--This short story describes a method to help us all deal with Covid19--
The attempts to “flatten the curve” had helped, but the pain had been needlessly prolonged by the numerous me-centric, ignorant and/or inconsiderate individuals who felt that social isolation didn’t apply to them.
Thomas, Richard and Harrison had been cooped up for too long now. The covid pandemic was raging on and until now, not much had been done about a long term solution. The months of fear, waiting, long lines, lack of work and incessant bad news was about to end for them though. Although not without some inherent risk, the 3 brothers had decided to attend the Government of Canada’s Covid-U.
At the Toronto harbour front, they entered the terminal building where they were greeted by a government employee. He immediately pushed a button which unlocked an automated door to which the 3 brothers entered. Until the paperwork was done, they would still have to practice social distancing.
They walked up to the counter where a petite young woman talked to them from a glassed-in room through an intercom system. “Are you looking to attend CovidU?”, she asked.
The 3 nodded in affirmation.
“Do you have your passport and enough clothes for 2 weeks?”
Again they nodded.
“Once you are accepted, you will not be allowed to re-enter society until you have completed Covid-U for any reason. Do you accept this stipulation?”. The woman spoke with a clear crisp voice, but also one that was tired of the repetitive nature of her task.
Once again the 3 nodded.
“Let’s proceed then. Pull out your phone and go to the URL thats up on the wall there”. Fill out the form. Once it’s completed and submitted, you’re considered to be officially enrolled and will be released to the queue area to wait for the next shuttle”.
The 3 nodded again, and pulled out their phones like they were about to do a gunfight in an old western. The form required their personal information, SIN, and the eligibility questionnaire – any known health issues, are you 40 years of age or younger, and finally the kicker – do you acknowledge there is a chance you may die from participating in this program box. All 3 checked the final box and submitted the form.
The girl behind the glass waited by her computer terminal. One by one the completed forms arrived. She nodded and pressed a button. The door at the other end of the room swung open, and the 3 brothers took a deep breath and marched on through.
This door lead to an outside waiting area covered by a large peaked roof. Half a dozen others were there waiting for the launch that would take them out to the cruise liner anchored some 10 km out in Lake Ontario. They didn’t have to wait long as a military boat came speeding up to the pier about 100 m away. A dozen or so folks stepped off. A young woman with a lip ring looked across the water at the batch of newbies. She held out a “thumbs up”, smiled, waved and then entered the government building. Undoubtedly this was one of the latest graduates of Covid-U.
The boat cast off the far pier and headed over to the group. The only visible crewman stepped on to the dock and pulled a temporary rope around one of the tie offs. “All aboard” he called. We all stepped aboard, the line was released and the engines roared to life. This would be the last time we would see Toronto or even land for almost two weeks. And that was assuming that we graduated from CovidU.
The trip out to the mother ships wasn’t long – perhaps 15 minutes. The weather was warm and the lake calm. As we got closer, we could see that the ships were really quite massive. They were cruise ships that had been rented from one of the major cruise lines. With the gutting of the cruise industry by covid19, they were pretty inexpensive and served as the ideal medium for CovidU. Each of the 2 ships could accommodate about 5000 students. There were also ships stationed in Halifax, Montreal, and Vancouver to name a few. A land-based campus had also been set up in a northern area of Alberta.
We pulled along-side one of the massive boats by where a huge staircase lead up to to an accessory deck. “Everyone up the Stairway to Heaven” the deckhand barked. The launch was temporarily tied off and one by one we hopped onto the tiny platform and made our way up the steps.
We joined the line at the check-in desk. Within about 10 minutes we had been assigned our room. We were instructed to drop our belongings in our room and then to meet in the Master Ballroom at 11am sharp.
It took a bit to find our cabin as the ship was so large. The cabin was similar to a typical hotel room. It would suffice for our two week stay. We made our was back up to the main level and joined the small group in the Master Ballroom.
At precisely 11 am, a shortish man wearing military fatigues took the podium and the crowd quieted down. “Welcome to CovidU Toronto 1 chapter” he exclaimed with a cheery but serious voice. “You will be our next set of graduates. Your stay here will be about 14 days all going well. As you’re well aware, you won’t be able to leave the ship at any time. While you’re here though, you can do pretty much anything you’d normally expect on a cruise – play shuffleboard, enjoy some shows, eat and drink as you like. The meals aren’t fancy but good quality. Liquor isn’t included but can be purchased for a reasonable price at the main bars. You can learn all about the ships amenities by tuning into channel 12 on the T.V. in your cabin. We’ll take a quick tour of the most important area you need to know about on the boat – the ICU. Follow me”.
He started to march off and the small group followed mostly in single file. We walked along a few decks, up and down some stairs and then to a glass-in area. The sight on the other side of the glass brought us quickly to reality. There were dozens of people hooked up to ventilator machines and a pile of medical equipment. Doctors, nurses and staff were buzzing around the various patients with machine-like precision.
“Here is where you’ll be taken if you get really sick” said military guy. “Your chances of winding up in here are less than 2% - but we need to have something like this for those cases that do arise. This station is basically a well-equipped hospital designed specifically for covid19 cases. We have all the typical emergency room equipment as well as a ventilator for every station. The staff are all properly trained medically just like you’d get on land. Just as importantly, they are all graduates of CovidU so they now have immunity to Covid19. This allows them to work closely with the patients without the hindrance and fear of the protective equipment.
Anyone allowed to attend CovidU must be in the low-risk group. Those with pre-existing health conditions, aged or infirm are not allowed. Because of that, the probability of you getting severely ill is quite low. Once you’ve contracted the virus, your immune system will fight it off and most of you will feel lousy for a week or so with things like a headache, chills and fever, but it won’t be much worse than getting the flu. Once your body has overcome the virus, and you are tested and are no longer a carrier, you will be transferred back to the mainland to continue on your lives. As you will be immune and not carrying the virus, you will be preferred workers back on the mainland. You will be able to work directly with the aged, infirm etc. without the risk of infecting them. You will help to fill the jobs that have been vacant because people are fearful of working with the public.
As well, once you graduate, you will be given an electronic “stamp” in your passport that indicates you are Covid19 immune and a non-carrier. This will allow you to travel more freely to other parts of the country and perhaps world as you normally would.
Here at CovidU your body will learn how to defeat Covid19. When you graduate and return to society, you will have improved herd immunity, will help to slow down infections and re-infections, and help the economy get back to normal if only by living your regular life.
Everyone back to the Master Ballroom for our final activity before we disperse.”
Military guy lead the way out of the area and back through the maze of hallways.
Upon returning to the Master Ballroom, we were directed to a corner where there were a pile of tables with a few orderlies. Once again we lined up. A nurse with a laptop computer squinted at the screen and called us each name by name. We went up to the table, our medical records reviewed, our passports checked and scanned, and then we were handed a Dixie cup with a small amount of liquid in it and 2 pills which we were told to ingest – which we did. After all of us had been processed, military guy spoke one last time:
“Congratulations. You’re now infected with Covid19. You are required to report here every morning of your stay for a brief consult. In the event you are too sick to do so, you will be visited by an orderly who will assess your situation on a one-by-one basis and give you further instructions.” If you are one of the people who experiences harsh symptoms especially vomiting, please remain in your room to make the unpleasantries of cleanup less taxing on our staff. If you have further questions, just contact the front desk as you normally would and they will direct you from there. And with that you are free to go. Good Luck.“
Military guy walked out of the room without any further glance. In fact, it was the last we ever saw him.
The group had a hard time dispersing and started talking amongst themselves. One guy was Chet who was a firefighter. He was there to earn immunity so he could help with the onslaught of Covid19 cases. Sheila was a police officer. She also had to work directly with the community – her new assignment being to enforce curfew for those who we breaking the newer, tougher Anti-Pandemic guidelines. Monia was a healthcare worker who worked in an old age home with those most vulnerable. Jose was a military private. Shawna was a lawyer with elderly parents. Amol ran a company that was marginal and that he needed to “be in top shape to save”. And we were here to get our freedom/normalcy back – and do what we felt was the “right thing”.
We each took our journey through a couple of weeks at CovidU. We all had varying degrees of unpleasantness. Some got quite sick, some wound up in the ICU, but most had mild discomfort. We spent our time reading, eating, drinking, socializing, mingling, sun-tanning, surfing, watching movies. For the most part, it was like a relaxing vacation.
At the end of the 2 weeks, we reported for our morning check-in. A quick finger prick fed into a non-descript machine told the orderly if we had beaten Covid19. More than half of us were “clean”. We were directed to the front desk to “checkout”. Upon doing so, they asked for our passport into which they attached a Covid19 graduate diploma.
“Congratulations. You’re the newest graduate of CovidU. May you go forth and prosper”. She smiled and passed us back our passports.