Maurice TougasSo I’m at a pharmacy, getting a prescription filled. The pharmacy tech is behind a shield, of course. She’s also wearing a mask, naturally. And, not so naturally, she’s also wearing a face shield. That’s three layers of protection between us.

I’m thinking to myself that this is a bit much, but whatever. If she wants to dress herself up like she’s going for a stroll in Chernobyl, that’s her problem. But she takes it one step further. When I give her my Alberta Blue Cross card (thank you, government of Alberta), she puts on a rubber glove to hold my card.

I don’t say anything but, in my head, I’m thinking: Seriously, woman? You’re a health care sort of professional, and you actually think you need to stand behind a plastic shield, wear a face mask, another shield and wear a glove to hold a laminated piece of paper for five seconds. Do I look like I’m carrying the plague? Am I coughing violently, gasping for breath?


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It’s not that I’m insulted. Since this whole coronapocalypse began, I’ve had dozens of people cross the street to avoid me, something that happened to me regularly before COVID-19. But I find I get almost as upset at people who overreact as I do at the people who treat this whole disaster as nothing more than a bad cold going around.

At the beginning of this crisis, some 10 years ago (or does it just seem that way?), the official viewpoint was that you could, indeed, catch COVID from anything from doorknobs to cardboard boxes. There were scenes of people wiping down their Cheerios boxes with disinfectant wipes. My local library even put books in quarantine for 10 days before putting them back on the shelf.

Where did this idea come from?

A widely publicized study found that the coronavirus could survive for up to four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, or up to 72 hours on steel and plastic. Another study found that SARS-CoV-2 could also survive on banknotes, clothing and skin.

Cue the panic! This led to the kind of ludicrous scenes we see every day, like the one with my pharmacy tech or some poor beleaguered store employee who’s forced to sanitize her countertop and even the keypad after each transaction.

Turns out that those studies were, shall we say, flawed. The studies involved putting a relatively huge amount of the virus-containing liquid – an entire drop of water – onto surfaces, a situation that would only exist if a COVID-infected person basically spat on a store counter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. says that while it’s possible that respiratory droplets could land on surfaces and objects, and that someone could become infected by touching them, “this is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads.”

From what I’ve been able to find in the bottomless well of stories online, there are no confirmed cases of COVID transmission via Cheerios boxes.

But we’re in the ‘abundance of caution’ stage, where even if there’s only an infinitesimally small chance that you could get COVID from, oh, I don’t know, an Alberta Blue Cross Card, the experts aren’t going to rule it out. This is similar to the brilliant government decision to close down tennis courts and golf courses.

But I will say that, for the first time, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s not a train.

On the weekend, I watched a boxing match from ATT Stadium in Arlington, Tex., home of the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League. A crowd of 73,000 unmasked, undistanced fans packed the stadium. How crazy – or how Texas – is that?

When Texas abandoned all social distancing/masking protocols, I was expecting COVID to set up shop there for an all-you-can-infect smorg. Turns out, it didn’t. How could this be?

An article in the National Post had the explanation. According to the story, last week Texas had a rate of 53.2 COVID infections per 100,000, while Alberta’s rate was 314 per 100,000. Why so low in Texas?

According to the article, Texas had way more COVID cases in the first waves, resulting in way more people getting immunity. That, coupled with a vastly superior rate of vaccination, resulted in what one expert said was “the virus running out of people to infect.”

So there’s hope, folks. Wear your mask, get your shot and it will all go away. Oh, and don’t be afraid to touch things, even tiny pieces of laminated plastic.

Maurice Tougas’s wry sense of humour has been amusing readers for years. He was twice named best columnist in Canada by the Canadian Community Newspaper Association and was a finalist for the Golden Quill award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. He served one term as a Liberal MLA in the Alberta legislature. For interview requests, click here.


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