Living Through COVID

We are all living through a time that will go down in history. Things are changing faster than they ever have, and the future is far from certain. My goal during these next weeks (or months) is to document my feelings and experiences, so that one day I can look back and remember what a bizarre time this was.

Everything changed so fast. In hindsight, it’s embarrassing that we didn’t see this coming. After all, the COVID-19 outbreak started in China back in January. Back then, it felt a world away, an irrelevant problem that would never cross the Pacific Ocean. Even when I went to Cuba in mid-February, there wasn’t an inkling of concern in my mind, despite us travelling through international airports and being tightly packed on a plane.

Timeline of Events

Here’s my best recount of significant events over the past 3 weeks:

  • Sunday March 8: I booked a train to Toronto for a work trip on March 26, and made plans to visit with friends while I was there.
  • Wednesday March 11: for the first time, my work team talked about our contingency plans for the outbreak and how it might affect us. I remember thinking that there was little to worry about and we were likely over-reacting. Later that day, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and Canada has 103 confirmed cases.
  • Thursday March 12: I met with my Ottawa BIKE MINDS co-organizers about our event planned for Sunday April 19th. The cafe that we met in was full of people as usual, but had stopped accepting cash. We discussed a contingency plan in case the virus forced us to cancel, but decided to cautiously go ahead with planning.
  • Friday March 13: In an email to my coworkers, I downplayed the outbreak risk, saying that “the amount of local transmission of the virus in Canada is still low at this point.” That same day, the Ontario Bike Summit, a conference I was scheduled to attend on April 6th, was cancelled. That evening my sister Jackie decided to book a last-minute flight home from the Philippines after the Canadian government encouraged all travelers to return to Canada.
  • Saturday March 14: My Ottawa BIKE MINDS organizing team unanimously agreed to cancel our April 19th event. My best friend Myron was visiting for the weekend and we went to Ikea to get furniture, but ordered it ahead of time so we didn’t need to go deep into the store to pick it up. That night, we had two more friends over for a games night. We were cautious in making sure none of them had traveled recently, but we still hugged and shook hands.
  • Sunday March 15: After reading a very impactful article (which I shared on Facebook) and talking about it with Amna, I decided I’d work from home starting Monday. We used Myron’s car to go to my office and move all of my computer equipment home. We went out for a scenic drive on Ottawa’s parkways but didn’t stop anywhere else. Myron left early afternoon and we hugged goodbye. That was the last person I’ve touched (other than Amna of course).
  • Monday March 16: My first day working remotely. Two of my coworkers still went to the office that day. I cancelled the work trip to Toronto on March 26 and refunded the train tickets I’d booked. A conference that a coworker was scheduled to attend on May 24 was cancelled. My sister Jackie returned that night from the Philippines.
  • Tuesday March 17: Ontario declares a state of emergency, closing schools and banning gatherings of greater than 50 people until March 31st.
  • Wednesday March 18: I received an email from Porter Airlines announcing they were shutting down and cancelling all flights until June 1st. This was the first response I’d seen from a company that extended beyond May.
  • Thursday March 19: Amna and I sent an email to our wedding guests letting them know we’re monitoring the situation and will contact them if anything changes with our wedding (scheduled for June 20).
  • Friday March 20: My first videoconference meeting since the outbreak. It was so nice to see the faces of my coworkers and clients!
  • Sunday March 22: I had my first ever “virtual coffee” with a woman named Cecil, who works in transportation in Gatineau. It was a nice reminder that there are still many ways to do what I like to do.
  • Monday March 23: My work day ended with a delightful Zoom “virtual happy hour” with my coworkers in Ottawa and Minneapolis.
  • Tuesday March 24: Amna and I lined up outside the grocery store at 8AM to avoid busy times. The store was controlling the number of people inside, only letting people in as others exited. Everything was in stock, except for toilet paper.
  • Wednesday March 25: I published a post on my professional blog about how COVID-19 has changed the face of transportation.
  • Friday March 27: My first self-organized virtual friend hangout, with Marie-Eve and Laura. We happily chatted for nearly two hours sharing all kinds of fun updates!
  • Saturday March 28: As of my writing of this post, Canada has 4,757 confirmed cases and the number has grown exponentially in the past two weeks.

Silver Linings

Even as I pull together this timeline of events, I still can’t believe how fast everything has unfolded. At times the heaviness of everything has been challenging, but I have much to be content with, and have actively sought out things that make me happy:

  • I’ve been more physically active than ever. Every day, I either go for a long run, bike ride, or walk. Each time, I make a point to explore a new part of the city, and I’ve been discovering so much that I didn’t know about Ottawa.
  • We rearranged our apartment to change up the scenery a bit. The new layout feels better than ever and has been a huge source of stability and comfort.
  • I’ve relished not being busy. Life moves so fast, and even though I thrive in that environment, it gets exhausting. Embracing the forced reality of not going out has allowed me to enjoy the small things in life, like curling up on the couch with a book in the afternoon sun.
  • I’ve connected with friends and family more than ever. The physical isolation has motivated me to take more effort getting in touch with friends and family, and I’ve had many rewarding chats and conversations over the last two weeks. We’ve found creative ways to be social, like surprising our nephew from the street while he plays guitar for us from his balcony.
  • We’ve been cooking up a storm! Not having to rush anywhere in the evenings means that even on weeknights, Amna and I have had time to cook extravagant meals including coconut curry, saag paneer, jambalaya, and latkes (pictured below).

More Unknowns

That said, I have many burning questions, which only time will bring an answer to:

  • Will we still be able to hold our wedding on June 20th?
  • Will we still get to go to Japan for our honeymoon in September?
  • Will work slow down or get busier?
  • When will I be able to visit my family next?
  • Can I still go camping this summer?
  • What will the next week even look like?

We shall see.

What are your silver linings of the past two weeks? Please share them in the comments below. Hope you’re all keeping happy, healthy, and safe.

2 thoughts on “Living Through COVID

  1. Great post Matt! I agree with trying to find a silver lining in these strange times. I’ve also enjoyed that Chris and I have time to create dinners together out of the items we had on hand and sit down to enjoy them nightly.

    Liked by 1 person

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