Talk Description to Me

Episode 51 - Pandemic Check-in

May 15, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 51
Talk Description to Me
Episode 51 - Pandemic Check-in
Chapters
1:25
Toronto lockdown
9:16
Visualizations of India's COVID surge
19:51
Pandemic in the UK
27:20
NYC museum vaccination clinic
Talk Description to Me
Episode 51 - Pandemic Check-in
May 15, 2021 Season 2 Episode 51
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

This podcast began with the notion that the visuals of pandemic life around the world needed to be described. Many months have since passed, and those visuals have changed. This week, Christine and JJ check in on COVID and lockdown visuals around the world. From anxiety on the streets of Toronto, to India's infection rate graphs, and vacationing goats in North Whales, to vaccinated wales in New York museums, Talk Description to Me has you covered.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This podcast began with the notion that the visuals of pandemic life around the world needed to be described. Many months have since passed, and those visuals have changed. This week, Christine and JJ check in on COVID and lockdown visuals around the world. From anxiety on the streets of Toronto, to India's infection rate graphs, and vacationing goats in North Whales, to vaccinated wales in New York museums, Talk Description to Me has you covered.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

Before we begin today, I would like to remind everyone that we are on clubhouse. And we will be hosting our first event on Thursday, May 20, at 7pm. Eastern, and it's called describing the invisible universe. And our special guest will be Kim arcand of the chanter observatory. And we'll be talking about the work that they're doing to make astronomy more accessible. So we're going to combine Kim's subject matter expertise with Jade is describing and it's going to be awesome. So if you're on clubhouse, please look for us at talk description to me and join us for our event on May 20. There's a significant way in which our podcast got started, just by describing COVID and the look of the streets and the world in COVID. That was what got JJ and I thinking about describing current events. And so this week, we want to revisit that because it's been over a year. And although at the time, it would have been impossible to believe we're still we're still in the midst of of COVID events. And so we want to do a little survey around the world of images from different places. And since JJ and I are in Toronto, we thought we would start here partly because I want to get this this grumpy thing out of the out of the way it's a we are still very much in in lockdown stay at home order. So every part of the world is in a different place around the pandemic, which is kind of what got us thinking about this that different countries are approaching it differently. So JJ and I here in Toronto are still hunkered down at home. There's no restaurants, there's no salons, there's there's very little yeah to to recommend the city at the moment as a fun place to be. So JJ, can we start with some of the visuals that you're seeing as the as the spring opens up here, but everything else is staying closed.

JJ Hunt:

As you say, spring has sprung and I walk a lot that's one of the only things we can do right now is get out and walk right. We can't go into movie theaters, we can't go into restaurants and cafes. So it's outdoors, and it's walking. And so I walk through a lot of West End Toronto neighborhoods. And I have noticed some changes over the year right, the way people were behaving on this in the street, at the beginning of the pandemic and the way people behave now is a little bit different. So, you know, when when passing people on the sidewalk, I've noticed that a lot of people, a lot of sighted people, at the beginning of the pandemic would step off the curb, and into the street to avoid passing someone to close might or maybe do the zigzag from one side of the street to another. So if you're walking down the street and someone's coming toward you on the sidewalk, you're zigzag across the street to the other side of the street until someone approaches in that direction, then you're zigzag back, a lot of that zigzagging back and forth. But while people were doing that, at the beginning of the pandemic, I noticed that there was a lot there was extra nods and smiles or hellos, a little extra wave to people even beyond the kind of forced pleasant demeanor that Canadians are often teased for, right, we would be compensating for the lousy feeling that comes with avoiding people by being extra polite, hello, how you doing? It's not you. It's the pandemic, you know, it's that kind of thing. But now I'm noticing that people are tired. And people are maybe a little bit more suspicious of each other because some people aren't following social distancing rules and norms. Right? And so now we are still zigzagging we are still stepping into the street to avoid people on sidewalks. But now maybe we're looking away. We're not waving and smiling now maybe people I'm watching people hold their breath. I do this a little bit too, I'm afraid. Well, as you're passing someone in the suit, you kind of tighten up and you hold your breath. You keep your head down. You're not making that kind of contact with anyone. As if It's absurd as if making a friendly eye contact or we're sharing a little wave is somehow contagious. It's silly. It's but that's I think maybe a little bit of where we're at. So that kind of vibe as I'm walking through the city is definitely noticeable. The visuals of that, the feeling of that, for sure are noticeable.

Christine Malec:

I remember talking to you after one of the press conferences in which we got some some very strict lockdown instructions. And we I should say we were having a lot of variant issues here, which is why things are so bad. And I remember you remarking that the next day in walking in your morning walk, people just looked upset.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah.

Christine Malec:

That really struck me.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, people have been looking really despondent and really an angry. I'm also finding as I'm walking past people, you know how you catch just snippets of conversations, as you're walking past people on the sidewalk, you get two or three sentences, and over and over and over again, as I would pass people on the sidewalk. You'd hear just a little bit of that check in like, what do you think of this? I can't believe we're still doing that. And can you believe they made this rule irregular, and there's a lot of anger and frustration. And you can, you can see that tension in the way people are carrying themselves the way they are holding their bodies close and tight. And the way they are reacting to others on the street, the way they are communicating with each other. If they're walking in pairs, or in small, you know, family groups. It's tense, it really is tense.

Christine Malec:

And what else are you seeing on the streets in the city?

JJ Hunt:

Well, it's interesting to see how public spaces are being occupied. So parks continue to be packed, especially spring comes around. And they they were, you know, pretty busy throughout the winter. But as spring comes along, lots and lots of people in parks and it is kind of like when you go to a park, it's now it's a little bit like when you go to a beach when you're on vacation, and you have to find and occupy your own personal space. So yeah, you know, it starts off with everyone spread out, and then more people come and they put their picnic blanket or their towel down, you know, equidistant to all the other groups, and now you filled in those gaps. And then and then more people come and they fill in the gaps between them. And so you end up with this, you know, this spread on lawns, and in parks where people try and keep some distance by filling in the spaces between other groups. The photos, I always like to mention this a photos if taken from above of these crowded parks, they show that distance between the groups of people. But when you take photos across a busy Park, or a busy beach or a sidewalk or something, it's really deceptive, it makes a diff the distances between groups appear much smaller, that point of view really changes things. So newspaper photos that have drone footage, or satellite footage from above, much more trustworthy, to figure out whether or not people are socially distance. And then that the way others public spaces like residential alleyways, there are a lot of those in my neighborhood in Toronto where there are alleyways that lead to people's garages behind houses. And those are often packed with kids on scooters and bikes, you know, zipping back and forth, often wearing their COVID masks, and people gathering for a couple of drinks in the garage or, you know, on the front porches and really any outdoor space that can be occupied now is occupied. There is an unused restaurant patio that's at the end of my street. This is just for a restaurant that's not currently occupied. And people have have dragged like a strange mismatched collection of old lawn chairs and side tables and just left them there. And now people hang out there a lot of the day and into the evening. We've had we've nicknamed it the Piazza. And people go and hang out there. And you know, mostly it's okay. Mostly, it's just people trying to find ways to connect with each other and spread out a little bit. So that's what you do, you create your own Piazza.

Christine Malec:

In talking about getting ready for this episode, we understood clearly that it would be disrespectful and lacking in compassion, not to acknowledge the worst thing that's going on in the world around COVID, which is the situation in India and we talked at some length and with difficulty about how to cover it, how to talk about it. And JJ, maybe you can sort of try to sum up what we were, what our thoughts are on how to how to talk about this the situation.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, it's been a real it's been a struggle to figure out how to cover this. You know, we You and I both talked about not wanting to be quite so North American and Eurocentric And especially with regards to this global pandemic. And the story in India right now is the global pandemic story. And truly, there's a very important visual component to this story. And it, it absolutely fits our mandate. But the visuals are, they're terrible. They're they're agonizing, and they're crushing. I mean, rapt bodies lined up in the streets, mass funeral pyres, people weeping, it's just, it's, it's awful. And while it's true there, there may be some benefit to describing those images in detail. You know, perhaps descriptions of the ongoing horrors will help people make their own decisions about wearing masks, or to make their own decisions about where to donate their time, or their money or their energy. It might even add to conversations about vaccines and variants, and very real global resource inequality, which is a serious issue. All of those things might be true, but the fact is spending time considering and describing and discussing those images. It has a real emotional cost, right both for us, for you and I and also a real cost for the listeners too. And one of the things, of course, Chris, that you and I talked about is that we are all a little bit closer to the edge than is comfortable right now. Right? We're all feeling the strain of the situation. So what we've decided to do is instead of describing the horrific visuals, to convey the magnitude of the situation in India, we're going to try and describe some of the charts and graphs that visualize the staggering data. And our hope is that this will properly convey the severity of this surge and the weight of the moment. Without trotting on any of our already fragile mental health.

Christine Malec:

There's no right or wrong choice. This is just how JJ and I have decided to approach it. And so it's no intention of disrespect for the genuine human suffering. But I think JJ expressed it very well. And so this, this is the way that we have chosen. So I guess we want to just offer our any apologies to anyone who feels that this was not the right choice of how to talk about India. So JJ, walk us through some of the the data visualizations that you've seen.

JJ Hunt:

Reuters, the news agency has on their website a COVID-19 tracker, and they've got lots of interactive graphs and charts. You can plug in various locations, and they'll give you information that's, that's current and up to date in the form of these interactive graphs, and charts. So the most straightforward graphs are the line graphs that track new infections and daily deaths. The bottom of these graphs on the horizontal axis is a line that tracks the date. And it goes from December 31 2020, on our left, all the way to may 10 2021. On our right, and the vertical axes, which are on our right, they track numbers. So we've got two different graphs here, one tracks the daily infections, and that's by the 100,000. And the other graph tracks, daily deaths, and that's by the 1000. And then there's a yellow line that tracks these numbers. And it, you know, Bobs along along this graph. So the yellow line that tracks the numbers line up very closely on these two different graphs, the one tracking new infections and the one tracking deaths, daily deaths, they line up very closely on the two different graphs from December to March 2020, the line is flat along the horizontal axis in both, so no infections, no deaths, this is, you know, December to March 2020. And then from about March to May, the infections start to rise, so first into the hundreds and then into the 1000s. But the numbers are so low compared to the scale on the vertical axis, that the line still looks virtually straight along the bottom of the graph. And that's the same with the graph mapping the graph mapping the deaths, right? It's not until June of 2020, that the that the yellow line starts to rise. And what it does is it creates a small mountain on both of the graphs on each one of the graphs, the line rises up, hits a peak and then begins to fall again, the peak is almost 100,000 new infections on September 16 2020, and almost a little over 11,000 deaths for about the same time, September 2020. And in both cases, those little mountain shapes reach the lowest number that's indicated on the vertical axis. So about 100,000 and About 1000, and then the line gradually falls back down and hovers just above the horizontal axis from January to March 2021. But then, by April 2021, the line shoots up, I mean, truly nearly vertically on each one of the graphs, the lines that shoot up reach four times higher on the vertical axis than those mountains that peaked in December. So at the beginning of March 2021, there were 12,000 new daily infections, and under 100 deaths, by the beginning of May, over 400,000 new infections, and over 4000 daily deaths. So these lines shoot straight up four times higher than the previous peak. And if you zoom in really close on the data, you can see that there may be one or two reporting periods that indicate that the numbers might now be dropping, but the drop is too small to register visually, straight up the line is straight up 400,000 new infections 4000 daily deaths.

Christine Malec:

Obviously, you've been looking at visualizations from many places over the course of the year. So just to put it in context, this does this look like any other visualization you've seen from anywhere else?

JJ Hunt:

It's interesting, the way different waves register in different places is, is really quite different. So in some places, you have distinct peaks for wave one and wave two and wave three. In some cases, you have very few, like a very small peak for wave one or wave two. But wave three is a big peak. And that's a big mountain. It's really, it's really interesting how these, this particular these two charts look very different from place to place, a good way to compare. There's another graph another data representation to provide a more global context. So near the bottom of the webpage, are a series of these gray horizontal bars with fine vertical white lines that cross the across the horizontal bar. And I'll look at one that breaks down. That's just labeled deaths globally. So this tracks all death in in different countries around the world, the white lines represent the number of deaths in each individual country. So each country that is reported COVID, number of death tolls is assigned a separate thin white line, countries with zero deaths, their lines are at the left edge of the gray bar, that's the start of the bar. And then the country with the most deaths, that's the far right, that marks the end of the bar. So this representation is all about relativity, fewest COVID deaths to the most COVID deaths. At the left nearest zero, there are a cluster of white lines, so many white lines at the bar actually looks white. And if you move the pointer over this little area, the countries that are that are here and their exact death tolls associated are they'll pop up. And this cluster of white lines occupies maybe the first 10th of the bar. So this, these are countries that have had between zero and 20,000 deaths. And then if you move toward the right from about that 1/10 of the way along the bar, to maybe a quarter of the way along the bar, that area, there have lines that are spread out a little bit, but they're still gathered together. So there's still there's gray, you know, empty space between them. But they're still gathered together. And here, deaths range from 25,000, in Belgium, to almost 130,000 in the UK. And then there's a big gap. If you move toward the middle of the bar, there's a great big gap until you reach about the middle. And here there are three lines, Mexico has almost 220,000, India has almost 250,000 and Russia has just over 250,000 that's more or less the middle of this bar. And then there's another big gap as you move to the right and about three quarters of the way along that bar is one line, a single line, Brazil 422,000 deaths. And then all the way at the end of the line, the very last line that marks the end of the bar. That's the United States 582,000 deaths.

Christine Malec:

Thank you for the time that you spent looking at that it's their their numbers when you say them, but we all know what they mean exactly really hard to to be focusing your energy on. When I look on Twitter and other social media, it's clear that everywhere is at a different place in terms of what going on. So in Toronto, you can't eat out on a patio, but in Spain, they're having concerts. And so that's in a way that's what got me thinking about this episode is that the range of how people are living these days and so I think JJ you're able to get some really good images from the UK about

JJ Hunt:

I got some fantastic images so I started flipping through online photos I googled like pandemic life UK, and just look through photos and, and I was seeing some interesting images, but I wasn't sure if they were actually representative of what was going on. So I thought, you know what, I'm going to reach out to to someone in the UK, so I flipped through my international League of Extraordinary describers Rolodex,

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha.

JJ Hunt:

and I contacted a lovely colleague and Twitter friend in London, Roz Chalmers, and I asked her if, if there were any UK pandemic visuals that she thought we could talk about. And she emailed us a wonderful list, complete with photos and some of her thoughts. It was just lovely of her to take the time. So thank you very much was just so great of you. And so she sent a couple of things she sent some before and after pictures of Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square, of course, is a very famous square in central London, often visited by tourists used for community gatherings, political demonstrations, protests, just a big open square with their two matching fountains in the square some statues, a pillar monument, and pre pandemic. This space would generally be packed with people, it's a bustling place, lots of traffic, whipping a boat, people meeting and gathering going in and out of the National Gallery. But in the pandemic picture that Roz sent me, it looks, it looks empty, like really, this is a photo she sent as a middle of a bright and sunny day. But there are only a handful of people standing at one of the fountains and there are a few people crossing this vast expanse of what I think is like gray concrete, it just looks very, very quiet. Roz also drew my attention to an anti lockdown protest in London, the unite for freedom protest, which was I believe, last week. And of course, there have been sporadic anti lockdown anti mass protests all over the world, anywhere where people have the legal right to protest, there have been protests, I've seen photos and news of protests from, you know, Canada, the US or across the UK. And people are often carrying signs that say things like my body, my choice, shut your face, wash your hands, stay afraid, or freedom is non negotiable. And the people that these protests they, you know, just scanning these photos, they appear to be of different ages, they're wearing clothing of different styles. But I should it's worth noting that scanning the photos, the protesters do seem to be predominantly white. One of the things that made these recent unite for freedom protests notable was that some of the people involved chose to wear yellow stars of David to express the idea that they had been persecuted. And I didn't know if this was just a terrible And that's a visual symbol that everyone recognizes right? The one off choice or part of a greater movement. So I dug around a little bit and I found a few other images in the press. There were a handful of anti vaccination protesters who wore the Star of David in the Czech Republic back in January, and a few folks in Avignon France, who wore these yellow stars reading "non vaccine". And of course, th se stars are modeled after he yellow badges that were used by the Nazis to identify J ws leading up to the Holocaus . yellow star? It is a potent symbol that is is absolutely clear. Some of these stars that are being worn in these in these anti vaccination protests, some of them are amateurish, like the ones from France I saw where they looked like they were just simple stars cut out of yellow construction paper with handwritten messages inside. But some of them are proper stars of David a six pointed hexagram made of yellow fabric with with black writing inside and in some of them the messages of protest were written in a mock Hebrew font.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

So absolutely fully intentionally referencing these, these stars that were used by the Nazis. I mean, it's just staggering.

Christine Malec:

Wow, I did not know that.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, I was I was pretty shocked to see those too. But then Roz also said let's lighten things up a little bit and she sent me a link to some news stories that I had not heard before. And this is wonderful. So goats.

Christine Malec:

There's an obsession with goats. The media loves goats love. They are everywhere.

JJ Hunt:

Ah, and they are taking over a lovely little town in North Wales. So there's a herd of wild goats. And I'm going to do my best to get my pronunciations right but it's this is Wales here. So it's a little tricky. So there's a herd of wild goats that live in great Orme county park, this is a limestone headland in North Wales. And there there's a nearby a seaside town called Llandudno, And there are so few visitors that are at this little seaside town. And you know, residents have been locked down, people are staying indoors. So the mountain goats have decided to become city goats. And they they keep wandering down from the headlands into town and just like chill out and they eat the grass and they ate people's hedges, and they just wander about town so people have been photographing them and posting videos on YouTube. These are like, you know, waist tall goats shaggy white for short tails and long gnarly horns that curve back over their heads. And you know, as I say images of them chewing the grass and the parks and eating hedge rows in front of houses and churches. I've seen photos of them walking single file along the sidewalk past little boutique shops. There's a picture of four goats walking past the upper crust sandwich shop. There's a photo of these goats are walking up a picturesque street lined with rows of lovely white houses that have matching bay windows and peaked roofs and they're just walking between the rows of parked cars, photos of them gathered outside of the hairdresser's.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

There's one photo, they're all looking at us, which really adds to the strange humor. These goats like sitting on the sidewalk looking at us as they have their pictures taken. There's one picture of four goats standing outside, this might be a small apartment building, maybe an office building. And there are two people inside the building standing at the glass front door. And like looking out at the goats, they're either unwilling or unable to step outside, because these goats are just chilling out in front of the building. Oh, it's fantastic. Lovely, crazy images.

Christine Malec:

I know that some of the mass vaccination clinics are are quite notable for for their their their visuals and some of the wistful things that are going on. So I think JJ, you had some visuals from New York about that.

JJ Hunt:

I mean, they're all over the place. Wherever these vaccination clinics need to be held. If they're having to find strange places to hold them interesting, you know, you got to be close to the populations. And often sometimes you want to be indoors, sometimes if depending on the weather, you can be outdoors. And there are lots of events spaces that are unused right convention centers, hotels, stadiums, museums, theme parks, racetracks. And so in various cities, they are using those quirky locations as their vaccination clinics. And one of my favorites, some fantastic images of come from New York City, where they have turned the American Museum of Natural History into a vaccination clinic. And for those who have never been to this iconic Museum, it is a wonderful one of a kind. Kind of an anachronistic museum. I always say it's a museum that belongs in a museum. Many of the exhibits especially the beloved heritage ones, are of the diorama variety. So replicas big and small set up in displays in like quazi natural surroundings. Very, very antiquated. This diorama scene and they're old, like some of these are really heritage. So I always think if like if the filmmaker Wes Anderson was ever going to design a museum, it would be the American Museum of Natural History in New York and this is now a mass vaccinate vaccination site in the city. And there are a handful of photos that are available to the public. One of the museum's main open galleries the family Hall of ocean life is where the where the main clinic is, and suspended in the air in this family Hall, backed by a grid of false skylights is a famous life size model of a blue whale. 94 feet long, it's long, pointed head aimed down, like at a 45 degree angle, its tail bent to where it's where its body begins to narrow. It looks like this whale is about to dive toward the floor. And this is directly above the vaccination clinic.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha! I love it.

JJ Hunt:

So like right below there are these little cubicles curtained-off cubicles in gray and black, and a curtain curtained-off waiting room with socially distance folding chairs. And right above this 94 foot long whale that has a bandaid on its fin on its pectoral fin right where it would have recieved its shot.

Christine Malec:

Oh my god I love that!

JJ Hunt:

It's pretty cute. And then there are other wonderful photos from the museum clinic. There are photos that look like snapshots that maybe healthcare workers have snapped of each other and then provided to various press organizations. I've got a photo here of two health care providers in these kind of translucent plastic lab coats and surgical masks. There's a standing white woman and a seated black woman. And behind them is I'm going to guess like a 1/3 scale diorama of two black men in bathing suits free diving in an underwater world of colorful coral and fish.

Christine Malec:

Heh heh.

JJ Hunt:

The light from the photographer's flashes reflecting off the glass wall that's protecting this diorama. And these two healthcare workers are just you know, going about their thing doing their doing their business. Another snapshot with a row of skin similarly dressed healthcare workers and they're seated in front of a larger diorama. This diorama has an arched roofline. It's got these giant blubbery walruses with wrinkled snouts and scarred, leathery, brown hides and, and, and these foot long tusks. And these walruses are just lounging on a false ice floe behind this row of these health care workers. And a third snapshot that perhaps my favorite features to young women health care workers with medium skin tones, long, dark hair. And again, both of these health care workers in their translucent lab coats, they've got safety goggles, name tags, they're holding maybe clipboards or tablets, they're engaged in conversation, very animated conversations, ones pointed to the mask. The other ones like reaching out with a pen, they're clearly you know, figuring out their day figuring out their approach, and right behind them stocks a polar bear in a display case.

Christine Malec:

It's a keeper! Ha ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

And there's a hand painted icy sunset North Pole backdrop behind the polar bear. It looks like the artwork from a 1980s Nordic hair metal band greatest hits album or something. It's just p enomenal. We love making this podcast. If you love hearing it, perhaps you'll consider supporting its creation and development by becoming a patron. We've set up a Patreon page to help cover the costs of putting the show together. You can contribute as a listener or as a sponsor to help ensure that accessible and entertaining journalism continues to reach our community. Visit patreon.com slash talk description to me that's pa t ar e o n.com slash talk description to me have feedback or suggestions of what you'd like to hear about here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is talk description to [email protected] Our Facebook page is called talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk description.

Toronto lockdown
Visualizations of India's COVID surge
Pandemic in the UK
NYC museum vaccination clinic