On being … cautiously optimistic

By Ingrid Sapona 

Last Friday Ontario went into Phase 1 of its three-phase plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions. The phases are tied to health system indicators that include the number of new Covid cases, hospitalization rates, and vaccination rates. The relatively modest easing of restrictions that came with Phase 1 may not seem newsworthy to people in countries where things have been open for awhile. But, it’s big news here because Toronto had the longest lockdown in North America.  

People often ask me what’s going on with the pandemic in Ontario. I’m sure they thought it must be totally out of control, given the restrictions and border closure. We’ve had just under 9,000 deaths here in Ontario, a province of 14 million. (By way of comparison, Illinois has a population of just under 13 million and there have been over 25,000 deaths there.) Many people blame the Province for lifting restrictions too quickly in March, when case numbers were increasing and vaccine shipments to Canada were delayed. But, another reason our lockdown lasted as long as it did is because Ontarians are generally more willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for the collective good. To put it another way, we’re not as accepting of high death rates as people in some jurisdictions are.  

Anyway, Phase 1 means the return of patio dining, with up to four people per table, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people. In-store shopping is now available in “non-essential retail”, but with a 15% capacity limit. During the most recent lockdown, in-store shopping was only allowed for grocery stores and pharmacies; all other retail was curbside pickup only. Retailers like Walmart, Costco, and dollar stores had to block off all sections except for the grocery and pharmacy aisles. Now we can shop in all the aisles – though there are still capacity limits. Unfortunately, hair dressers aren’t going to re-open till Phase 3, which won’t happen till 80% of Ontarians have one dose and 25% have had both doses.  

On my Friday morning walk there was definitely a different vibe on the street. All the little shops on my usual route had jazzed up their window displays. Signs about curbside pickup had given way to notices about facemasks and capacity limits. Big stacks of chairs and tables suddenly appeared near restaurants, no doubt ready to be set out on the sidewalk by lunchtime.  

The weather on Friday was lovely, so a friend and I decided to meet on a patio for a late lunch. On my way to our rendezvous, I stopped to drop off some clothing and housewares at a Goodwill-type shop that accepts donations. Such shops were completely closed during lock down. I had to laugh when I pulled up and found a lineup of cars, all waiting to donate. Can you say pent up demand? Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who decided to declutter during the lockdown!  

After donating, I noticed a line of people waiting to go into the nearby Winners store (a discount store that’s part of the TJ Maxx chain). Because we’ve had capacity limits on grocery shopping throughout the pandemic, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing lineups. But I was shocked when I realized the line at Winners snaked around the corner. There had to be 50 people waiting! One newspaper commentator assumed the folks lined up at stores were people who chose not to do on-line shopping during the pandemic. I suppose that could have been part of it, but I think many of the folks happily waiting in lines at stores are just eager to be able to browse through items in person.  

Given our northern climate, dining alfresco always feels special. But, after months of eating at home, being served a meal by someone feels absolutely decadent. It also feels mildly virtuous to patronize restaurants again, as they’ve had an especially hard time during the pandemic. At lunch on Friday, I honestly don’t know who had bigger smiles: the restaurant staff or the patrons!  

The past few days there’ve been lots of newspaper stories about how people are feeling as things start to open up. While there’s definite excitement around re-opening, there’s also a palpable sense of trepidation. Many commented that though they’re trying to enjoy the re-opening, they’re wary of what might happen if case counts begin to rise again. Lots of people mentioned that they don’t think they’d be able to cope – emotionally or economically – if we go into another hard lockdown.  

So, as things being re-opening here, I’d characterize the mood as one of cautious optimism. People are hopeful that we’re on the road back to a full reopening, but everyone’s paying close attention to case counts and vaccination rates and hoping they both go in the right direction.  

What about you? As restrictions are eased and things reopen where you are, are you feeling a sense of elation and unbridled optimism? Or are you – like many of us – holding your breath a bit as you begin to reconnect with your old life?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


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