May 28, 2020

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Opinion

Winnipeg taught me how to cope with pandemic

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg’s harsh winters teach us survival lessons we can use during a pandemic.</p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg’s harsh winters teach us survival lessons we can use during a pandemic.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist and author of the book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, said something I found very helpful: "We need to stop seeing this pandemic like it’s a bad winter storm and begin seeing it like it’s a bad winter."

This got me thinking about Winnipeg. Years ago, we moved from Vancouver, the land of very little winter, to Winnipeg, arguably the epicentre for winter in Canada. We lived through 10 Winnipeg winters. When we arrived, we had no idea what real winter was, and how long it can last.

In Vancouver it may snow, but typically a couple of days later it rains or warms up and the snow is gone. In Winnipeg, the snows of early November signal the arrival of a winter that doesn’t leave until March or April.

Winters in Winnipeg are long, and they could kill you. If you go into winter the way you lived in summer or even fall, you will die. Snow is plentiful, winds are whipping, and temperatures are often around -20 C, with lows in the -40 C range that can stretch on for weeks. I remember driving to work one day when it was -62 C with the wind chill. Every day there is a temperature/wind chill alert to let people know how long it would take that day for their exposed skin to freeze.

The point is this: Winnipeggers know that winter comes every year for five months or more, and they plan for it. Life doesn’t stop. Winnipeggers don’t panic, believing that a climate apocalypse has begun. Winnipeggers don’t rush to the grocery stores to hoard food, thinking that trucks may get stuck in snowstorms and there will be no food on the shelves. They don’t descend into despair because they can’t live the way they used to.

They adjust. They change. They think differently. They behave differently. They don’t go out as much. They cocoon at home. They dress completely differently than they used to. They cover up.

Some businesses thrive in winter; some slow down; some are "seasonal" and shut down.

COVID-19, and its ramifications, is not a winter storm; it’s a viral winter. It could very well take months to get through. However, if we can think like Winnipeggers and change the way we act, behave, do business, travel, shop and communicate, we will get through this winter and spring will come — as it always does.

Is a Winnipeg winter dangerous? Absolutely; it can kill people. Is this pandemic dangerous? Yes; it is killing people. But if we can change our thinking — out of summer and into winter — we will change our behaviour and lessen the negative impact of this viral winter.

In other words, stay inside. Practise social distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t hoard. Throw an extra frozen lasagna or two into the freezer — but remember: our food supply is rock-solid, so there is no need to panic.

Let’s think like Winnipeggers — if it’s one thing they know how to deal with, it’s winter. We can do this, but we can’t keep living like it’s summer. Hunker down for the next three to six months. Spring will come, but we’re in for a long winter first.

David MacLean lives in Kelowna, B.C.

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