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The technology is new, pandemics are not

As with most groups hit by lockdown measures that precluded most in-person activities, the Woolwich Seniors Association had to find new ways to keep active, recognizing that its members were among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Gone were the regular meetings, fitness classes and crafts activities in favour of online options, a weekly ‘coffee social’ with guest speakers being the new popular choice.

The programming switch was something of a scramble, notes WSA coordinator Nancy Lucier. 

“We were like every organization faced with similar rapid changes that we needed to reach out to our community. So as soon as the in-person programming stopped we had to quickly pivot to offer some programming through online virtual programs as well as phone.… We’ve been able to offer the coffee socials right from the very beginning, and we have developed that with some really great speakers,” said Lucier.

“We’ve been actually really pleased with participation. So, when we started out doing our speakers through our coffee socials last year, we had a really good response. One of the things that we are really focused on is trying to provide opportunities that are educational and interesting for our seniors. And that’s the feedback that we’re getting is that they enjoy having an interesting conversation on something that they might have a special interest in, or educational topics that are happening in our community around us.”

Under discussion this week via new technology was the fact pandemics are nothing new, though the last one of this magnitude dates back a century.

Dr. Catherine Carstairs, a professor of history at the University of Guelph, talked about 20th century pandemics, something Lucier says fits well into the mould for the series.

“We’re always searching for timely topics, or something that just may be of interest. So, the 20th century pandemics hits both of those, it’s very timely and it is an interesting topic to look back about how we have managed past epidemics. So, we’re actually getting quite a bit of positive feedback for that one.”

Carstairs spoke about two pandemics that occurred in the 1900s. The first was the Spanish flu which swept across the country in 1918 and forced many of the same precautions we are seeing now. The second is the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

“I decided to sort of focus on two case studies. One is the history of the Spanish flu, which I think you know has been the sort of go-to epidemic for people interested in sort of the history of epidemics. I think for some good reasons: like COVID-19 influenza is spread through aerosol or droplet transmission so there’s a lot of sort of similarities in terms of how the disease spreads,” said Carstairs.

“The other epidemic I’m looking at is HIV/AIDS, which of course is a much more recent epidemic and so I find it quite interesting that when people are looking for comparisons, they always go back to the Spanish Flu rather than an epidemic to some degree that we’re still living through right now. And obviously, HIV/AIDS is a blood-borne disease and spreads quite differently from the Spanish flu.”

She says these two pandemics can be compared to what we are living through currently in that there are certain communities which have been much more deeply impacted compared to others. She continues by saying that there are many things governments did back during the Spanish flu – such as closing down schools – which we can see happening today.

“[During] the Spanish flu epidemic there were some closures of public places. There were some closures of schools all the things that we’re seeing with COVID-19.… But in general, we haven’t really seen this level of shutdown ever before. So, schools were closed in Winnipeg for example for the Spanish flu, but they were closed for about six weeks. So, you know, much less than the kinds of lengthy school closures that we’ve seen today,” she added.

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