Wanderings – Two years after a pivot

It’s been two years since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Ontario, marking the beginning of the pandemic here. Rather than write some ominous recap of the past two year period, a colleague suggested that I write something different.

My reporting background is news and sports. That includes topics like municipal councils, provincial and federal politics, and other hard news items – plus sports. When I say sports, it means pretty much any activity, except for cup stacking: that’s not a sport!

Covering politics and sports is pretty much the same thing. Both are games. There are scores, winners and losers, and sometimes you even get a participation medal or a plum patronage appointment.

The pandemic arriving here two years ago didn’t change things at first. That happened mid-March when the locks were put on the doors of nearly everything. That meant pivoting – and not in a Ross Gellar way either.

I’ve always shied away from health reporting whenever possible. Now with the world locked down and the news focused on a largely unknown virus, I had to take crash courses in epidemiology, virology, and public health policy reporting. This was largely because half my reporting beat disappeared overnight.

Learning is a great thing. I enjoy learning new things all the time. My brain is full of useless trivia and facts, a never ending source of annoyances for family and friends to be sure. But covering an emerging pandemic is different for two reasons: the roller coaster of uncertainty; and the ever-moving goal posts. Both are linked.

How does one have hope that things are going to improve when new information moved the goal line every day – and in some cases several times per day? A couple weeks of lock downs and shutdowns became a couple months. One shutdown became two, then three, et cetera.

Writing about outbreaks, infections, and death associated with this has been like a heavy blanket pushing down on your soul. Anyone who’s said they haven’t struggled with their mental health in the past two years, I will call foul.

For someone used to reporting on winners and losers in games, the pandemic had a lot of losing and very little winning at the start. Now vaccines, medications, and other sciencey-stuff makes it seem like this is only an uphill battle now. Like how my favourite soccer club was down 3-2 and scored a tying goal with 15 seconds left in stoppage time. The tie game result that felt like the biggest win of the season.

Covering the pandemic two years in is depressing at times, but now also hopeful. Seeing science go from this mysterious and omnipotent virus right out of a Michael Crichton novel to several vaccines in under 12 months is simply amazing. Witnessing communities come together yet again to help others brings joy.

It’s still frustrating reporting about the pandemic, just as I am sure it is frustrating for people to read about it. Every new wave brings more goal post moving for data, reporting, and restrictions. How more small business owners haven’t waived the white flag and locked their doors forever, I don’t know.

My tolerance for political babblespeak has never been so low, as is my tolerance for indirect answers. In that way I guess switching from news and sports reporter to news and health reporter has sharpened my skills.

Still I look forward to the day when the words “pandemic” and “virus” no longer grace the printed pages of this – or any other – newspaper for two weeks in a row or more. That and the word “Corona” is only used in relation to the Mexican beer served with a slice of lime.