/This is fine

This is fine

By Sue Tiffin

A rather ubiquitous internet meme shows a few panels of a 2013 webcomic from KC Green called “On Fire.” The first panel shows a dog sitting at a table with a cup of coffee, flames engulfing the room around the table, and smoke billowing across the ceiling. In the second panel, a speech bubble has the dog reassuring itself, saying, “This is fine.”

It’s generally shared when people are trying to express the feeling of being overwhelmed but pretending everything is OK, and has been used frequently throughout the pandemic to mock government decisions that loosen restrictions (or “protections,” as some have started to call them) even in the midst of a COVID-19 surge. And that has happened, repeatedly, so that every time we almost seem to be clawing our way out of a wave, we get knocked back down by leaders too abruptly dropping what was working without always having the necessary data to support those decisions. See Waves 1 through 5, Ontario. 

It’s one of the reasons the government’s announcement to drop mask mandates (pour gasoline), directly after March Break when free time has allowed for travel (strike match), after very recently lifting vaccine mandates and before kids under five even have access to vaccines (drop match) while the Ontario science advisory table warns of an uptick in wastewater data and the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant becomes dominant (pour coffee) is so frustrating. That mandates are still in place on public transit, in long-term care and retirement homes, congregate care and living settings, shelters and jails but not schools – is nonsensical. 

While mask wearing is now considered a personal choice, teachers at their place of work don’t have the same choice to avoid a crowd of unmasked people in a small space, nor do employees of private businesses, nor do students. Not all immunocompromised kids – or teachers – have a safe space now to attend public school leaving parents having to make unfair decisions. 

While some people will choose to go to the grocery store without a mask on, that makes public spaces for those most protected with bidirectional masking less safe, less able to access that store where people aren’t making an effort to protect each other. 

Ontario has come to a place where it can now manage the virus, is the messaging. But the province cannot even manage adequate testing for the virus, which has been unavailable to most people since the Omicron surge began at the beginning of the year. Individuals should weigh their own risk, say the health experts, but the data is unavailable for informed choices (the science advisory tables say daily infections are likely between 15,000 and 20,000.) We’re still not hearing enough about the effects of Long COVID, or even that COVID is airborne. 

We can learn to live with COVID, and that could include wearing masks for some time – they’re not so uncommon in other places of the world where people mask up when they’re sick or to avoid pollution. Doing so is one of the more sustainable measures we have – if wearing a mask keeps others safe, keeps ourselves safe, prevents the yo-yo’ing of lockdowns or major precautions, we can live with COVID without it being so disruptive. 

Masking really should be one of the last things we have left. Now that it’s not something we’re all doing for each other, it feels like we’re left drinking coffee – or perhaps a $1 beer – in a room that’s on fire.