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Words of calm and consolation during the coronavirus crisis


With COVID-19 spreading, markets crashing and anxiety rising, CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM spoke to experts on Monday’s show, seeking their thoughts and suggestions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is some of what they had to say.

Community transmission and keeping the distance

Two of Alberta’s 74 confirmed cases, as of Monday, are not linked to travel — which means the worrisome reality of community transmission has arrived, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

That means that one or more travellers came home and did not, for whatever reason, self-isolate. Instead, they went out into the community and took the virus with them, he said. “So there could be more cases out there,” Furness said. “And this suggests that we should be looking at far more restrictive social practices in Alberta right now.”

Social distancing — staying at least six feet away from other individuals (outside the “blast radius of a cough or sneeze”) and cleaning your hands after touching shared surfaces like elevator buttons or handrails — will work, he said.

But it requires everyone to play by the same rules.

“The trick is that every single case should spawn less than one new one,” he said. “If, on average, every case that comes into Canada spawns less than one new one, we don’t have an outbreak.” 

Financial worries, and making ends meet

There was no way to prepare for the level of economic uncertainty sparked by the COVID-19 crisis, and which was additionally exacerbated in Alberta by the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, said Kelley Keehn, a personal finance educator in Edmonton.

“So many people are cash-strapped,” Keehn said. “We know many Canadians are paycheque to paycheque, especially in Alberta. So you’ve got to figure out what, if anything, can you do to get more cash flow into your family right now.”

Some do’s and don’ts from Keehn:

  • Don’t panic-sell your investment portfolio; instead talk to a financial adviser to help figure things out. “[This] is really, really hard to do, but stick with your plan.”
     
  • Reduce interest charges on credit card or other debt by consolidating into a line of credit or other bank product.
     
  • Take stock of your family’s available cash. Ideally, you want enough available to get you through at least two weeks, she said.
     
  • If you’re really cash-strapped, see if your mortgage has a no-penalty skip-a-payment option.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 16, 2020. (Craig Ruttle/The Associated Press)

Last week, two major Canadian banks predicted the nation is falling into a recession.

“When we’re in a recession, people aren’t spending,” Keehn said. “When people aren’t spending, they aren’t investing in growing companies, in your services and maybe the gig economy. It definitely affects everyone. We all start to hold onto our dollars tighter.

“It creates a lot of uncertainty and worry for everyone.”

Staying social and sane in self-isolation

Don’t be Patient 31.

That’s the nickname of an infected 61-year-old from South Korea who went to church, single-handedly causing a spike in that country’s confirmed cases of COVID-19.

There are plenty of alternative ways to stay connected with colleagues, friends and family even if you’re confined to your home, said Dana DiTomaso, CBC’s tech columnist and president of Edmonton-based digital marketing agency Kick Point.

A web-cam is helpful to let people visually connect with others for work but also for play. DiTomaso suggested apps like netflixparty.com, which lets you host a “watching” party with friends, or gaming apps that offer multi-player modes. 

For more solitary pursuits, there are apps that will help you learn a new language (she likes Duolingo) or the Google virtual tours of some of the world’s great museums.

As a small business owner, DiTomaso strongly advocates supporting local companies that are affected by the ongoing crisis. Fitness professionals may offer at-home or online training, board game stores can offer suggestions for games you might like to buy and play, and one comic store — Variant Edition — is offering what DiTomaso called a “quarantine survival pack” of books, chosen by staff based on what you might like.

“South Korea had it under wraps, basically under control, before Patient 31 wandered around and infected everybody. So don’t be patient 31,” DiTomaso said. “Even if you feel fine. Limit your time spent in public spaces.”

Keeping the faith

While many faith organizations cancelled public celebrations on the weekend, churches in the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton held services — with modifications, and with significantly lower attendance than usual.

On Monday evening, the archdiocese announced that all weekend and weekday masses are cancelled until further notice. 

The church is currently observing Lent, the solemn six-week period of prayer, fasting and sacrifice leading up to Easter —and this year’s sacrifice is the loss of those public celebrations, said Father Jim Corrigan, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park.

But it won’t lessen the power of faith in these times of fear and anxiety, he said.

“Faith leads us to hope,” Corrigan said. “And that’s what we all need in a situation like this.”

Corrigan said he is at peace as the pandemic unfolds, steadfast in his belief that the Lord is in charge.

“At the end of the day, this is the same guy who got us through world wars, through bubonic plagues and through terrorist attacks and we have to remember that He will get us through this, too.”

Learning from the experience of others

Derek Wang is an Albertan in Beijing, where the epidemic seems to have finally peaked after more than 81,000 cases and more than 3,200 deaths.

Over the past few months, Wang has rarely left his apartment other than to get groceries or exercise. When he does go somewhere, his temperature is taken before he enters a shop or a public park. It is taken again before he can re-enter his apartment complex.

“I can pretty much go out whenever I want. But I just haven’t been going out because I’ve been trying to limit my exposure to other people generally,” he said. “And most people in the city are doing the same thing.”

The result is streets that are empty and peaceful in a way that he says is both spooky and enjoyable. Going out for fresh air is even more pleasant with a noticeable drop in the city’s usual air pollution, he said.

Life is slowly starting to return to normal. Restaurants are beginning to re-open, mostly for takeout.  “You’re not allowed to go in but they will take your temperature and then take your order,” Wang said.

His advice for Canadians is to remember the pandemic measures that have been imposed won’t last forever and that panic over food and supplies is likely unwarranted.

“Keep in mind that it is more or less a temporary situation,” Wang said. “If China, with its very crowded cities and massive population, can keep their stores stocked, I would be very confident that Canada can do the same.”



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