COVID-19 isn't through with us: Our summer of magical thinking comes to its inevitable end

Changes will come at a cost. There are lives that will be battered by these shutdowns. It is OK to know that, and still believe these measures are overdue

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It was always going to end this way. Once the bars reopened, and the wedding halls filled up, and the hovering terror of spring began to lift, a day like this was always going to come. It should have come sooner, in fact, based on everything we know. But it’s here now. Reality is back. This pandemic is nowhere close to going away.

On Friday, the Ontario provincial government announced sweeping new restrictions in the hardest hit parts of the province. It’s a response to record-high cases, soaring hospitalizations, and transmission spreading from the younger, less-vulnerable age groups into the older population that threatens to overwhelm hospitals and health-care workers again.

Effective Saturday, restaurants and bars in Toronto, Ottawa and the Region of Peel can no longer serve food or alcohol indoors. Gyms and fitness studios were ordered closed. Wedding and banquet halls were hit with strict new crowd limits. Masking orders were expanded. All Ontarians, everywhere, were asked again to stay home, whenever they could — to work from home, to shop from home, to avoid leaving home for anything except the essentials: school, groceries, medical appointments and maybe the occasional walk.

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That these measures were predicted weeks ago, that local officials in Toronto had in fact been begging for them since last Friday, doesn’t make them any easier to take. It doesn’t help the cooks and the waiters wondering when they’ll work again. It doesn’t help the students and the parents and the people living alone figure out how they’re supposed to keep going. It certainly does nothing to speed the end of this endless year.

In some ways, it feels heavier this time. There’s a weight to the knowledge that we cannot see the end. I can remember hoping in the spring that it would be over by Easter, by my daughter’s birthday in May, by the time my nephew was born. And it felt over, for a time. At least the worst of it did. We had a summer of magical thinking in Ontario, and I’m grateful that we did.

Early on in the pandemic, months ago, not long before it stopped feeling new, I scribbled down a line from a book by Hanif Abdurraqib on a scrap of paper and stuck it in my notebook. I pulled that notebook out this week and the scrap slipped free. “At some point, if anything is pushed far enough,” it read, “it is impossible to sustain.”

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We are all, until this is over, pushing ourselves toward that limit. We are all walking on the borderline of too much to sustain. In Ontario, our testing system broke down last month. It was pushed too far. The contact tracing system followed. The ICUs are filling up again. Something had to change.

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Those changes will come at a cost. There are lives that will be battered by these shutdowns. There are business owners who may never be OK. There are bartenders and chefs with kids and rent and people with mental health scars that haven’t healed from the spring. It is OK to know that, and still believe these measures are overdue.

It is equally OK to say that this hard, that you are struggling, that you are grateful for the openness we had.

Two weeks ago, I was playing tennis with a friend, outdoors and at a distance. When we were done, I took off my shirt to change and he noticed a finger-tip bruise on the left side of my chest. I’ve been so anxious at times these last seven months that I’ve taken to pressing my right hand against my heart, hoping to push down the pain. I do it without noticing. Until my friend pointed it out, I hadn’t seen the bruise.

I have family on the hospital front lines in Alberta. I have a brother who’s a restaurant chef in Toronto. I have a newborn nephew who I’ve never met; I don’t know when I will. I have come through this employed and healthy in a home full of support and love. I am in many ways in the ideal position to get to the other side of this, whenever that may come. But I have struggled, nonetheless. And in that, I know I am far from alone.

Our summer of magical thinking is over. This is going to be a difficult fall. Never be afraid to say that out loud. Yell it if you need to.

? Email: rwarnica@www.kspss.com | Twitter:

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