Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Timeline update

I have realized that there is a better source for Canadian COVID-19 confirmed case totals than the one I used in compiling my initial COVID-19 timeline (I used the Wayback Machine to consult the page each day when I should have simply consulted the cumulative total tables maintained here by the government of Canada.) This was boneheaded, given the fluidity of the situation, and I apologize for the mistake. I’ve updated the timeline and from now on, will wait for the final daily total before posting it.

The error caused me to under-report some of the daily Canadian totals. Please check it out to see the corrected numbers.

In other COVID-19 news, here’s a snapshot of testing to date as of 8:00 a.m. March 25, courtesy of the Globe and Mail:

COVID-19 testing Canada 25.03.2020

Source: Globe and Mail

And here’s the just-updated version as of 8:00 a.m. March 27:

COVID-19 testing Canada 27.03.2020

Source: Globe and Mail

 

File Under “Interesting”

Stained-glass window, McConnell Library, Sydney, Nova Scotia (Spectator photo)

Stained-glass window, McConnell Library, Sydney, Nova Scotia (Spectator photo)

This letter to the editor from Leo Curry (and family) that appeared in the Cape Breton Post on Thursday was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty dark week.

Curry, who owned and operated both the T.W. Curry Funeral Home in Sydney and the local ambulance service, makes the case for locating a new central library on George Street while simultaneously making the case for NOT putting the new central fire station there.

In a few short paragraphs, the letter makes the historical case (George Street, was once known as “the Grand Parade” and was intended to house civic buildings like the library); the arts case (locating the new fire station across from the HAT will deprive the theater of parking and “hamper the culture it is successfully bringing to our city”); and the practical case (fragmenting first responder staff over several locations is not a good idea.)

But the letter is much more than just a commentary — it’s a proposal.

Curry writes;

3.) Over the past 70 years, our family has acquired and consolidated five properties on this block – on the corner of George and Prince Streets.

We would be happy to donate this property as a partial site for the much-sought-after new library provided that:

a) The Cape Breton Regional Municipality reach a fair agreement and acquire the remaining two privately held properties on the block.

b) The entire block be used exclusively for the library, green area and parking purposes only.

That sounds like a promising idea to me.

And if you think I’m ignoring the probable effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the availability of funding for a new library, you’re right, for the moment I am. Although I would note the crisis is also likely to affect a private sector waterfront development scheme that hinges on convincing a hotel chain to expand and a casino to move.

And I would further note that we’re now witnessing just how quickly government can find money when it wants to find money. It’s a lesson we should remember when this storm has passed.

 

Dolly

Speaking of libraries, I’ve been receiving daily letters from fellow alumni of the University of King’s College’s Foundation Year Program each morning, a welcome distraction from COVID-19 news, and this morning’s was from a King’s student who went on to work for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Catriona Sturton, a musician who played bass for “Halifax teen-rockers Plumtree,” writes:

Dolly Parton is as wonderful, kind, funny, and smart as you imagine her, and then some. Her Imagination Library program mails a free book each month to children from the time they are born until they turn 5 years old and has mailed over 130 million books…

I ended up working for the Dollywood Foundation through a placement in a program called Artist in Community Education.

The Imagination Library is powered by “thousands of local organizations” who “raise millions of dollars every year,” according to a “Letter from Dolly,” and the program is available in Canada.

I included this item for three reasons:

  1. It has nothing to do with COVID-19
  2. Libraries
  3. Dolly

 

Local news

SaltWire, the stupidly named company that owns most of the daily newspapers in Atlantic Canada, has laid off 40% of its staff (including three newsroom employees at the Cape Breton Post) for up to 12 weeks.

President and CEO Mark Lever announced on Wednesday that the company was suspending production of all its weekly newspapers across Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia (including, presumably, SALT, the Halifax weekly that only launched a couple of weeks ago).

For the foreseeable future, SaltWire will publish only the St. John’s Telegram, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, the Post and the Charlottetown Guardian (which will be combined with the Journal Pioneer).

In the press release announcing the decision, Lever said:

The economic ripple effect of COVID-19 hit us faster and far more aggressively than we could have ever planned for or anticipated. Nearly half our total company revenue has evaporated in less than a week.

Let’s cut to the chase: what matters is not that Mark Lever’s dream of being a newspaper baron is over — I’ve long said he came to this game too late and his chances of becoming Lord Mark of Bust-Union were always slim.

What matters is that communities need local news and although I have been the first to criticize the Post for focusing too much on human interest and crime stories, I also give credit where credit is due — as it is this week to Post reporters Nikki Sullivan and Sharon Montgomery Dupe for their COVID-19 coverage.

Sullivan spoke to local cashiers who were being offered no protection at their registers (and were serving customers openly stating they’d just returned from outside the country and clearly not self-isolating).

Montgomery-Dupe spoke to a worker at the Concentrix call center in Glace Bay who is concerned the company is not taking proper precautions to keep employees safe as well as to an employee at Kent Building Supplies who said that company (owned by JD Irving) was still insisting on doctor’s notes for people told to self-isolate, even though the province has officially waived this requirement.

Both reporters noted that workers had been reaching out to them with their concerns — which is what people do when they have concerns and their employers and/or government are not responding.

But it only works when you have a local news outlet — the Globe and Mail is not going to investigate COVID-19 preparations at Sobeys’ stores in the CBRM.

My strong suspicion is that the SaltWire move is a journalistic Shock Doctrine moment — Lever using the excuse of the pandemic to do what he has probably been itching to do anyway. The proof will be in what happens after the pandemic has passed.

Me, I’d like to see a local newspaper owned and run by its employees, although today’s fiscal realities suggest this worker-owned newspaper would probably be online only — that’s not an effect of COVID-19, that’s just the digital world we now live in. Likewise, this paper would have to be supported by its readers, not its advertisers. I subscribe to the Post now, but I’d be even happier to do so if I thought the money were going straight to its local employee/owners (and then back into our community) rather than to Halifax.

It’s not hard to imagine what such a publication could look like — just think of LocalXpress, the online paper produced by striking Chronicle Herald workers a couple of years back. It was a great paper, reader supported, online only.

I get that running your own business is a scary prospect (believe me, I do) but could it be that much scarier than being employed at a legacy media outlet in 2020? Some of the reporters sent home in this recent round of lay-offs had been hired by SaltWire after being let go by other downsizing outlets, like CP.

You don’t have to be a futurist to see that things are going to be different after COVID-19 but different doesn’t have to mean worse.

 

Cuba & Canada

I found this episode of Jacobin Radio’s Behind the News podcast really interesting.

It consists of two separate interviews, the first with David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program and CUNY. Himmelstein explains “how US health policy” has brought that country “to this desperate pass,” and you discover that one reason is Americans’ inadequate spending on public health. Himmelstein compares his country unfavorably to ours in terms of the percentage of GDP spent on public health — we spend considerably more — which is particularly interesting to hear at a time when Canada’s chief medical officers are becoming minor celebrities. 

The second interview is with Helen Yaffe on “Cuban interferon and COVID-19, and the country’s biotech industry and health system.” The discussion is based on an article Yaffe published recently on the Yale University Press blog. and it gives you a fascinating glimpse into how Cuba has managed to punch above its weight in the pharmaceutical sector.