. Now, however, reality has set in. Today was the end of the first extra week off, and there had been no indication of what comes next. No extension of the closure, no talk of re-opening schools, no plan for distance learning, know nothing. But today McNeil broke the silence.
"I think it's fair to say that the closure of schools will be longer than the next week," the premier said.
Grade 12 students in particular may be concerned about things like grades and university applications, assuming there is something like the old normal waiting on the other side of the coronavirus crisis. "Our main focus is following the advice of Public Health to keep our children safe, to keep our students safe," said McNeil. "And then focus on making sure that we can salvage the year for them so they can go off to university." He also talked about "an ongoing conversation" that’s happening around ways the province can deliver education online, promising "we’ll have further announcements to make about the public education system."
No sooner did McNeil speak it, than some parents saw action. Less than two hours after the briefing ended, Citadel High School parents received an email. "In preparation for a provincial plan for learning at home, we are gathering information about the possible needs of students and families to be able to complete work at home," the email reads. "We would like to know if you are set up adequately to do some work at home through technology…namely if you have a computer with the internet."
Students don’t all have the same access to online tools, so the education department can’t just roll out a webcast curriculum. Today’s briefing introduced a provincial plan with Telus to get 100 phones to vulnerable Nova Scotians who may be self-isolated without any other way to communicate. The premier also said the province is buying up to 800 iPads for distribution at long-term care facilities in April, "to make it easier for the elders to stay in touch." Similarly, there will be students whose learning experience would be transformed by iPads or laptops or free internet from Telus. Hopefully, they'll be addressed in a briefing sooner rather than later.