Despite health agency communication missteps, simple steps can limit coronavirus spread

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Image captured and colorized at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana. Credit: NIAID

As the coronavirus shows signs of starting a comeback in B.C. and Alberta and it rages out of control in the U.S., a fundamental question remains confusing for some: “How is the virus spread and what can be done to stop it?”

It doesn’t help that especially in the early days, considerable misinformation and contradictory information was put out by organizations we rely on for answers – the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

I don’t believe for one minute Donald Trump’s recent retweet from a game show host, Chuck Woolery, who claimed the CDC and others are “lying” to the American people.

Rather, I think it’s because of the tendency of bureaucracies to resist new information and for generals to fight the last war. Many of the earlier incorrect statements about Covid-19 were based on the experiences with SARS and MERS, without understanding how the novel coronavirus is different. Continue reading “Despite health agency communication missteps, simple steps can limit coronavirus spread”

B.C. has done well at controlling Covid-19, but we could soon see a surge with summer travel and complacency

Playgrounds in Osoyoos are reopened, as are other facilities and businesses that were closed in late March. Are we reopening prudently enough? (©Richard McGuire Photo)

The B.C. government released new statistics on June 23 to bolster the case for moving to Phase 3 of reopening, now that Covid-19 cases have been reduced to a manageable level.

Phase 3 permits non-essential and recreational travel to other parts of the province as the summer season gets underway. In reality, people have been doing this kind of travel for weeks anyway as there never was a legal ban on non-essential travel in the province – just a recommendation.

The numbers for B.C. are good right now. But as more and more summer tourist traffic fills the streets of Osoyoos, we need to remain vigilant. Continue reading “B.C. has done well at controlling Covid-19, but we could soon see a surge with summer travel and complacency”

Osoyoos Festival Society marks Cherry Fiesta/Canada Day with ‘virtual’ celebration

Members of the Osoyoos Festival do a video tribute to Cherry Fiesta/Canada Day, which was cancelled this year due to Covid-19. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The Osoyoos Festival Society had to cancel the July 1, 2020 Cherry Fiesta and Canada Day celebrations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, they’ve decided to hold a “virtual” celebration to mark the usual all-day event, producing a short video in which Mayor Sue McKortoff calls on people to find their own way to celebrate safely.

The video features members of the Festival Society at Gyro Park, including President Lyn Motkoski and Ken Baker dressed as giant cherries. It was filmed by Richard McGuire.

As Susan Dodd sings an a capella O Canada, images of the crowds and events at previous Cherry Fiestas are shown. Annette Star of the Fireworks Committee invites people to attend a bigger and better display in 2021.

Click the four-arrow icon to the left of “Vimeo” on the bottom right to watch in full-screen mode. (Runs 2:54 min)

Life Goes On: Artists on Main show their work in Virtual Gallery

Where’s My Glass? (Nancy Gray)

Members of Artists on Main Osoyoos show their paintings in the June “Life Goes On Virtual Gallery.”

This is the third “Virtual Gallery” offered by and featuring the work of local artists. The Art Gallery Osoyoos has been closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The gallery now plans to open on June 13 for its Summer Artisan Market, but opening hours will be restricted and other measures aimed at keeping the public safe will also be implemented. Continue reading “Life Goes On: Artists on Main show their work in Virtual Gallery”

Haynes Point (swiws) partially open for walk-in day use

The day use area at Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park is now open to pedestrians, but the camping area remains closed to all. (© Richard McGuire Photo)

Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park is one of the most pleasant places to walk or bicycle in Osoyoos.

Along with other provincial parks, it was closed throughout most of April and early May in part because people on the Lower Mainland were crowding into parks in that part of the province and failing to physically distance.

Haynes Point reopened for day use only last Thursday, May 14.

The park is ideal for seniors because it’s quite flat, the views are gorgeous and there’s often bird and animal life to observe. In these times of Covid-19, the wide road makes it very easy to exceed the two-metre physical distancing guideline. Continue reading “Haynes Point (swiws) partially open for walk-in day use”

Geography and Covid-19 Part 2 – Cellphone location data provide insights on physical distancing

Many Android and Apple apps record people’s location data unless this is disabled. While it can raise privacy concerns, the data – when anonymized and aggregated – can provide information about physical distancing during the pandemic. (© Richard McGuire Photo)

As B.C. and other jurisdictions around the world begin to lift physical distancing measures, how will we know how well it’s working?

Human behaviour never exactly mirrors the measures implemented by governments. Some people defy guidelines to stay at least at least two metres apart in public. On the other hand, just because a nail salon or gym opens again, it doesn’t mean people will return in pre-Covid-19 numbers. The public makes its own judgments about what is safe.

In a previous article, I talked about how geography can be used to understand the spread of the novel coronavirus. In this article, I’ll talk about how cellphone data can be used to estimate people’s movements and adherence to social distancing guidelines. Continue reading “Geography and Covid-19 Part 2 – Cellphone location data provide insights on physical distancing”

Geography provides valuable Covid-19 information when data is made public

While B.C. authorities have been tight lipped about the geographic data of Covid-19, the U.S. reports data at the county level. Johns Hopkins University uses geomatics to provide an excellent map with data of Covid’s spread in the U.S. The dark purple indicates areas with the highest per capita infection rates. (screen grab of Johns Hopkins U.S. confirmed cases by population)

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I would argue that a map is worth much more.

Can maps provide valuable information about the coronavirus pandemic? Absolutely.

I’ve had a fascination with maps since I was a young boy and used to buy topographic maps with my allowance. I enjoyed geography in school and when I studied political science and political economy in university, I took courses in human geography and statistics. Later, in one of my jobs, I used geomatics to analyze public opinion data.

Geomatics is defined as a “discipline concerned with the collection, distribution, storage, analysis, processing, presentation of geographic data or geographic information.” It’s related to GIS (geographic information system), which pertains more to the software used for this analysis.

Geomatics can be used to look at spatial information about where the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spreading. Combined with demographic information about race, poverty levels and access to healthcare, it can provide insights on the types of places and populations most at risk for Covid-19. Continue reading “Geography provides valuable Covid-19 information when data is made public”

VIDEO: With barbershops closed, many of us are turning to homemade haircuts

As my hair raged out of control, I surrendered to a homemade haircut. (© Richard McGuire Photo)

Barbershops were among the businesses ordered to close in B.C. on March 21. My regular barbershop closed about a week earlier just as I realized I badly needed a haircut.

At the time, I joked that I would have to grow hippie hair. But by early April, my hair was growing wild and out of control and the extra weight was starting to hurt my neck. OK, that’s exaggerating a bit, but I wanted a cut.

Social media has been packed with memes about people giving themselves haircuts that turned out very badly. I learned as a kid that cutting your own hair is not a good idea – when I tried it in elementary school, I kept taking more off to try to even it out until I was bald. Never again. Continue reading “VIDEO: With barbershops closed, many of us are turning to homemade haircuts”

Life Goes On: Darlene and Tracy Fillion, mother and daughter, show ‘Textiles and Clay: Kindred Hands’ in Virtual Gallery

Potter Darlene Fillion and her daughter Tracy Fillion were originally scheduled to open an exhibition on May 2 at The Art Gallery Osoyoos titled “Textiles and Clay: Kindred Hands.”

With the gallery closed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Osoyoos Persists Life Goes On Virtual Gallery is featuring some of their work, just as last month we featured Focus 2020 from the Osoyoos Photography Club.

“Life Goes On” will feature art, music and other entertainment from the community in a safe, “virtual” way during the current pandemic. Continue reading “Life Goes On: Darlene and Tracy Fillion, mother and daughter, show ‘Textiles and Clay: Kindred Hands’ in Virtual Gallery”

Relaxing Covid-19 restrictions could be achieved by technology, data and understanding which measures are most effective

Social distancing has greatly helped to slow the spread of Covid-19, but some measures are more effective than others. Measures such as closing Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park to walkers were likely unnecessary impositions with no significant benefit. Other measures, for example those taken at long-term care homes, were probably much more significant, if late. (© Richard McGuire Photo)

In recent weeks attention has shifted from the primary goal of containing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak to asking whether it’s time to start reopening the economy and relaxing restrictions.

The rate of new Covid-19 cases has been leveling off in B.C., fewer people are being hospitalized and even fewer are in intensive care.

People who have been staying at home and physically distancing in public are getting antsy – especially those with young children underfoot.

And while some businesses are doing well in these unusual times, overall the economy has slowed to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Workers are laid off, and many businesses that were already struggling may not recover, even when the virus is gone.

But reopening too quickly or too drastically poses the risk that the virus will flare up again and all the gains achieved by social distancing may be lost. For many businesses, it might be more costly to open up too soon and then have to close again when the virus again spreads out of control. Continue reading “Relaxing Covid-19 restrictions could be achieved by technology, data and understanding which measures are most effective”