COVID has done many things to our lives, but tonight I want to talk about what it has done to our sense of time.
In a pandemic, time seems to pass more slowly.
Days tend to blur. The ancient past seems further away than it should be. The present was often an endless loop of two steps back and one step forward. The brighter and better future we long for has always been just around the corner, where we never seem to turn.
I’m not sure I can explain the pandemic time warp, but thanks to Wayne Chan and his pinhole camera, we now have a visual representation of this extraordinary time in our lives.
When COVID first hit our province and the University of Manitoba closed, Chan installed one of the most basic forms of photography in his office at the Center for Earth Observation Science. Chan’s camera was nothing more than a soda can with a small hole in the side and a piece of photographic paper inside. On March 23, 2020, this tin was placed on a windowsill with the hole facing south to allow sunlight to filter through the opening and interact with the silver halide of the photographic paper. At this point in the pandemic, there were only 20 cases of COVID in the province.
For the next 730 days, this simple pinhole camera silently witnessed from its perch on the abandoned Fort Garry campus. On March 23, 2022, exactly two years to the day it began duty as a Photographic Sentry, Chan pulled down the can to see what it had captured.
What he found inside is a solar graph showing the slow course of the sun in the first two years of the pandemic. Instead of the still images we are so accustomed to, there is only one image of the seasonal arc of the sun’s east-west journey across the sky. While there is a certain beauty to the indelible etching created by sunlight, it’s hard not to think of the solar graph as one of those COVID curves we’ve become accustomed to as we’ve watched the rise and fall in case numbers. Chan himself notes how the rise and fall of the sun’s path parallels what happened as wave after wave of the deadly virus swept over us.
“By the time the solar arc reached its maximum height on the first day of summer of this first COVID year, the number of cases had increased fifteen-fold to 313, with seven deaths,” writes the research computer analyst. “Cases continued to climb as the days receded. When the sun’s path reached its lowest point in the sky on December 21, the COVID count was 23,025 and 572 people had lost their lives.
“At the beginning of 2021 there was renewed hope when the much-anticipated vaccines were launched. In mid-spring, when the Sun’s trail was three-fourths of its annual peak, cases peaked again with the delta variant. A comparatively quiet summer followed, with daily cases mostly below the hundred. Just when we thought the finish line was in sight, the counts started creeping up again as we neared fall.”
Luckily, Chan also sees something else in the image captured by this long exposure camera during this time of our long exposure to COVID.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, people hung pictures of rainbows in their windows as a sign of hope and unity. But as the weeks turned into months, hope faded and togetherness often turned to division. Yet after two long years and countless variants and sub-variants later, there is cautious optimism, a sentiment conveyed by an old, obscure word called “repair,” meaning a return to hope after a period of despair.
“Perhaps the solar graph can be seen as some sort of rainbow reflecting this. A rainbow forged by sunrises and sunsets.
The Manitoba government is no longer providing daily data on the status of COVID-19 in Manitoba. The figures are now provided in a weekly report.
The latest public health guidance can be found on the provincial government website.
The provincial website also provides information on test availability and suitability and vaccine availability and suitability, as well as tips for COVID-19 prevention and risk assessment.
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