Something From Everything  

The problem 'over there'

I’ve been frowning at red licence plates for weeks. 

This would likely be true at the beginning of any summer season as Albertan vehicles crowd suddenly congested highways, beach parking spots and campsites. Glowering at Alberta licence plates seems to be a favourite seasonal pastime among Okanagan residents.

And I have to admit, despite coming from the land of red plates myself, I’m scowling, too. 

This year, we might have good reason to scowl. While British Columbia might have started with a significant outbreak of COVID-19 cases, it is Alberta that has been the black sheep of Western provinces.

As British Columbia’s numbers of new infections continued to steady or decline, Alberta continued to report multiple exposures in care homes in Calgary, multiple meat processing plants in southern Alberta, and, most recently, a significant outbreak at a hospital in Edmonton.

Despite similar populations, Alberta’s infection numbers are more than double B.C.’s.

It has been easy to feel a little smug about those numbers, especially if you live in the interior of British Columbia. For weeks, we sat at a comfortable one to two active cases across the entire region, exact location of infections unknown.

Those paltry numbers, and the wide region they existed within, were just enough to feel that our communities were once again safe. Safe enough for us to regain some security in seeing our friends again, sitting down on a sunny restaurant patio again, and beginning to return to a normal life. 

In those weeks, (if we were talking about it at all) we were talking about the virus elsewhere. Either in the future (the dreaded phase 2), or the problem “over there.”

  • For those in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland
  • For those in Alberta
  • For those in Ontario and Quebec.
  • For those in the United States. 

All of that was shattered recently when it was revealed that a number of private Canada Day parties had resulted in new and spreading outbreaks within my home city of Kelowna.

Suddenly, the problem “over there” came here. Future problems became present. Someone else’s problem became ours. And when six of the eight people first identified as infected turned out to be non-Okanagan residents (including those from the Lower Mainland and Alberta), we knew exactly who to scowl at. 

But that’s not entirely correct, is it?

Our current outbreak is not due entirely to foreign, malicious forces descending on our sleepy, COVID-free town and region, is it? Careless intruders that come to our region, spread their virus and leave?

Certainly, much has been said about the conditions where these outbreaks occurred: large groups of people indoors, mixed groups of friends and strangers, people moving between tables in restaurants.

Inadequate physical distancing and mask use. But these conditions existed elsewhere on Canada Day, and on plenty of days before and since.

It continues even now.

We shouldn’t be surprised that outsiders would be a focus of this outbreak (or any outbreak). Our freedom, our security and our health is once again threatened, and that fear and anger has to go somewhere.

That’s how blame works. It always gives us only part of the picture. Our local businesses, restaurants, hotels and tourism rely on revenue from outside our region.

We may sneer at sudden influx in tourists, but we also need them. And are we faultless in the spread of these infections? Mask use in enclosed spaces still remains surprisingly low.

Physical distancing and small social bubbles are still being ignored. Why? Perhaps because we have believed it a problem “over there." Someone else’s problem.

A great illustration of this idea is our view of the current spread of the Coronavirus in the United States. Like so many of us, I have been watching the explosive spread with a detached and morbid fascination.

As I write this, Florida is surpassing  more than 11,000 new cases a day. Texas is not far behind that. Yesterday — at least yesterday as I write this — the United States added more than 71,000 new cases (and that number will certainly be out-dated by the time you read these words.

These numbers should terrify me. They do terrify me. But too often I look at them as if they are happening to some far away, disconnected place. As if I didn’t live two hours away from Washington State. As if the Canada-U.S. border would never reopen.

One Twitter user, @ericonederful, suggested that “The rest of the world is watching America like America watched Tiger King,” but I prefer @stevieoakley’s take: “I bet Canada feels like they live in the Apartment above a Meth Lab right about now."

The truth is, whether we are talking about the exponential rise of cases in the United States, or local outbreaks in the lower mainland, Calgary, or Edmonton, we are all far too interconnected for us to think of this as a problem “over there." To think of this as someone else’s problem.

I understand the function of compartmentalizing our threats, I really do. It’s hard to live in the shadow of an ever present threat. But thinking of this virus as someone else’s problem, or a problem for “over there” is both lazy and dangerous.

We are more intelligent than that.

At best, we have always been a short drive, a plane’s landing, a private indoor party away from a new outbreak in our region. It doesn’t mean we need to attempt to cut all ties and live in fearful isolation. But it does mean that we need to live with a constant awareness of the fragility of our community’s health.  

One of the many lessons this pandemic is teaching us is that there is no such thing as a disconnected world. Even with many restrictions and recommendations in place, we are still in partnership with so many.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, we are all connected. These may not have been the vows we have taken with people we have never met, living provinces, states, or countries away, but it is no less true.

The problem can never really be just “over there." Someone else’s problem.

It is our problem now.

Really, it always was.


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About the Author


Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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