By Toni Grewal, BCTF Health and Safety Officer
February 5, 2020: Two cases of COVID-19 reported in BC
This was the last time I was at YVR. I recall seeing a few travellers and even staff at departure gates wearing disposable masks. Just a usual weekday morning, the airport was awake but not bustling. I got on the Skytrain and went straight to the office. At that moment, I had no idea how COVID-19 would transform our work, our lives, and the world.
March 11, 2020: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic
The whole world had been anticipating the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement for days, holding our collective breath. After the exhale, the uncertainty and fear started to set in. What now? What next? I felt this sudden need to learn as much as I could, to become a pseudo-expert, an armchair epidemiologist. But even the omniscient internet was limited; the coronavirus was too novel to be easily characterized. Like others employed in health and safety, my work would be swiftly engulfed by the pandemic.
September 10, 2020: Schools reopen with students and staff on site
September was a blur of activity and anxiety. All the planning and preparation could not prevent the multitude of health and safety challenges that erupted in schools around the province. There were issues with ventilation, access to barriers, composition of cohorts, availability of masks, physical distancing, health and safety committees, and cleaning and disinfecting. Alas, schools are not factories, students are not robots, and teachers are not automatons. Teaching centres on communication, collaboration, and connection; all of which were jeopardized because of COVID-19. Even with the barrage of health and safety concerns surfacing in schools, our members worked diligently to support students; they laboured tirelessly as union reps, leaders, and committee members; they advocated fiercely for health and safety prevention.
November 13, 2020: Surrey has the most COVID-19 cases
As a resident of the Fraser Health region, my reaction to this statistic was visceral. In the fall there had been school exposures, which led to school closures and members having to self-isolate. The daily case count was increasing, hospitalizations were not decreasing. Tragically, COVID-19 continued to claim lives in our province and across the country. For me there was no diversion or distraction to shake of the disconnectedness, to stave off the November doldrums. Speaking with members on the phone, I would get a glimpse of how they managed to stay safe, maintain physical distancing while still teaching the diverse learners in their classrooms, gyms, computer labs, music rooms, etc. These conversations were often filled with a range of emotions. Their day-to-day work was different, harder, exhausting, and riddled with ongoing health and safety issues that could not be resolved quickly.
January 14, 2021: The first variant case in BC
Although the arrival of this South African variant was unsurprising, it was still alarming because it was more infectious. How would the symptoms differ? Who would be more susceptible? Could you still contract it if you had already had COVID-19? So many questions with no ready-made answers. Also, I was hearing more and more from local presidents about how teaching during a pandemic was affecting the mental well-being of their members. There is no PPE for our mental health.
March 11, 2021: The one-year milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic
People have talked of and shared their “pandemic lessons.” For me, the most valuable lesson has been the importance of compassion. I learned how to be compassionate from the two greatest influences in my life: my parents and my teachers. Our members have had to adjust, adapt, and work incredibly hard during this tumultuous school year. I remain in constant awe of our members: their patience, flexibility, creativity, resiliency— and their compassion. In the post-COVID world, our lives may not revert to the same “normal” we once knew. Nevertheless, with the arrival of vaccines, I believe we are slowly heading toward better days. Hope is in the air.