Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways

Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways

Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways

Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways

At first it was just another of the petty annoyances that come with owning a car. While I was driving along a back road in southern Ontario, the rubber belt on the car’s engine that drives the generator and water pump snapped, setting off alarm chimes and a stern dashboard display warning to pull over.

But then I remembered that we are not in normal times. The auto club was still dispatching tow trucks. But, quite rightly, I wouldn’t be allowed to hitch a ride in its cab from a remote rural crossroads where I was stranded to someplace offering rental cars and hotels.

Sorting out the situation would prove to be the first of many reminders that despite the ever-growing list of reopenings across Canada, much remains far from normal.

Even before I discovered that the auto club would take my car away but not me, it was obvious that the new programming varies even within a province. One company operates all the service centers along Ontario’s expressways, for instance, but only a few of them, apparently following local rules, had employees turning away customers without masks.

I peered down at one beach on Lake Erie where several large groups had gathered, flagrantly breaking several rules. Twenty kilometers down the shore, another beach was completely empty and condoned off like a accident site. The crowded beach has since been closed.

In the grand scale of things related to the coronavirus, my breakdown complications were less than trivial. No one in my family or in my circle has become infected. I’m not out of work, facing a pay cut or struggling to keep a small business afloat.

And while I am traveling a bit on assignment again, if with restrictions, my work can be done without the risks facing people in health care or the exposure to large numbers of people that retail workers encounter every day.

But breakdown night was certainly abnormal. My wife, who was just under five hours away at our cottage, headed out to retrieve me. The tow truck would have to wait until she arrived, otherwise I’d be sitting in a ditch with my belongings.

I passed some time booking a hotel room in a nearby city only to find that a remarkable number of them were closed.

A farmer passed by in a high-wheeled tractor used for spraying crops and then returned in a pickup truck to make sure I was fine. We agreed that I couldn’t go with him to his home and that nothing could be done for the car on the spot.

Around midnight, when my wife arrived, the car’s battery was exhausted but not the biting insects. When we went to the hotel I had booked, we found that staying in a hotel, normally a routine part of my work life, had changed.

  • Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


The bars and restaurants were dark. The parking garage under the large, high-rise structure suggested that there were only about half a dozen other guests. Most of its parking stalls were instead filled with pallets of new furniture and mattresses. Presumably the hotel is taking advantage of its extra high vacancy rate to refurbish rooms.

The next morning we learned that the car couldn’t be repaired until a part arrived in a couple of days. And my wife and I were heading in different directions. But renting a car, again another old routine, wasn’t easy.

Even though travel remains well down from normal, most rental outlets were sold out. So it was surprising to pull into the lot of the agency that could offer a car to find it packed with vehicles. The manager explained that he couldn’t rent most of them. The fleet service company that handles their maintenance was closed, he said, and the grounded cars were past their oil change intervals.

As summer goes on, the adjustments to routine will continue, and not just in Canada. Several of my colleagues have written an overview of how other countries plan to tweak reopening plans to keep the virus under control.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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