Stories from students, retirement home workers, Google employees, and more
By Brandon Yip, Contributor
COVID-19 is the new pandemic of 2020. The developments on the virus in our province are changing daily; at the time this article was submitted, the BC Centre of Disease Control reports that there are 970 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 19 deaths, and 469 people who have recovered.
This disease began in December 2019—found originally in a food market in Wuhan, China. Health professionals state that such food markets are a breeding ground for dangerous new infections. This is due to humans and live exotic animals being in close contact, making it easier for viruses to transfer between the species. Eventually, the virus spread outside of China to places such as Spain, France, Italy, Iran, the United States, and Canada.
Douglas College students have been affected, and infected
Locally, COVID-19 has affected students at Douglas College with the winter 2020 semester ending in-person classes. They are making the transition (including upcoming final exams) to alternative delivery models. The summer 2020 semester will start as scheduled on May 4, but all courses will be online only. For Douglas College students, the winter 2020 semester has been unprecedented and unlike any other semester. Ryan Wildgrube, a fourth-year Psychiatric Nursing student, was in his preceptorship when it was cancelled.
“When our preceptorship was ended, I was just more worried about COVID-19 getting in amongst our patient population” said Wildgrube in an interview with the Other Press. After those initial feelings, he was sad that his preceptorship had to end—but believes closing was the right thing to do. He says that even though he and other students were inches away from their careers, he agrees with the ending of the program. His also states that his concerns are for his at risk elderly family.
Recently, the Douglas College official website posted that Fraser Health had informed the college that a student (whose name is being withheld) had tested positive for COVID-19. The college has contacted and offered support to the student, who says they are doing well. The student had visited the New Westminster campus on Friday, March 13. They were at the campus library between 10 am and 1 pm. Fraser Health has asked students—who were at this location on the same date and time—to isolate themselves for 14 days. In addition, keep an eye on your health for coughing, fevers, sneezing, or sore throats.
For Douglas College’s athletic program, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the premature ending of the Royals’ basketball, baseball, and softball teams. Brian McLennon, Director of Athletics for Douglas College, states that he and his staff had to adapt quickly to the viral threat.
“We reacted quickly and communicated often with our student athletes, coaches, and employees in alignment with the College and our provincial and national sporting governing bodies following the recommendations of both local and provincial health authorities,” McLennon said in interview with the Other Press. “The health and safety of our student athletes, coaches, and employees is our primary concern—but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some understandable disappointments. The cancellation of Men’s Basketball National Championships was particularly disappointing since Douglas was heavily favored to win. And, additionally, when both the baseball and softball seasons were cancelled—and the Royals’ Athletic Banquet was postponed.”
Ariadne Ava Butalid, while not a Douglas student, is a North Vancouver resident and Lifestyle Enrichment Assistant in a retirement home. She says that coronavirus has had a colossal impact on her work. In an email interview with the Other Press, she stated that “I have been spending weeks at home for the time being (as per the recent strict rules enforced in retirement homes) as a way of keeping our vulnerable seniors safe and healthy. My day-to-day personal routines are lessened, and I mostly spend time indoors. It seems as if freedom has been taken away. Patience is what we need as we go through these uncertain times. Practice safe distancing and stay home.”
Comparing the impacts to previous pandemics
Of course, COVID-19 is only one of several high-profile diseases that have occurred worldwide over the past two decades. In 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was also caused by a coronavirus—originally identified in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002. According to the WHO, SARS was thought to be contracted from an unknown animal (possibly bats) that had spread to other species (civet cats) and later infected humans. SARS would reach 26 countries in 2003, resulting in more than 8,000 cases—and 774 deaths.
And who can forget the H1N1 outbreak (known as swine flu) which occurred from 2009 to 2010. This was a disease never seen before in animals or humans and was very new and baffling for scientists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, there were 60.8 million cases of H1N1 with 274, 304 people hospitalized and 12,469 deaths. The CDC also estimates that up to 575,000 people died worldwide from this pandemic.
And most recently, there was the Ebola virus disease (EVD). And this virus is transmitted from wild animals to people—and later was spread in our world via human-to-human transmission. The 2014 to 2016 outbreak in West Africa was the largest Ebola outbreak since its discovery. This particular outbreak ended with 28,652 cases and 11,325 deaths.
In looking at previous pandemics, the current postponement of the NHL season parallels the actions the league previously took in cancelling the Stanley Cup Final back in 1919 during the 1918 flu pandemic (known as the Spanish Flu). The cup final—which was to be between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans—was cancelled due to the Spanish Flu pandemic. Some of the Montreal Canadiens players were infected, along with their manager. This was the most severe pandemic in recent history so far. According to the American CDC, this disease was caused by “an H1N1 virus that had genes of avian origin.” Approximately 500 million people (or one-third of the world population) were infected with the virus worldwide and roughly 50 million people died—including an estimated 50,000 Canadians.
Book author, televison pro, and Google employee Skip Desjardin on pandemics
Skip Desjardin, US author of the 2018 book September 1918: War, Plague and the World Series, states there are many similarities between the 1918 Spanish Flu and the COVID-19 pandemic. He says some of the parallels between the two pandemics are comforting, and some quite concerning.
“Our means of communication has improved vastly over the past century, and we can now warn people about a pandemic’s existence, its dangers, and ways we can minimize individual and societal risks,” Desjardin said in an email interview with the Other Press. “We learned the effectiveness of banning large gatherings from cities that did, or did not, during the Spanish Flu pandemic and know it can help ‘flatten the curve’ to prevent overwhelming medical infrastructure. On the other hand, we likely can only flatten, not straighten, that curve.”
Another important lesson to be learned from the Spanish Flu is that “pandemics come in waves.” Desjardin says that people had originally believed that the Spanish Flu was over in North America in the fall of 1918, but then in spring of the very next year, an unexpected wave hit and devastated the population. He says we must not be too confident, and that we should be prepared for the aftershock of this virus.
Looking to the future
The Douglas College website is posting regular updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, our way of living has changed dramatically. Notably, this is a very challenging time for many people. And hopefully, in the next few weeks and months, there will be a sense of normalcy returning.
For those who are having difficulty coping with the pandemic, perhaps a quote from Republican President Abraham Lincoln is appropriate. In a speech he delivered in Milwaukee, Lincoln stated this consoling quote he had once heard: “And this, too, shall pass away…”