The Sunday Magazine·Personal Essay

A COVID-19 confinement chronicle: week 11 — Michael's essay

“Governments of every stripe have ignored conditions [in long-term care homes] for decades. Why do we as a society not care? How is it that Europeans are much better at taking care of their elderly than we are? Premier [Doug] Ford said he was accountable for the horror. He was wrong. We all are.”

Protests, protocols and precarious choices during a pandemic

On May 28, 2020, a third night of protests and violence continued in Minneapolis, Minn. after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in police custody. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)
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Its racial history haunts the United States in a relentless, agonizing cacophony of hate and destruction which seems never ending.

The pain of an interminable lockdown is nothing compared to the big city disturbances across that country this week in response to yet another killing of a helpless black man by a cop, this time in Minneapolis.

A police precinct was burned to the ground and in other cities fires were set, along with widespread looting.

To me, it brought back all the memories of the riots of 1968, 52 years ago this spring, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. I covered some of them as a print reporter and the memories are indelible.

It's worthwhile remembering that King had a clear idea of what urban rioting was all about.

He said: "The riots are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest."

We have to wonder that after more than 100,000 COVID dead, tens of millions of Americans out of work, a failing presidency and now this, how much more the United States can take.

A resident at Orchard Villa Care home in Pickering, Ont., receives a Mother's Day visit from her family, on Sunday, May 10, 2020. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

God, they're a royal pain, aren't they? Old people. They're cranky, they forget things, they complain all the time. Some of them have to wear bibs and diapers. Whatever they contributed to society ended a long time ago. They are such a drag.

So in Ontario, we put them in warehouses, with names like Whispering Pines Villa. We feed them stewed prunes and baby food, stick them in front of a TV set and give them a shot if they get ornery. So they may be four to a room with little privacy, but they should have thought of that and not got old.

Why do we as a society not care? How is it that Europeans are much better at taking care of their elderly than we are?- Michael Enright

The country knows by now what members of the military found while helping out in five nursing homes in the province. Cockroach infestations, terrible food, men and women crying in soiled diapers, COVID-19-infected residents mixing with the healthy, rotting food piled on trays.

All of which explains why more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in this country have occurred in nursing homes.

Premier Doug Ford, barely able to control himself, said he was shaken by "the worst report I have ever read."

There are 626 public and private nursing homes in Ontario. How many more have similar conditions? Governments of every stripe have ignored conditions for decades. Why do we as a society not care? How is it that Europeans are much better at taking care of their elderly than we are?

Premier Ford said he was accountable for the horror. He was wrong. We all are.

The City of Toronto has deployed more enforcement officers to Trinity Bellwoods Park after complaints of groups not following physical distancing rules. (Laura Howells/CBC)

The chat in all the media and around the virtual water cooler for much of the week was the egregious breach of pandemic protocol last weekend when thousands of people jammed, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a downtown Toronto park.

On the first hot, spring-turning-to-summer Saturday, the park filled, mostly with young people, celebrating the outside world.

Videos of the event flashed across social media. Outrage broke out in every quarter and lasted for days. The mayor, the police chief, pundits all fulminated in high dudgeon.

I thought one commentator on a right-wing, all-talk private radio station was dangerously close to having a stroke as he screamed his disgust. Cartoonists had a wonderful time.

Many were critical of the Toronto police for not breaking up the crowd and handing out social-distancing violation tickets.

Now, Toronto cops are notorious for breaking up public demonstrations, but in this case, they acted properly. Had the cops charged the crowd or started throwing people out of the park, many could have been seriously injured.

Yes, the crowds should not have poured into the park in a flagrant flouting of isolation regulations. On the other hand, many, perhaps hundreds, of these young people have been cooped up in tiny rooms or small apartments with no outside access for weeks.

With the first sign of gorgeous weather, what would you or I do? Probably head for some greenery. And as more commercial operations open their doors, more people will be out on the streets and in the parks.

Instead of raging about thoughtless young people, let the city officials open up more spaces and re-emphasize the rules in a publicity splurge.

We can rant and rage and lay blame, which of course, leads nowhere.

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