Canadians looked with disbelief and bewilderment at their social media feeds as scenes popped up of crowded beaches, bars, and other public areas in Florida.
How could this be so?
Even in late June, most Canadians were still slowly and cautiously easing their way into a post-lockdown pandemic world.
Not so it appeared in Florida, even though the state continued to see among the highest recorded cases of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States.
How safe would you feel living in the sunshine state?
Gwyn Tremblay wishes to present another side of the Florida COVID-19 story.
Tremblay, formerly of Regina, lives in the Tampa Bay area. Tremblay is the former Executive Director of Regina’s Sophia House, a facility that provides safe housing and support for families trying to escape violent homes.
While Tremblay is concerned about the COVID-19 cases, she urges Canadians to see the bigger Florida picture.
“People are actually being very respectful,” says Tremblay who moved to Florida with her husband two years ago.
Tremblay spoke to us on In Real Time with Costa Maragos. Upon our request, Tremblay recorded and shared her phone footage as she walked along the popular Madeira Beach (south of Tampa Bay) to make her point.
“There are people on the beach but they are spending quite a bit of time separated from each other. They (beachgoers) are all six feet apart. It is just the angle of the camera that just makes it like they are not,” says Tremblay who pointed out that the scene she recorded that day is a common occurrence at Madeira Beach.
It’s a similar story at one of Tremblay’s favourite bars in the Tampa area where her phone footage shows scenes much like you would see in Regina bars and restaurants these days – limited table seating, single-use condiments, staff in masks, and sanitizer solution stations everywhere.
This is not the image we have of Florida.
So what gives?
Tremblay talks about the calls of concern from Saskatchewan.
“A lot of family and friends that call me always ask me. Are you going to the beach? Are we being safe? People in Florida want to remain safe and want the numbers in Florida to stay low,” she says.
Tremblay figures Florida’s spike in COVID-19 numbers is due to in part to the excess number of visitors coming from New York and New Jersey areas as well as other parts of the US, after the inter-US travel restrictions were eased. It is also important to see where in Florida those COVID-19 cases are coming from.
Nearly half of the reported Florida COVID-19 cases are concentrated in three of the state’s counties including the highly populated Miami-Dade County.
“So everything that you can hear about or see, it’s just not reality down here. Being here in Florida has not been so bad,” says Tremblay.
Tremblay points out, she is being cautious.
“My husband and I are very, very careful. We social distance a lot. He works from home. We are very cautious. We get our groceries online. Go to certain places once a week just to get some social interaction and we have a close group of friends who regularly get tested,” she says.
Nik Lewis knows what it takes to play at a high level in the Canadian Football League.
Lewis, a Regina resident, played 15 years in the CFL. He won two Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders and retired in 2018 as the league’s all-time leading receiver. He grew up in Texas and was a college football all-star at Southern Arkansas University.
Lewis is a big fan of Canadian football but he’s not a fan of the rule that guarantees some starting jobs to Canadian-born players.
The rules now state that each CFL team must carry 20 Canadians and seven of them must be in the starting lineup, ensuring Canadian content.
“I think we should subtract the number of starting Canadians,” says Lewis who was interviewed on In Real Time. “We have to put into place where we’re competing at the highest level. If you look at the NFL and CFL there are about 22 or 23 hundred athletes. Should you be there because of your nationality? No. You should be there because you earned it.”
The CFL is in the midst of an identity crisis as it deals with the fallout of the cancelled season. Some supporters are advocating more Canadians be included in rosters with hopes such a move would engage more fans. But what would such a move do to the caliber of play?
Lewis makes it clear. He is not advocating a loss of Canadian jobs. He’s okay with having more Canadians on the team than Americans as is the case now.
“But when it comes to starters when a Canadian is better, start the Canadian,” says Lewis, who also served as an assistant coach with the BC Lions in 2019.
“We started nine (Canadians) last year for some games. We only had to start seven but we started nine. We started the best players that we could.”
Supply and Demand
That Canadian quota system, as Lewis points out, is also the cause of another inequity and that is the numbers on the pay cheque. Because of the Canadian content requirements, some Canadians who might be inferior players compared to their American teammates, are among the highest-paid players in the CFL.
It comes down to basic economics. There’s an oversupply of talented American players and an undersupply of decent Canadians.
“You are losing a lot of talent. When your sixth Canadian O-lineman makes $160,000 and he makes far more than half the other starters on the field and he plays 25 plays a game. You need him (the Canadian) because of the supply and demand,” says Lewis.
So does this make Lewis a pariah with his former Canadian football league teammates?
“I talk openly with them about it, and they believe the same thing, most of them. It’s about competition,” says Lewis. “This is not a volunteer sport. This is a competition sport. At the end of the day those Canadians still have jobs. We’re not cutting Canadian jobs. Canadians need the art of competition. I got my job each year because I earned it in training camp. Nobody gave me a job.”
Lewis says the caliber of Canadian university-trained players has improved since he entered the league. He says, however, that there’s a marked difference in talent level for the Canadians who compete in American college football programs versus those who have played for Canadian-based university teams.
“There are so many Canadians that are very talented but it takes away from them for the ones that say I don’t have to be a starter and I can still play 10 years and I never have to compete for my job,” says Lewis.
When asked how Canadian football fans might feel about his views, Lewis has this answer.
“Canadians hate when I say that,” says Lewis. “Here’s the thing. If the level of play goes down because you start more Canadians will you still support it? If we played Canadian football in the US (with an all-American roster) and we put it on TV you will still say that’s a Canadian football game. You’re not going to say we need Canadians to play that game. The game is entertaining. It’s exciting. It keeps you interested in all four quarters. Canadians should be proud of their game and they should be proud of their heritage. But at the end of the day as a competitor, I want to compete against the best. I don’t want to compete against you if you didn’t earn your spot.
Giving back to the community
Tough love? Perhaps. But Lewis is far from an armchair quarterback when it comes to giving back to the Canadian game.
We found Lewis one hot Saturday afternoon at a field in North Regina, working out three members of the Saskatchewan Selects football team who traveled from Estevan and Weyburn. Lewis provides training and mentorship for young players of all levels.
“I love working with kids and just being a part of their journey and remove a couple of hurdles along the way,” says Lewis.
The training is working. Lewis can boast of at least three players he has trained that are now competing in high-level football programs at US-based colleges in Alabama, Utah and North Dakota.
Lewis might not agree with the CFL’s quota system but he is doing what he can to improve Canadian talent.
“Don’t’ hate me,” says Lewis. “I want to make the Canadians better so we can compete at the highest level.”
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“No magic answer” says educator as schools set to resume classes amid COVID concerns.
Bob Kowalchuk, thought he saw it all in education until the pandemic hit.
Kowalchuk, a longtime educator in Saskatchewan and a member of the Regina’s Catholic School Board, has been grappling with the Board’s back to school plans.
Parents, students, teachers, support staff and others have expressed great concern about the potential for the spread of COVID-19 when classes resume Sept. 8.
The potential is real with students studying in tightly packed schoolrooms or wandering in crowded school hallways.
“We’re really dealing with peoples’ fears and concerns about how we are going to be able to create a safe enough environment where we can mitigate the amount of risk that kids have and staff have and create a place where people can be comfortable to get back to work,” says Kowalchuk who was interviewed on In Real Time.
For more than 30 years, Kowalchuk has worked in various capacities in education. He was a teacher, vice-principal, principal, Superintendent of the School Board, and Director of Education with the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council.
Kowalchuk has been checking out the back to school concerns on social media expressed by parents, teachers and students.
“I think a lot of people are looking at Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, (and) other places that are posting lots of the horror stories,” says Kowalchuk. “But people need to remember that the king of transmission here is the community. If we can control COVID at the community level and managing it at the community level, then we certainly can create environments that are safe enough in our schools.”
The province has left it up to individual school districts to come up with a plan that works for them.
Students in Grades 4 to 12 attending the Catholic school system in Regina will be required to wear masks where social distancing is not possible. Other measures include increased cleaning and disinfecting in schools. Hand hygiene stations will be placed at major school entrances and in each classroom.
More details are to be released August 26.
“I don’t think there is a magic answer for any one family out there,” says Kowalchuk. “Families are going to have to decide what’s in their best interests for their own selves and their children and do what they can. School boards are trying to do their very best to offer the greatest amount of options for parents that they’re to be able to stay connected and have their children complete their education.”
Former Reginan bracing for third wave of COVID-19 in Hong Kong
The fear is out there.
Will Saskatchewan be struck with the so-called second wave of the COVID-19 virus now that restrictions have been eased?
The second wave is old news to people living in Hong Kong, now mired in the virus’ third wave.
Sonya Yong, who grew up in Saskatchewan, is a grade-school teacher in Honk Kong where she lives with her husband Ben and their two young children.
“It has been quite challenging, to say the least,” says Yong. “We’ve had coronavirus since February. Of course, it is a very scary situation.”
Scary considering the virus has the potential to easily spread in Hong Kong, a densely populated area.
“The government and the health department, they’re doing everything they can to keep Hong Kong people safe,” says Yong. “There are over 7 million people in Hong Kong and we’re very densely populated so you need to put in restrictions to help to encourage and remind people, or even enforce people to socially distance and ultimately to keep as many Hong Kong people negative.”
Yong feels the government’s proactive approach has worked, starting with people buying in to the idea of wearing masks in public.
“From the very beginning in February, I think people in Hong Kong have done a really really fantastic job in wearing masks,” says Yong. “I know that when it first started people around the world were thinking, wearing masks? That’s kind of silly. Why are you doing that? Because of that, the numbers have been able to stay relatively low here in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong area has about 4700 reported cases of COVID-19. Seventy-seven people have died of COVID-related illnesses.
To keep a cap on virus cases the government recently limited public gatherings to two people.
Yong has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years. She was born in Biggar, SK and attended elementary school at Regina’s Ethel Milliken School and Campbell Collegiate. She has earned degrees at Montreal’s McGill University and Hong Kong University.
She is a grade-school teacher in Hong Kong.
‘We just started our school year again and sadly for us, we are starting online again. So that has definitely had a huge impact on our well-being but we are trying to be positive and we know that it is for the health of ourselves and our community,” says Yong.
Along with the COVID-19 stresses, people in Hong Kong have endured other major issues. The city has been the scene of tense pro-democracy protests as China casts its shadow over Hong Kong.
“I love Hong Kong. I love Hong Kong people,” says Yong. “I think with all the pro-democracy demonstrations that are going on politically we just have to be very wary of what we’re saying, what we’re posting on social media and remain neutral. Of course, we worry about what the future of Hong Kong might look like. But we just have to wait and see.”
As concerning as the spread of COVID-19 is to people in Saskatchewan, it pales in comparison to those living in one of the world’s hardest hit areas of the pandemic.
Marlies Weiss, formerly of Regina, is a sixth year medical student in Lima, Peru.
People in Peru have been hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 including the country’s medical system.
“Right now we’re at a point where both public and private systems are almost collapsed. There are very few hospital beds available and a smaller amount of ICU beds available. So the situation is quite critical,” says Weiss who will soon complete her medical studies at Universidad Peruana Cayetana Heredia, a top medical University in Peru.
Weiss graduated from the University of Regina earning degrees in Anthropology and Economics. She moved to Peru where she has family.
There are nearly 600,000 cases of reported COVID-19 cases in Peru, the sixth highest in the world. Nearly 28,000 people have died from COVID-19 related causes.
From around mid-March, Peru imposed amongst the strictest measures in South America to limit the spread of the virus. The plan appeared to be succeeding at first but as the country inevitably eased the restrictions, the covid numbers rose significantly.
“It’s difficult. There are social and economic issues that existed before the pandemic,” says Weiss. “A lot of people have to live the day to day. So while the government tries to keep everyone in their houses, a lot of people can’t afford to stay in their houses because they have to eat. And a lot of people also don’t have refrigerators. Only about 20 per cent of our population has refrigerators so they can’t stock up either. So while the government tried to keep these strict measures in force it’s difficult for a large part of the population to actually follow them.”
It appears few people in Peru have been spared of the virus either directly or indirectly. That includes Weiss who lost two of her teachers to the virus.
“It’s very unfortunate what’s happening in the country. The amount of people who are dying,” she says.
Weiss maintains strong connections with her Regina roots where her father and brother still live.
“Regina is a place that is in my heart and always will be. I’m glad that the numbers are low,” she says.