By Roger Smith
As the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread like wildfire in early April, Kate Magner still wasn’t too worried about working 24-hour shifts in the intensive care unit at the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus.
The 35-year-old medical resident said there were fewer than five COVID-19 patients in the ICU, and there were still enough masks, gloves and gowns for doctors and nurses.
“Personally I don’t feel all that fearful I could get it,” she said. “But I acknowledge that could change. If we develop a situation like in Italy or New York, I think I’d feel trepidation.”
Magner, who is staying with her parents in the Glebe after returning last summer from a long stint in New Zealand, sensed a calm before the storm. “There’s a feeling and expectation that things are going to ramp up. Fears around the shortage of PPEs (personal protective equipment) are certainly increasing. We’re not there yet, but the writing is on the wall.”
As the Glebe Report went to press – a qualifier that should apply to all stories about the fast-moving pandemic in this monthly newspaper – it seemed the worse was yet to come, but the neighbourhood was already showing scars. Signs along Bank Street tell the story. Stores, bars, coffee shops and gyms shut down. A few restaurants still open, though only for take-out and delivery. Even churches closed, doing Easter services online.
“The timing couldn’t be worse for us,” said Dan Rogers, co-owner of Pints & Quarts since last August. “We got it up and running, we were in a good spot. Then, boom.”
The pub laid off 17 servers, bartenders and kitchen staff. Rogers hopes to rehire them all when this is over. But with a $15,000 rent bill each month and no money coming in, he admits it’s a struggle: “We’re just trying to stay afloat.”
Kettleman’s is still open 24/7 but only for take-out and delivery. Though customers are buying more bagels to stockpile in the freezer at home, that doesn’t make up for the closure of its restaurant. No layoffs yet, but there could be.
“It’s hard,” says company spokesman Chris Saracino. “This is an unprecedented event.”
How many businesses survive and how many fold depends largely on how long the shutdown lasts. While emergency government aid should help, the Glebe BIA is urging neighbours to pitch in too. Its website intheglebe.ca provides links to local restaurants and retailers so customers can go online to order food or buy products and gift certificates.
“People are saying how can we help, how can we support them,” said BIA executive director Andrew Peck, “and we are giving them a way to do that.”
Meanwhile, essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores are booming.
“We are struggling to keep up with the demand,” said Jim McKeen, co-owner with his daughter Rebecca of McKeen Metro. “The first few days, there was panic. It was mayhem, like Christmas. Customer numbers were skyrocketing. That’s changed. People now realize distribution channels have not been affected and you’re going to get food.”
Deliveries are up from 25 a day to about 100, with three trucks now instead of one. The store has also taken protective measures: no more than 50 customers at a time; tape on the floor to mark two-metre spacing; plastic shields at checkout. Along with a $2-an-hour raise, staff were also given the option to stay home if they were afraid – few have taken it. Customers have shown their appreciation, with gifts of pizza, chocolates and flowers.
“Staff who are here want to be here,” said McKeen, “and they know their responsibilities, just like frontline workers at the hospitals.”
Hannah Reid is busier too as she works from her Glebe home. With stock markets crashing from February highs, the investment adviser with National Bank says clients have more time these days so they chat longer, not just about shrinking portfolios.
“Clients want to talk about how they’re doing, they wonder how I am,” she said. “I think people are concerned more about their health and their families right now than they are about their money. Maybe they haven’t seen their statements yet.”
Amid efforts to enforce social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the four seniors’ homes in the Glebe are being extra vigilant to try to prevent the outbreaks that ravaged other homes across the country. At The Glebe Centre, for example, the 254 residents have their temperatures taken twice a day, numbers in the dining room at one time have been cut in half to allow more distancing and family visits have been banned.
But staff, the so-called personal support workers (PSWs) who usually have part-time jobs at several homes, have been ordered to work at just one, with longer hours, to reduce chances of transmission – that’s led to a staff shortage. So managers are stepping in. Bruce Hill, the director of charitable giving, now finds himself pushing wheelchairs, feeding residents and helping them set up FaceTime calls and ZOOM meetings with the families they can’t see in person.
“Management’s realized that with the shortage of PSWs, everyone’s got to roll up their sleeves,” he said.” “For me, it’s been a great eye-opener to understand the work these people do.”
So far, so good. But again that qualifier – there’d been no outbreak in Glebe seniors’ homes yet, when the Glebe Report went to press.
Former journalist Roger Smith is copy editor at the Glebe Report.