Pre-pandemic photos #1: What was in the tabloids

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Here’s a photo I snapped while buying groceries on Sunday, March 8th. Back then, COVID-19 numbers were still only in the double digits in North America. I would double-check the accuracy of the case numbers reported in the tabloid pictured above, but it’s in line with the number of cases in Toronto around that time (10 cases on March 2nd).

As of this writing, there are more than 1.5 million cases in the United States (4.5+ million worldwide), with just under 90,000 deaths in the U.S. (313,000 worldwide).


Eileen’s “Toronto Life” article: “Eileen deVilla is Not Freaking Out”

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Toronto Life’s June 2020 issue features a story on my sister titled Eileen de Villa Is Not Freaking Out. Regular readers of this blog will know that my sister Eileen is Toronto’s Medical Officer for Health, which means she oversees the public health agency for Canada’s largest city and economic capital.

FYI: For this of you who aren’t from Toronto, Toronto Life is a “city news and culture” magazine of the sort that all large cities have. Think of it as the Toronto analog of New York Magazine.

My brother-in-law Richard send me a scan of the article in this morning’s wee hours, and Toronto Life hasn’t published it online yet. I think it does a great job of explaining who she is and what she does. Author Katrina Onstad interviewed not just Eileen but a number of her friends and family, including me — in fact, as you’ll see later in this post, I may have contributed to the article’s title.

I’ll link to the Toronto Life article when it goes online, but in the meantime, here are a couple of snippets that I’ve transcribed for your reading pleasure.

During lockdown, I’ve found myself oddly compelled by de Villa’s daily press conferences. Perhaps it’s the scarf that rotated reliably every day. Perhaps it’s the unflinching scientific explanation of calamitous news, the soothing way she delivers her sensible pleas to physically distance and shelter at home, like a patient teacher leaving a pause for each student to mentally translate… before… moving… on. That nerdy, radiant patience is not just a counterintuitive response to the chaos, but something inborn.

De Villa took the top position at Toronto Public Health three years ago. It’s a gig that’s equal parts extremely important and extremely unglamorous. Her job is to persuade us that our lives are worth saving. Before COVID-19, she was in non-stop PSA mode, imparting the dangers of smoking, the need for vaccinations, the scourge of opioid-related deaths. Her drumbeat was steady: health status has little to do with health care and more to do with social determinants like education, housing, poverty. Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health, describes her as a rock. “But a human rock,” he clarifies. “Calm, steady, deeply compassionate. That said, science is what drives her policy recommendations.” But years of proselytizing isn’t what got her name on a T-shirt. Her 2018 TEDx talk on opioids (titled, now ironically, “The Defining Health Crisis of Our Time”) has only 4,300 views on YouTube.

Her low profile ended when the pandemic hit. She’s appeared on our screens almost daily, seated behind a blue-skirted table next to [Toronto Mayor John] Tory, in front of a row of flags, delivering alarming numbers about how many Torontonians are sick and dying. After reciting the numbers, she gently — very gently — asks us to do better, to be personally vigilant for the greater good. Clarity is her brand. Fine. We’ll take it. The calm is comforting; we hope that it’s infectious. The calm is why it’s charming and incongruous to see her doing live FaceTime chats with [Toronto Raptors player] Serge Ibaka, or starring in a mystery Twitter account called “Dr. de Villa’s Scarf” that tracks her daily scarf habit (@de_scarf).

Big point of information: Eileen was doing the scarf thing well before Dr. Deborah Birx.

My favorite part of the article is the one from which it gets its title:

…To someone whose feet tend to stop in a crisis, who seethes at injustice when put on hold for more than 10 minutes, de Villa’s constant unflappability is both admirable and perplexing. Refusing high drama is a family trait, according to de Villa’s brother. “There’s no freaking out,” Joey says. “I get annoyed when people lose their minds in a tough situation without trying to collect themselves first. She feels the same way. Any time she’s faced with a problem, she first takes everything in and goes, ‘What do we know about this? Let’s get another perspective on the situation.’”

He is describing the professional approach of both a good doctor and a good bureaucrat — which is, in effect, the job of the medical officer of health.

Nicely done, sis!


Make up your damned minds, finance pundits

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Guess what, everybody — we’re ruining the economy by saving too much. Or as it’s called now, “hoarding cash.”

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It wasn’t that long ago that the financial pundits were railing against Americans’ crazed-weasel-on-meth spending habits, pointing out that a significant chunk of the population would be in trouble if faced with a $400 emergency:

So which is it: Are we or aren’t we supposed to buy avocado toast to save the economy?


Spaceship You: Staying productive and healthy during lockdown

As a reader of this blog, you’ve probably seen a sci-fi movie where an astronaut must survive in space while cut off from humanity. You’ve probably wondered what you’d do in that situation. Wonder no more: You are in that movie.

To help you make it to the end of the movie, here’s CGP Grey’s helpful video guide to staying healthy, sane, and productive during quarantine — Spaceship You:

Here’s the premise of the video, captured in a couple of quotes from the first of its 11 minutes:

“The practical effect of this isolation on you is that your home is no longer your home, but has transformed into a vessel that along with many others, has left Earth to orbit around her — alone, together. Those remaining on Earth have their mission: to mitigate the dangers of the outside.”

“…you cannot just wait. Like those below, you above have things to do. Eventually, Earth will need people to return to help spin back up the wheels of the human world. Your mission: Return better than you left.

“To accomplish this, you must maintain the vessel. Welcome aboard Spaceship You.”

Image via GIPHY

“The core generator of spaceship you is your health, with two parts: the physical and the mental. For the ship to stay functional, this generator must spin.”

“Arriving in orbit, it starts with some momentum to keep things going at first to afford a little time to adjust. But as with all motion, the passive forces of the universe work to slow that which is active, to bring darkness, disorder.”

“The mental and physical are halves of a whole, so accelerating one accelerates the other. Each adds to the total momentum, making additional pushing easier, priming the core, creating motion, making light and order.”

Here are the video’s major points:

  1. Work on your physical health first, and your mental health will follow. While your physical health and mental health each affect the other, it’s easier to start by working on your physical health. The video makes good use of the “spinning core with a mental half and a physical half” metaphor with this line: “If the core is low, prime with the physical half. It has sturdier grips. The mental half, while vital for the higher operations of the ship, is a slipperier place to start.”
  2. Divide your physical space into four zones, each of which has a specific purpose:
    1. The exercise zone, which will vary according to your home’s layout, and if you have access to a “biosphere”. Exercise is not optional.
    2. The sleep zone. Get plenty of sleep, and maintain a consistent sleep and waking time, even if you don’t have a work schedule.
    3. The couch or recreation zone. You can also use this zone to communicate with friends and family. This zone has a tendency to expand; you’re going to have to keep an eye on this one.
    4. The creation zone: Where you do work, study, or practice skills.
  3. Observe zone hygiene. Use each zone for its intended purposes, and only those purposes. Don’t watch videos in the sleep zone; that’s what the couch zone is for. Don’t watch entertainment or eat in the creation zone. Don’t let the couch zone expand into other zones. Maintain the stations, and the stations will maintain you.

I’ll close with the video’s closing lines: “Keep the core spinning. Complete the mission. Come back better than before. See you on Earth, Captain.”


Just let the people decide! They know what’s best fo—



Never mind.


I think it’s a little early…


Don’t make me tap the sign!

Thanks to Michelle Gilmore Day for the find!