On March 11, when the WHO proclaimed that COVID-19 was a pandemic, I was working in Nova Scotia. We had planned to work with veterinary clinics to run seminars for dairy farmers all week. We still had two days left. We wondered if we should go ahead with the last two seminars. We were advised that the risk from small gatherings was low enough that we could proceed. People were talking about what the ‘pandemic’ designation would mean to our everyday lives but nobody even imagined the changes we now accept.
My work life involves (involved!) flying somewhere almost every week. Between January 1 and March 9, I’d been in four provinces and three countries. I had noticed that some flight attendants had started to wear gloves and even masks. When I flew back to Toronto on March 13, it became obvious that much more had changed since I’d flown away from Toronto on the 9. On the 13, the airports in both Halifax and Toronto were pretty much empty, surprising because the 13th was the start of the school March break in Ontario. Once I was on the plane, the difference that a week makes was even more apparent. A lot of the other passengers were wiping their seat rests, tray tables and other contact surfaces with what smelled like alcohol — we’d all become more familiar with that smell. I hadn’t come prepared to sanitize my surroundings and was a little unsettled that my fellow passengers were sufficiently concerned to have thought that far ahead.
Anyway, I made it home safely. In the next few weeks, a couple of the dairy farmers who had attended the meetings in Nova Scotia contacted me to enquire about my health, which, so far, has been fine.
By March 17 my company had mandated a ‘work at home’ policy. So no more flying and no more vehicle travel either. No overnight stays away from home for business. That’s a big change since I would normally spend 75 to 100 nights in hotels each year.
The rest of my spring was supposed to be just like other years. In addition to my regular in-Canada travel, I had committed to make 4 presentations at conferences in Canada and in 2 other countries between March and mid-June, Those events were either canceled or rescheduled for 2021. I was thankful because both of those countries had struggled to deal with their first wave of Covid. Who really wanted to take the risk of all the uncontrolled contacts that goes with air travel and who would want to run the risk that you might not even be allowed to return to Canada. All my travel in Canada was canceled too. I’d normally visit most of the provinces at least twice each year.
I had planned to start a research trial in one of the Prairie provinces. This trial was originally planned for 2019 but we had to postpone it at the last minute. We had worked out the final details to start in late May, 2020 but, of course, that would not happen either. We’re going to give it another try in 2021.
Those are big changes for my personal and work lives. This is the longest time that I have been continuously at home since 1992 – no airports, no planes, no hotel rooms, no restaurant meals, no rental cars – I could get used to all that. Sitting in front of a computer screen and the onslaught of online meetings is a lot more difficult to get used to though.
There have been big changes for all of us including farmers, farm families and all those who work to make sure we have food to nourish us. I think that it is easy to take the essentials of our lives a bit for granted or to not even think about it very much at all. Our food production and distribution systems have become so efficient that almost any food seems to be available and relatively easy to get. Covid showed us how much we had taken that for granted.
Our family likes to support local farmers but even that became more difficult because all of the farm markets were closed. We did manage to work out a way to buy directly from some of our local farmers – we knew that they relied on that income and we didn’t want them to run the risk of having to destroy perfectly good food because they hadn’t been able to sell it.
I am hoping that lessons we have all learned about the systems that feed us and keep us healthy will stay with us because this is not over yet. We’re going to need to continue to rely on each other. Be kind and be well, everyone.
Dr. Robert Tremblay is a veterinarian for Boehringer-Ingelheim and lives near Guelph.