From COVID-19 chaos to an American town wanting to sell itself to Canada, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week on thestar.com.
Want to dive into more long features? Sign up for the Weekend Long Reads newsletter to get them delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning.
1. COVID-19 testing ‘disaster’ leaves trail of frustration in city’s hard-hit northwest corner
A new satellite COVID-19 testing site that was intended to increase access for those who need it most is deepening frustrations in Toronto’s hard-hit northwest corner, amid a “testing mess” that has left more than 125 patients waiting — in some cases for over two weeks — for results.
York South-Weston MPP Faisal Hassan, who fought for months to bring the assessment centre to Humber River Hospital’s Church Street site, said the testing delays are a “disaster” in a community with disproportionately high COVID rates, where many residents are front-line workers unable to work from home.
“This is a complete failure of the government’s leadership here in our community,” Hassan said. “They have been far too slow to address the COVID crisis in our community. Once again, we are being neglected. We are putting more lives at risk.”
2. COVID-19 had a devastating effect on the quality of life of nursing home residents. We may never know how much because some homes hit pause on assessing it
In the middle of the spring long-term-care lockdown, 87-year-old Devora Greenspon likened loneliness to a pain in her heart.
Now, with fresh outbreaks of COVID-19 among 216 residents in 86 Ontario nursing homes, Greenspon is girding for the isolation of a second wave.
“Being alone in one room every day almost made me crazy,” she said in a written statement to the government-created Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.
Greenspon speaks for many residents who survived the nursing home lockdown but grew depressed or, after months alone, lost the ability to walk, eat or even coherently speak.
3. No mandatory masks and they get Halloween. Why B.C. took a less top-down approach to its COVID-19 fight
Despite facing a second wave, B.C. has so far been less hard-hit that some other jurisdictions in Canada. Some of it is luck, but much of it has been a deliberate effort to keep the outbreak burning low and slow, without too many restrictions on communities.
Both of these elements — keeping cases low, and keeping restrictions low — have been crucial to the province’s plan.
“Our preference is not for a lot of top-down, draconian rules,” said Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health’s chief medical health officer, speaking of B.C.’s approach to the virus.
“If you have too many top-down orders, people will go underground. They aren’t going to be as compliant.”
4. Should Canada buy this American community? Cut off by COVID-19, some in Point Roberts say it’s time for a change
About 45 minutes south of downtown Vancouver, the border community of Point Roberts, Wash., beckons urban dwellers with its no-Starbucks, no-traffic lights, small-town charm, not to mention its cheap gas, bargain real estate prices and knockout sunsets.
What truly puts Point Roberts — affectionately called “The Point” by locals — on the map is that it is a cartographic anomaly. Dangling south of the 49th parallel and surrounded by water on three sides, the 12-square-kilometre peninsula is an “exclave.” Its 1,300 full-time residents can only get to the U.S. mainland by car, passing through B.C. and across two international checkpoints.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Severe border restrictions have essentially choked off Point Roberts, turning it into a “ghost town.” Businesses that depend heavily on Canadian visitors are struggling. More than a handful of Point Roberts parents whose children attend schools in B.C. had to make the gruelling decision to put up their kids in homes on the Canadian side of the border.
5. Prescription for ‘remarkable chaos’? Doctors question costs and details of Ontario’s move to asymptomatic COVID testing in pharmacies
Three weeks since Ontario pharmacies started testing for COVID-19, doctors are questioning the costs of a “problematic” program they say was introduced with little transparency and ill-prepared to meet soaring demand.
Select pharmacies across the province started doing asymptomatic COVID testing Sept. 25, and Premier Doug Ford has touted the new system as a way to “help expand testing to more people.”
But some symptom-free people who need testing — like essential caregivers with loved ones in nursing homes — say it’s still taking hours or even days of effort to find a nearby appointment, only now they’re calling multiple drugstores instead of testing centres.
And physicians are raising concerns over the safety and cost of Ontario’s pharmacy testing plan, which is shipping specimens to labs in the United States and reimbursing pharmacists at least $42 per test — more than what doctors and COVID assessment centres are getting per swab, according to several physicians.
6. The Chicago Blackhawks have announced they’re rebuilding, and captain Jonathan Toews was the last to know
If you’re Jonathan Toews, this is the cruel reality of living out your days as a Chicago sporting great, writes Star sports columnist Dave Feschuk. You can be a living legend, the captain of three Stanley Cup winners, a veritable bronze statue in waiting, and no doubt the owner of a sweater that will ascend to the United Center rafters not long after you last take it off.
And for all that, you can also be blindsided by your franchise’s change in direction.
Maybe it’s just an odd miscommunication going on in the Windy City.
7. ‘No escape.’ With COVID-19 in the shadows, why seasonal depression could be worse than ever this year
Natalie Montgomerie already knows what it’s like to live through seasonal depression during a global pandemic.
Her symptoms, which usually begin as days get shorter in November and last until March, lingered this year all the way into the summer months. It’s unusual for her seasonal depression to last that long, but the pandemic-mandated lockdown upended her routine and offered her little in the way of relief.
“COVID-19 made it a lot worse,” Montgomerie said.
Now that winter is approaching, Montgomerie is bracing for the return of her seasonal depression symptoms. But this time, she knows getting through the next few months will be an even harder battle.
8. Canadian Forces investigates after mystery man in secret recording claims to be a soldier — and a neo-Nazi
The Canadian Armed Forces has launched an internal probe into suggestions that one of its members belongs to a neo-Nazi extremist group and attempted to join militant white supremacists in the U.S.
In leaked audio recordings obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the unidentified man — who goes by the name “Dakov” — claims to be in combat training with the Canadian Forces while belonging to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. A transcript of the audio, which is included in the centre’s Sounds Like Hate podcast, was shared exclusively with the Star.
“We are certainly concerned by this serious allegation,” wrote Daniel Le Bouthillier, the head of media relations at the Department of National Defence
9. ‘It gets me really mad’: Bracing for more sickness and death, Americans aren’t buying Donald Trump’s message on COVID-19
Weeks before the election, the pandemic has come roaring back to the top of the list of American concerns. But not to the top of Donald Trump’s, as he presents his own recovery as evidence the coronavirus is no big deal. “When you catch it you get better, and then you’re immune,” he said shortly after he returned home from hospital, though neither assertion is necessarily true.
Indeed, it’s a virus that has already killed more than 220,000 Americans and infected more than eight million. Not all of those with first-hand experience sum it up so cavalierly.
“It gets me mad. It gets me really mad,” Jennifer Ebuenga-Smith said of her reaction to seeing the crowds at those Trump rallies. “They’re being so dumb.”
If they or someone close to them “experience a severe case of it, then maybe they’d take it seriously.”
10. COVID-19 vaccine in the news: Kids to the back of the line and cooling attitudes on mandatory shots
Once a vaccine is approved, the question remains: who gets it first?
While Canada’s guidelines to vaccine priorities are expected in coming weeks, other jurisdictions are already making their plans known. Many authorities, including the World Health Organization, have said that front-line health workers, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised should be at the front of the line.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made headlines when they noted who shouldn’t go first: kids. This is a departure from say, flu shots, which experts almost always recommend for children.
11. Why you should eat your breakfast in silence
“I don’t meditate so I look to other parts of my day to become meditative, including my coffee and breakfast routine,” Nina Zorfass, 30, a New York City resident who works in marketing, wrote in an email.
Her technique? Eating breakfast in complete silence.
When she started this practice eight years ago, Zorfass noticed that she felt more prepared for the day ahead and could make healthier food choices. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, she has relied on that time to recharge while living and working in close quarters with her partner. “Alone time is hard to come by in our apartment,” she said.
12. She felt safer riding her kid’s bike than taking a crowded TTC bus. How will she get to work when it snows?
After a few weeks of commuting on a crowded TTC bus route as the COVID-19 crisis roared back to life in September, Nita Goswami realized there had to be a better way. She didn’t feel safe taking transit, so she ditched the bus and found another way to get to work: her 10-year-old daughter’s bicycle.
The trip from Goswami’s apartment on Scarborough’s Tuxedo Court to Tredway Woodsworth Public School, where she works as a lunchroom supervisor, was slow going on the tiny bike, but Goswami found it preferable to packing onto a crowded transit vehicle.
“When I look at the bus, I don’t want to go on the TTC. At least not for now when the cases are so high,” said Goswami, a 38-year-old mother of two.
13. ‘You get walked on, stepped over and passed by’: Homeless seniors in Toronto falling through the cracks in long-term care
Steuart’s memory hasn’t been the same since a stranger hit him in the back of the head with what felt like a rock during an attack a few years ago in Toronto.
Steuart doesn’t recall the exact date (people assisting him now say it was within the last two years), but the 64-year-old homeless man said the violence happened downtown one evening while he was walking alone on a street during a rain storm.
The next thing he realized he woke up in a fog, recovering from surgeries at Sunnybrook Hospital.
That was life on the streets for Steuart, a former welder from Winnipeg, who lost his job and apartment about six years ago and has been homeless for about the past four years.
Steuart is part of a sizeable and vulnerable population in Toronto — homeless seniors.
14. We’re not well. And thanks to COVID-19, we’re likely not going to be well for a considerable time to come
In late February, when first we crashed headlong into COVID-19 as a definable thing, there was panic, writes Star columnist Rosie DiManno. We’re all gonna die, the end is nigh. But no one can exist in a crisis bubble forever. Crisis segues to a kind of high-pitched normal. People cope, even as the death tally claimed nearly 9,700 lives in Canada (as of this writing) and 1.9 million lives globally.
Now panic has been replaced by a sense of angst and dread deep in the bones because, despite all the interventions, the lockdowns, the ensuing economic calamity, jobs lost, businesses shuttered forevermore, it’s fair to ask: Were we sold a bill of goods eight months ago? Do this and don’t do that and we’ll be fine, by and by. Instead, at least in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa — recurring hot spots — the yank back to whence we came.