Do you remember when this year began? Even the number, twenty-twenty, seemed perfect. After 2019, so many of us were looking forward to this year with a great degree of optimism. We had goals – plans for our businesses, travels, and our personal lives. Little did we realize that one of humanity’s greatest health challenges lay on the horizon.
During the winter of 2019, the coronavirus began appearing in the news. It started as a concern on other continents, which left many North Americans distancing themselves from the notion of its impending reality.
Eventually, though, the chatter surrounding the virus grew louder and louder, until this March, when COVID-19’s grip took hold of the Western Hemisphere. Although the elderly and those with underlying health issues were most vulnerable, we began to see that regarding both carriers and victims, COVID does not discriminate. We learned that virtually every form of group activity was potentially hazardous, including things many take for granted–such as being in the workplace or simply visiting a restaurant. No industry was left untouched, and it managed to take many by surprise.
In April 2020, a national project started to visually document the transformative time during the pandemic. Canada Covid Portrait is a project that allows the collection of photographs from Canadians to show how they are living through these challenging times. Whether it’s through sports, culture, work, leisure, and other life moments, the project is supposed to capture the ingenuity, kindness, grief, hope that has come out of the pandemic. The images are shared throughout Canada to visually document what is going on now and show us what may lie ahead in the future.
Renowned celebrity photographer George Pimentel learned about this project and wanted to get involved. “I had no understanding of what this pandemic was all about. I found out that I had distant relatives who passed away from the Spanish flu in 1918. So I thought the best way to learn was to research and study photos from that time as I stared at the vintage photos of people wearing masks in despair. I felt it was important that this pandemic should be documented for historical purposes.”
You don’t have to be a professional photographer for your work to be shared. Canada Covid Portrait’s focus is on Canadians’ story as people who each, in their way, are dealing with the COVID crisis. “I believe Covid has brought people to reflect on their lives more. I think it’s a great time to be creative. Anybody could do this, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer. We’ve had submissions from Amateurs to professionals. Each with a story to tell,” says Pimentel.
Viewing some very impacting images on the @canadacovidproject Instagram account, it offers the public an important record of how their fellow Canadians adapt to this new way of life. Eventually, Pimentel hopes to preserve the submitted photos as an archive of the many ways that people have dealt with our new reality.” It is amazing to see everyone’s different perspectives. The images clearly show how people are surviving and adapting their lives and creating new norms.” Pimentel is helping to work on showcasing some of the photo submissions through an outdoor exhibition. He also hopes to see a coffee table book one day of the Canada Covid Portrait project.
While photos provide a glimpse into the lives of Canadians who are supporting each other during this difficult time, it’s hard not to think of those who have been taking precautions from the beginning of this crisis. When you turn on the news and see people flouting restrictions or the number of COVID cases surging, it can be difficult not to be discouraged.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease expert and Associate Professor at McMaster University, recognizes the toll that circumstances have on the public. “I think the collective Canadian population has been very diligent with adhering to the rules and supporting each other – but with every day that moves forward, there is growing fatigue around things.”
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health, knows that so many of us have been doing our best to protect ourselves – and each other. “I see so many people who understand we are all the most powerful weapons in the fight against COVID-19. It’s as simple as this: the virus needs to move from one person to another to keep replicating.” She understands the need for patience, stating that “with sustained commitment, the infection rate will drop.”
It can be very tempting to maintain close physical contact with loved ones, despite medical experts’ advice. However, de Villa cautions the public: “We need to think about what we’re doing, the risks of our actions, and if they’re worth it. That’s a decision only you can make for yourself, but I urge you to think through these decisions in the context of what’s important to you, rather than just take your chances with your own health or anyone else’s.”
Dr. Chagla also realizes that the power to determine the level of devastation experienced due to COVID-19 lies with the people. “We really need to be thinking about our day to day activity – and what is essential, who is vulnerable, and how we can mitigate risk,” he explains.
In an attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy and structure within our daily lives, it is important not to abandon all of our old habits. We need to alter them. For example, people might want to consider maintaining their health and fitness routines. If individuals can’t get to a gym, they can remain active at home or outdoors.
So what of the future? What’s ahead for us in terms of combating the coronavirus?
Dr. Chagla notes that medical experts cannot definitively pinpoint when the virus ends. He also points out that, “We also don’t know the long term impact of disease in some survivors – like autoimmune complications or the long hauler syndrome.”
Canadians have the resources and expert knowledge of how the coronavirus operates; however, it is important to remember that it is in our hands to control the virus’s spread. A great deal of personal sacrifice is required to survive COVID-19. Dr. de Villa elaborates. “We aren’t powerless here.” She remains straightforward about the factors involved in the spread of this illness. “The scientific evidence shows that the only way we will minimize our risk and reduce virus spread is if we all keep following the three steps of self-protection in public settings: watch your distance, wear your mask, and wash your hands. She underlines the importance of Canada Health guidelines by “watching your distance, limiting contact with those outside your household, and staying at home when you are sick.”
“The choices we make now will determine whether the spread of COVID-19 is going to get worse or going to get better,” says Dr. de Villa. The coronavirus is a new challenge, yet with diligence and patience, we can, undoubtedly, survive it. Although we are not magicians, to a monumental degree, the ability to conquer this pandemic is very much in our hands. If there’s one positive thing throughout this experience, there is more awareness now more than ever when it comes to being proactive with our health. We need to pay more attention. What has happened now to what lies ahead is a great testament that what we do every day can have a lasting impact on our future.