earthweal weekly challenge: FLATTENING THE CURVE


Hi friends,

Sherry Marr here—Numbers of those affected by the coronavirus change by the hour, and are rising rapidly. As of my final edit at 9 a.m., Sunday, March 29, globally we have 685,913 known cases, with 32,239 deaths.

In Canada, we have a total of 5,886 with the virus, and 63 deaths. My province of B.C. has 884 current cases, with 17  deaths.

On Friday, I was shocked to hear that the United States already has more cases than China had, now documenting 120,000 infected, reporting 2100 deaths. Infectious disease specialists predict a very dire spread of this voracious virus in the U.S.

This is very alarming. I worry for my friends and neighbours to the south. I worry for us all. Stay in your two-metre bubbles, kids.

Clearly, self-isolation is the only way to flatten the curve and slow this voracious monster. But it took too long for enough people to get the message.  A week ago, Vancouver, B.C., parks and beaches showed up on the news with hordes of people out enjoying the sun, oblivious. It was outrageous. It has gotten better since. Officials were in tears on the news, begging people to stay home, fearing our health care system could well collapse under the weight of what is to come.

Prime Minister Trudeau himself is in self-isolation, working from home, as his wife Sophie has the virus. He appears outside his front door every morning for his daily briefing, and works on facetime the rest of the day. I am pleased that the Canadian government is doing its utmost to take care of us and help us through this time. Leadership is clear and active, with constant updates. (My sympathy is with my neighbours in the U.S. at this time. I am glad state leaders are taking the reins and doing what needs to be done.)

On the graphs, the curve is spiking steeply, with no sign of it leveling, and by the time this posts, the increase will be definitive. Officials exhort us to practice social and physical distancing, in a desperate effort to flatten the curve. (In Italy, cases went from a thousand in one week, to 40,000 the next week. Canada was at the thousand mark as I began writing this last weekend. It has since doubled.)

Tofino is, as always, taking a leadership role. Before mandates were issued, the mayor requested tourists to not travel here, to wait till this is over. Resorts and small businesses and restaurants voluntarily began closing their doors. Tourists already here were asked to leave.

Tla-o-qui-ahts took action early, meeting traffic coming through Sutton Pass, on our only highway in. Locals and essential traffic were allowed through; tourists (many of them from the U.S.) were asked to turn around and go home. They have closed off their communities to non-residents in order to protect their vulnerable population.

Tofino hospital (photo: Joseph Bob)

Our small Tofino Hospital has ten beds, two ambulances and ONE respirator. We service Tofino, Ucluelet and all of the Nuu chah nulth reserves on the West Coast and on outlying islands. Our front line workers will be stressed to the max and beyond with what they know is coming.

Our local representatives are doing a remarkable and reassuring job of keeping us informed. Local front line workers and essential businesses are doing a heroic job of taking care of us. But they are not allowed to tell us whether it is in our community or not. The head doctor at the hospital is requesting permission from the provincial health officials. Knowledge helps us look after ourselves even more pro-actively.

The Canadian government has earmarked a financial package totalling $82 billion dollars, to help individuals and small businesses survive the lack of income involved in work stoppages and business closures. Wow. The government has set aside $55 billion in tax deferrals for businesses and families.  Families will soon feel some assistance with increased monthly child benefit payments. Low income singles (me) and families will receive a higher GST payment in April. Further financial mortgage and housing relief measures are being taken, and workers who do not qualify for Employment Insurance benefits can apply for direct payments without a wait period. One MILLION Employment Insurance claims were filed this past week. That is a lot of households who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent.

(The Credit Union where my sister is a small business manager immediately announced that all loan and mortgage payments are suspended for six months.)

Yesterday the streets of Victoria, down-Island, usually jammed with tourists, were empty. Two major hotels, including the famous Empress, closed their doors. So many hourly wage earners have been laid off in all sectors.

My own daughters are self-isolating, as am I. My son is an essential service worker.

Industries are being asked to start producing health supplies, such as respirators and masks, that are in short supply across Canada. I am impressed by how government has stepped up to take care of those of us with the least resources. But I wonder what will happen as this continues long-term. They keep telling us this is a marathon, not a sprint.

How is it in your part of the world? How is your country doing at flattening the curve?

It has been heartening to watch world leaders come together to fight this common foe. (I only wish they would come together around the climate crisis with the same dedication and focus. Maybe after the virus abates, they will.) Most people are following directives around social distancing (staying home, avoiding crowds, keeping two metres between oneself and another person). It has been astonishing to note how many ignore the directives, putting others at risk.

We have become such an entitled species; it is disappointing to see how many All-About-Me examples we have heard about on the news: like the couple in Kelowna, B.C., who bought up the entire meat section of a chain store.  (There could be a whole other conversation about the connection between our meat-eating, the terrible lives of factory animals, and the climate crisis.) People were still gathering, so as of  March 22, malls, parks and beaches were being closed. There will be steep fines for noncompliance with physical distancing.

Because we have become such global travellers, all of the first instances of the virus in Canada were related to people coming back from travelling. But now travel has been restricted; ominously, more cases are now coming from community spread.

All over Vancouver Island, we are watching businesses closing, airline, bus and ferry service being reduced, only essential services continuing. People are working in solidarity to try to keep themselves and each other safe.

By the time this posts, I am wondering if the mandate will have advanced from social distancing to sheltering in place. I suspect that is not far off, judging by officials’ frustration at public noncompliance. But people are becoming more aware, as the days go on.

I have been staying home, since I have a compromised immune system. I have been out only twice, for groceries. I hope to not go out again for the next while. I take in the fresh air on my balcony.

Right now, our CoOp reserves the first hour of the day for seniors to shop, to minimize our exposure.  A guard stands at the door to let only we elderly through. (I don’t need to show I.D. LOL.) It’s peaceful with so few of us in the store. I am happy the cashiers, on the front lines and very exposed, wear rubber gloves. I am so grateful to them for coming to work when they are nervous. May they stay safe.  I bought extra groceries the last time I went, so I won’t have to go back, just in case we get to the point where our only grocery store gets closed. Right now, they are on reduced hours.

These times bring out the best and the worst in human nature.

The Italians were first to inspire us, singing from their balconies at six every evening. My heart lifted at the sight and sound of them, that first evening, so beautifully sharing songs and smiles with the world. It fell next morning, when I saw the long line of military trucks hauling away the bodies.

People in Greece and Spain and Vancouver, B.C.,  applaud on their balconies to thank the health care workers and front line people looking after us in this crisis. Some howls have even been heard in Tofino and Ucluelet. Our debt to the doctors, nurses and health care professionals has never been more clearly demonstrated, as they risk their own lives to keep us safe.  Some of them, sadly, world-wide, have succumbed to the virus.

On TV, health officials BEG us, sometimes in tears, to stay home, the only way to flatten the curve. The trajectory of how quickly and exponentially this virus moves is terrifying. From one day to the next, from one week to the next, this virus spreads in frightening leaps. Those who ignore this advice are risking other lives along with their own.

Of concern is the homeless population, who have nowhere to self-isolate. In Canada, the North West Territories, in the first weeks, had no incidences of the virus, and tried to prevent all non-essential travel to keep out the virus. Sadly, on March 21, the first case was documented. Around this time, the virus showed up in South Africa. The spread in both Africa and India will be difficult, if not impossible, to control, given how many people live closely together, lacking adequate shelter and resources.

Amazingly, China spiked and not only flattened, but conquered the curve in their country by enforcing very stern measures. This shows it can be stopped.

But in many of our countries, accustomed as we are to our “rights and freedoms,” governments are faced with a harder task, asking people to comply and trusting that we will be responsible. So it will take longer for them to take the next step, giving the virus more time to spread.

Of special concern are the homeless, as well as First Nations communities, many of which lack clean drinking water and access to medical care and basic medical supplies. These communities will be hit hard.

People are staying home here; the village is quiet. We writers are fortunate in these times. We have our poetry community online; we have a platform for sharing our feelings and thoughts; we have friends around the world to stay in touch with.

This is scarier than any science fiction book or movie predicted. We feel helpless in the onslaught, but we do what we can. I am being careful. But I live in an old apartment building. How many other residents will be as careful? How many germs are lurking on the railings going downstairs, on the door we all go in and out of, in the laundry room?

How are you weathering this threat? In your comments, tell us how things are in your area, in your country, state or province. How are you doing personally? What are you doing to get through self-isolation? Do you know anyone who has come down with the virus? How are they doing?

I told Brendan that he began this site at exactly the right moment, when we need to come together, to share experiences, fears, wisdom, hope – and our poems, as we write our way through the strange and frightening times we live in. Looking back at what I agonized over last year, I realize we were not as bad off then as we thought we were.

Sadly, it seems only when humans’ actual survival is threatened, do we wake up to the world we have made and the damage we have done. When Mother Earth’s message wasn’t heeded in wind and storm and fire, what is left is this terrible pandemic, in which the message is loud and clear: we are interconnected across all perceived boundaries of time and space and geography, with every other living being on the planet. What happens to one, happens to us all. The aboriginal people have known this for millennia, and have tried to tell us. We are suddenly hearing their wisdom now.

For your challenge, write about whatever aspect of this issue speaks to you: self-isolation, social distancing, fear of contagion. Or, conversely, you might write about our increased awareness of our interconnectedness, and how people are rising to the challenge, showing the best side of all we can be. There are many heroic stories we are not yet hearing. Maybe you know of some. I look forward to whatever you bring back to the communal fire.

Stay safe, my friends.



9 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: FLATTENING THE CURVE

  1. So well done as the report of the moment, Sherry — I had imagined this forum as the place where local news of a global phenomenon might be found and celebrated (and, yes, grieved), but while most of us had distant sympathies for the Australian brushfires or had water or storm or heat issues of a sort in their locale, nothing has so flattened global perspective as this pandemic. Wherever we are, it’s the same report with a dash of local spice. (Here in Florida, our governor has barred a reporter representing the hardest-hit counties because she had complained about the lack of social distancing in press conferences.) There was a section titled “The Great Empty” in Sunday’s New York Times of photos of central urban plazas around the world — London, Moscow, Sao Paolo, Seoul, Beijing, Sydney, Rome, Seattle, New York — and they were identically empty. How eerie that our global identity is stamped currently with that emptiness. Looking forward to seeing how our fellows process this in this week’s challenge … Brendan


  2. Thanks, Brendan. It is very eerie, seeing all the empty streets and plazas. And scary, watching brave people Speaking Truth in the U.S. and being vilified for it. I fear for your country. Only minutes after my last edit, Canadian numbers jumped to over 6000. In various communities, lines of fire trucks and police cars, lights and sirens on, roll past hospitals to thank our front line heroes, who come to the door in tears. Never did I think I would be living through a time like this. I am looking forward to hearing from other places, in both comments and poems.


    Sumana Roy was unable to leave a comment here, so she kindly emailed her report of life in her part of the world to me to share with you here. She wrote:

    Never ever thought that we would live to see this day.

    We are safely staying at home though we have to go to market for essential things. A complete lockdown for a country like India with 1.3 billion people is so complicated, as this has already triggered a mass exodus to the rural areas. There is a massive homeward influx of the daily wage earners, millions, in the midst of this lockdown. Just read this: “A construction worker set out at dawn on Sunday with his wife and their three month old baby to walk 230 km from a Delhi suburb to their village in the State of Uttar Pradesh after running out of money for food and rent.” Oh dear, so desperate to get home! Saw on youtube a family of four walking back to their village almost 150 km from Delhi. This is sheer madness. If one of them is corona positive, there will be an explosion in villages. Their landlords wouldn’t let them stay without rent. So heartbreaking!!! In many towns and cities, NGO’s and other voluntary organizations are offering food but without maintaining the safe distance.

    These places are so crowded. Hundreds and thousands of people roaming about, not knowing what to do. However, on behalf of governments (both the Central and the States) it is now said that provision for temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical help would be given to homeless people including migrant labourers stranded due to lockdown. Administrations are to utilize State Disaster Response Fund to help the migrant workers. In fact they are doing that. This is good. Till now, 1251 positive cases and 32 deaths here in India. I feel lockdown would be meaningless if there is not enough testing. But for a country like India this is very difficult. And then there is no dearth of reckless, irresponsible people here who take it as their duty to flout law. So if we don’t end up being corona positive that will be a miracle.

    Apart from household chores, all I do is youtube watching. Don’t remember when I last visited Facebook or Instagram or any other poetry site. Your prompt is so inspiring, Sherry, as always. But I can’t gather myself to write a single line of a poem. Not even reading. A friend of mine whatsapped me saying humans are the virus and corona is the vaccine. In many videos I see how mother nature is reclaiming her place. You wouldn’t believe hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles are making a comeback to the Odisha shore for laying eggs. So heartening. Even on roads, Civet cats, Nilgai (kind of blue bull), are coming out. I wonder if this is The Reality!

    Stay safe, friends! Sumana


  4. Sumana, thank you for a report from your part of the world. We hold you in our thoughts and hearts. It is sobering to think how much harder life is right now in densely populated areas. Thank you for taking the time to share your reality with us. I pray for your safety, my friend.


  5. Good to hear from you and what’s going on “up north”. You are fortunate to have a smart leader. We have outpaced China and Italy because up until a month ago our esteemed president was saying it would all go away like a miracle, worried more about the stock market and his personal portfolio than human lives. He’s finally waking up to reality but it’s too late for the thousands who have already died. I will link something, haven’t been online much lately. Take care.


  6. Argh, my long comment disappeared……….so happy you stopped by, Yvonne. I feel terrible about what is happening in the US. Truly. I had to smile when he wanted to put troops at the border to stop Canadians from coming down, as if we would. More likely people heading this way for medical treatment. I cant believe his support stays so strong. I just heard an official predict a second wave of the virus here in the FALL. THAT was daunting. That is a lot of staying inside for me. I am thankful for online. Though it IS hard to write while so distracted by the virus……….take good care, Yvonne. So glad to hear from you.


  7. I’ve a little something to offer, not approaching the dizziness of the moment, but set in the mood of my sweet comfort of a home, it is the best I can do. And I am so tired! I will try to make the rounds tomorrow.


  8. Lovely to see you here, Susan, and I so love your poem. The comforts of home are even more appreciated just now, when it is our safe place.


  9. Wow, last Sunday Canada had fewer than six thousand cases. This morning, the number is 11,747, with 152 deaths. Small numbers compared to other countries, but it shows how quickly the number doubles. We do not have enough supplies. The US is now refusing to send us some that we ordered, even though hundreds of our health care workers are working and helping in the States. Sigh. Canadian companies are refitting to produce our own, but it all takes too long. Stay safe, friends.


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