Omicron FOMO sweeps the nation

Why are healthy Concordians embarrassed?

At the beginning of the pandemic, whispers about who had COVID were shrouded in a cloud of shame. Those who contracted the virus were blamed for not following the precautions properly and not behaving the way an upstanding citizen should.

Now two years later, with the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant, the cloud of shame seems to rain on those who have a sickness that’s even worse — Omicron FOMO (fear of missing out).

“In March 2020, it was only the reckless, cool kids getting it,” said a COVID-less Concordia student who wished to stay anonymous out of embarrassment. “But now, it’s everyone. Even my dentist has had it. At this point, my mom is seriously worried about my social life.”

The student explained that her mother has had all three variants, all secured from three separate trips to Florida, and is pushing her offspring to run rampant and maskless through the swamplands to finally catch the damn virus. The student is considering this option, but has also heard that licking every metro pole on the Green Line proves more cost-effective on a student budget.

This is not a single-case phenomenon; another Concordian, who also requested anonymity — citing fear of not seeming cool enough to get a job in accounting — noted that they feel like they’re missing a part of history by still not having caught COVID.

“Honestly, what I think about is what I’m going to tell my hypothetical kids,” he said, sniffling (with concern, not COVID). “When they ask me what it was like to have the virus, I’ll be the lame dad who won’t be able to tell them. They’ll probably put themselves up for adoption.”

He was also concerned about not knowing how to converse with peers. “All everyone talks about these days is COVID. How can I relate to everyone if I haven’t had it?”

He explained that he’s tried everything to catch the virus, including living in his COVID-positive friend’s closet during her isolation period. Alas, his PCRs have all come up negative. “It feels like I’m a hopeful mother waiting for a positive pregnancy test.”

Quarantina Jab, a Concordian who explicitly demanded to be named, is part of the minority who is still avoiding Omicron. Jab said that she does not want to get sick for the sole reason of fulfilling her dream of holding the world record for not getting COVID for the longest amount of time. “I’ve actually been living in isolation since I was born. I hopped out of the womb and got my own apartment, where I’ve been living ever since,” she said.

Jab seems to be the only person who shares this sentiment according to a survey conducted on the now-obsolete MyConcordia portal.

Still, those who have yet to catch Omicron need not fear. With humanity’s luck, there will be another, even more contagious variant in approximately three months to sweep you off your feet and cure your FOMO.

 

Graphics by James Fay

Categories
Student Life

Omicron — COVID’s dreaded fifth wave

Four students reflect on how they experienced the Omicron breakout from home

By: Juliette Palin, commentary editor; Evan Lindsay, news editor; Talia Kliot, assistant commentary editor; Amanda Defillo, contributor

 

Juliette’s version 

The day I left for Budapest, mandatory PCR testing was just being re-implemented for travellers on any Air Canada flight. No snow had managed to stick to the ground longer than 72 hours, and Omicron was just starting to bear its gruesome teeth. Once we got to Budapest, and the jetlag started to wear off, my sister and I got wind of the chaotic state Montreal was in: no available rapid tests, serpentine lines outside testing centers, and the familiar sight of cases rising, with one main difference. Never before had we seen such high case numbers in Quebec. One day it was five thousand… then twelve thousand… eighteen thousand…

My sister and I watched in terror from Budapest, where the fourth wave of Delta was dying out and Omicron was a looming threat. We went to the scenic city to visit our parents but had we known how fast the situation would deteriorate, I don’t believe we would have gone.

While we saw every Quebecer and Canadian become confined to lockdowns, and spending holidays alone — my own family catching COVID, and being unable to reunite for the holidays — our situation was different. We had no problem getting tested (which we did a total of five times) and everyone around us had already acquired a booster shot. Our only real issue was explaining why our vaccine passports wouldn’t scan, since they were not registered in any European database.

In Hungary, people were unbothered, lazy with their masks, aloof to what was happening all over the world, or even just a day’s drive away in France or Austria. Needless to say, it was difficult to face two alternate realities every day: that of the fifth wave back home, and an eerie sense that I was looking at the past — a city full of people still enjoying the normality of unregulated life.

 

Talia’s version

The Omicron outbreak in Montreal was frustrating. I was lucky enough to spend it skiing, reading, watching movies, and going for walks with my family. While we were safe and healthy, it was annoying to see that even with COVID case numbers spiralling out of control, hours-long testing lines in the cold, and rapid test shortages, restrictions to help relieve healthcare professionals were only put in place after Christmas. But of course, Quebec is a secular province, duh.

When the government brought back our beloved curfew and shut down restaurant dining rooms, it was right before New Year’s Eve. Many restaurants had already ordered all their food, not only creating waste but causing many to lose much-needed income.

On one hand, I’m sick of all the restrictions and want to live my life again. I missed a Taylor Swift dance party because of this stupid outbreak! But, I know that we need to offer some relief to the healthcare system, which is crumbling as many workers get sick and are unable to come in. It also feels like everyone I know has or has had COVID, so I guess it’s just a matter of time before it comes for me. Wish me luck…

 

Evan’s version

The longer that this pandemic drags on the more I wish that I could say it was somewhat exciting. To think that 40 years from now someone might ask me what it was like to live through a global health emergency… I wish that I would have some more dramatic stories to tell them. Unfortunately, the reality is that this holiday season was spent much like the last, trapped in my house with my family.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to spend time with my family in Victoria. But if it wasn’t the spike in BC COVID cases keeping me inside, it was the snow. People from Victoria tend to refer to the southern part Vancouver Island as the “tropics of Canada,” which is to say that snow is rare — and when it happens, insignificant. Instead of blizzards, we get massive amounts of rain. This year the snow was neither rare nor insignificant.

Unable to drive due to the snow and a lack of winter tires, I wasn’t able to escape my family home as much as I may have liked. Again, this did yield some positive results: being unable to leave meant more quality time with my family, and kept me from rubbing elbows with potentially COVID-riddled Victorians.

My home is typically very busy during the holidays with out-of-town relatives coming in and constant baking, cooking and the occasional extra glass or three of wine. Despite the pandemic, many of these holiday traditions remained intact. On both sides of the family, my grandparents were unable to travel back to Canada from their vacation homes in the states. My dad’s parents stayed in Palm Springs and my mom’s dad from Seattle stayed in Arizona. More wine for the immediate family I guess?

Restaurants, bars and movie theatres in BC stayed open if you had a vaccine passport, but gyms closed (a popular topic of debate and internet outrage among many of my friends). I was able to take advantage of all our open amenities without much trouble, other than a few people scowling at me for showing a Quebec vaccine passport, and a small argument with my dad about whether it was safe to see Spider-Man: No Way Home (either way, it was worth it. Great movie).

Despite spiking cases in BC, most of my attention and anxiety was directed towards Montreal, knowing in just a few weeks, I would be back in time for a second curfew and record-breaking case numbers.

 

Amanda’s version

When the news about Omicron broke, I remember lying in my bed and receiving a call from my mom. At the time, she was overtaken with panic. She went on and on about how I needed to get back home immediately and told me I should start packing.

I’m from the Dominican Republic, studying as an international student in Canada. I just remember feeling scared that I, along with everyone else in Montreal, would have to go back into lockdown, unable to go back to university for an undetermined amount of time… Once again, I felt as if my life was being uprooted and it’s just not a fun experience.

Probably not even three days later, maybe even sooner, my parents had already bought me a ticket to go back home at the end of that week. Sitting on the plane, I thought to myself, “this can’t be happening, again?”

When I finally got back home things were okay for a while. A little bit better than Montreal, where everything was going to hell, but it didn’t take long for things to quickly go downhill here too. COVID’s fifth wave in DR coincided with an outbreak of influenza. People were getting sick left and right especially during the holidays, with rumours of full hospitals crowding every conversation. Things eventually started to calm down but still, a lot of people around me were getting sick either with COVID or with influenza. It just all felt very intense.

 

Visuals by Cathrine Reynolds

Categories
News

Teachers Feel Unsafe Returning to In-Person Learning

With the return to in-person learning, some teachers feel that Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge’s lack of transparency has contributed to providing an unsafe work environment. 

Teachers in both the French and English education sectors feel that not enough has been done to ensure a safe return to school now that classes will return in-person, especially amid the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Some say Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge has not provided an effective plan for teachers and students to return to a safe working environment during the pandemic, and feel that the measures put in place are not sufficient in providing a safeguard between students and teachers.

 Last year, Roberge didn’t believe that air purifiers were necessary in ensuring better air quality, stating that there was no evidence that correlated poor air quality and COVID outbreaks in schools. He has now backpedalled and instead recommended that teachers keep windows regularly opened, to improve air quality — something he mentioned in a press conference on Jan.5 of this year.

 This back and forth in decision-making from the Minister of Education has teachers like MJ, a grade one teacher in Montreal who requested to remain anonymous, feel that they’re not properly represented in what’s best for them. “I think he should resign,” MJ said. “He can’t do the job properly, one day he says something, the other day he says something else. He puts the teachers in a very uncomfortable position.”

 Unions like the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which represent 50,000 teachers across Montreal, Gatineau, Laval, and some other regions in Quebec, are also trying to receive clarity from the government. Sylvain Mallette, president of the FAE, feels that the teachers he represents share the same sentiment in wanting more transparency from the Minister of Education when relaying information. “There’s a sort of confusion, it’s not clear, sometimes one thing is said and 48 hours later it’s contradicted,” Mallette added.

 The aforementioned press conference with Roberge and former public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda ensured that during the two-week hiatus from in-person learning, the already promised 50,000 CO2 readers will finally be delivered and installed in classrooms across the province while another 40,000 should be received between the months of January and February.

 Arruda also highlighted that according to Quebec’s public health experts, N95 masks may not be sufficient due to their lack of comfort and difficulty to speak when worn. Teachers who want to equip themselves with N95 masks will need to do so out of pocket, as the government will not supply them.

 A high school teacher who wanted to remain anonymous told The Concordian that they don’t feel that it should be teachers who should supply themselves with the necessary resources to be adequately protected. Their concern is the government’s actions in ensuring the safety of teachers if a return to in-person teaching becomes a reality.

“My biggest concern is that I don’t think my employer is going to supply N95 masks. What worries me is going back to school with Omicron and having a mask that supposedly doesn’t necessarily protect from anything.”

 The FAE agrees that teachers should have the right to have N95 masks supplied to them by the government. “We continue to ask the government to supply and provide access to N95 masks,” Mallette said. “We have to assure not only teacher security, but also provide a feeling of security within our schools. If they feel a N95 provides a better feeling of security, they should have the right to wear them,” he added.

 Though CO2 readers will ensure readings of the air quality in each room, they will not provide protection against Omicron. For some teachers, the infrastructure of the schools in which they teach are outdated, resulting in some rooms that cannot support air exchangers or even the simple ventilation recommendation by the government of opening a window. “We knew the air quality at our school was poor even before the pandemic. There are some windows that don’t open at our school, so I already didn’t feel safe to begin with,” the anonymous source said.

 “The problem isn’t with equipping classes with CO2 detectors, the problem is that even if the detectors read that there are high levels of pollution in the air, there’s nothing to solve the problem at its core,” Mallette said.

 According to a 10-year government infrastructure plan, slightly over half (54 per cent) of Quebec schools have dated infrastructure, resulting in not only poor air quality and ventilation but a poor condition overall.  

 Mallette and the FAE believe that there could be alternative methods for repairing the air quality in schools, regardless of their condition. “I’m sorry, but if the human race was able to land on the moon and travel through space, we should be able to find ways to install air exchangers in our older schools,” said Mallette.

 Ottawa gave Quebec 432 million dollars to improve air quality and increase hygiene measures across schools in Quebec. However, the provincial government has not been transparent about where the rest of the money was spent.

“The government is still refusing to provide further detail on where the money went except for what the education minister has said,” said Mallette.

 For now, the FAE will continue to request information to try and obtain a justification for the decisions made but to also track the federally-funded money. However, the process of requesting that information is receiving heavy pushback from the government.

“We’re requesting information through access to information (ATI) requests, and we’re not getting anything. The Minister of Health is playing a hand in delaying our requests by contesting our demands so we’re still not able to obtain that information.”

 

Graphics by James Fay

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