What wouldn't Bernie do?

It may be cold outside, but it's safer than going in.

Welcome to Uncultured. Over the weekend I was planning to write about those unstoppable Bernie Sanders mittens memes, and how social media has, at least temporarily, ceased being a perpetual rage machine.

But, sorry Dude, there was still something rage-making that I had to get off my chest. So here goes.

What are you thankful for?

Ninety-eight years ago, my grandmothers were born one day apart. Four years ago, both of them died, one month apart.

Today I’m thankful for that.

Um, you’re thankful your grandmothers died?

Well, I’m thankful that they didn’t live long enough to experience the horrors of Covid-19 from the inside of a seniors home.

Even if they could have lived in relative health and happiness for those four years, it wouldn’t have been worth it if it meant being left helpless, terrified and alone as a pandemic swept through Ontario’s healthcare institutions in 2020, and then again in 2021.

Every day I get these updates on my phone.

Normally I look at the alert with a pang of passive sadness, then move on to the Bernie memes and the rest of the day’s distractions.

At some point last week I was moved to explore further. That’s when it literally hit home.

Out of Ontario’s 626 long-term care homes, an astonishing 255 are currently battling an outbreak of Covid-19. That’s more than the number of homes hit in the first wave.

The data is updated daily and you can scroll through it on Ontario’s Covid-19 hub, but the exhaustive list of locations and raw numbers obscures the very real suffering and grief behind it all.

I pored over the data with a bit of dread, wondering if my grandmothers’ former homes had been affected. One bubbie lived in a Toronto retirement residence; the other in a different residence, before her health declined and she moved to a long-term care home.

All three facilities have battled coronavirus outbreaks over the last year. One of them, the nursing home, is still in the throes of an outbreak. I had no idea. And now I can only imagine what it must be like to have your loved ones inside one of those homes, and, yes, I’m thankful.

As of this writing there have been 3,336 deaths of long-term care residents, plus 11 staff, in Ontario. By the time you read this, the number will no doubt be higher. As it stands, that accounts for 58 percent of all Covid-19-related deaths in the province.

Some of the stories are truly horrific, like this account from Cynthia Mulligan of CityNews of a Whitby home where all but one resident caught the infection, or the Roberta Place home in Barrie where at least 41 have died, and where the extra-contagious U.K. variant of the virus has now been confirmed.

And what are we doing about it? This.

In lieu of taking any meaningful steps toward containing a catastrophe — like hiring more support staff, offering them paid sick days, preventing them from working in multiple homes, implementing a rapid asymptomatic testing regimen, measures that should have been taken after the first wave’s devastation — the best our premier can muster is a lighthearted video urging Ontarians to stay home, awkwardly repeated in multiple languages.

The vaccine is thankfully being administered widely in these homes, but for too many, it’s too late.

When all this is over, when this present-tense nightmare is finally in the past, we will — I hope — look back upon the neglect of our elders and their preventable deaths with the utmost shame. Our long-term care system has been underfunded for decades, but maybe this is the moment when lessons are learned, and changes are finally made.

Because when we send our loved ones to a new home we want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them: don’t worry, bubbie. You’re going to a good place.

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I’d hate to end on that note. This newsletter is supposed to be about diversions from reality, not the hard truths of it. So let’s get back to those Bernie Sanders memes, which stole the thunder from Joe Biden on his inauguration day, and haven’t let up since.

Come to think of it, Sanders makes an apt mascot for today’s theme. A septuagenarian, recently vaccinated yet sensibly wearing a mask outdoors, sitting solo on a bench, bracing himself from the cold with a cozy pair of mittens. He knows better than to go inside.

I won’t repost any of those silly memes that show Sanders superimposed on everything from the Star Trek Enterprise to the CN Tower, but I must give a nod to the crochet talent named Tobey Perales King, who knitted a perfect likeness of Bernie on a bench, which she’s selling on eBay.

The bidding is at $15,400 U.S. and counting, with a day still to go. King promises all proceeds will be donated to Meals on Wheels. (Update, Jan. 26: the item has sold, at $20,300 U.S.! But you can still buy the pattern to crochet your own at King’s Etsy shop, for only $6.66 Cdn.)

As a good news story, it’s not much of a counterweight to our long-term care crisis, but it’ll have to do.

Not to worry. We’ll get back to regular Uncultured programming later this week.

See you then.