I’ll come right out of the gate and acknowledge that the suggestion I’m about to make won’t actually help us beat Covid-19 in any tangible way whatsoever. Not all, not even a bit. Don’t worry, I get that. But what I’m proposing will certainly make living through the ups and downs of alert levels and lockdowns a little less frustrating, so hear me out for a minute, will you? You’re probably mired in a Code Grape lockdown anyway, so you probably have the time.
A gurgling geyser of confusion and dismay has been building up inside my soul as I’ve sat on the couch night after night watching the news. Every day, starting with the relatively benign Atlantic Provinces and on through the Covid-19 heartland of Quebec and Ontario my television shifts from one health minister to another. Over the viral hills and valleys of the prairie provinces and all the way up to Canada’s sparse and dangerous North the CBC covers the tightening and loosening of restrictions in each region. By the time my news cycle catches up with a decidedly not-out-of-the-woods British Columbia the barrage of reports threaten to drive me more than a little bit insane.
Why? Because of the tragic battles going on in Ontario’s longterm care facilities as several counties are forced back to Code Grey lockdowns? Because of stories of first responders in Quebec being worked to the bone as Montreal is compelled to maintain a Level 4 Maximum Alert? Because of the 900+ lives that have been lost in Manitoba as the province reverts back to “Critical”, it’s most restrictive phase? Well…yes, of course these issues rock me to my very soul, but such is not my point today.
While I am sometimes buoyed when I hear that things have improved enough in Saskatchewan for the province to move up to Phase 4.2 or allow myself a little optimism when I learn that all of New Brunswick is now safe enough to shift to an Orange Alert, even as I am lulled into a near sense of blissful security when the news tells me that several Ontario counties have achieved Level Green and people in the Yukon have graduated to what they call The New Normal, still I writhe in angst with every media briefing. For with every report one unasked and unanswered question always rises to the front of my anger bone:
Can we not all please just name the freakin’ levels the same damn way?!?! Please?!?
I call up my mother and find out that back home they have just entered Code Cherry while my cousin living in the next town over has moved up to Banana-raspberry, my friends out in BC are locked at Level 420, mon ami in La Belle Province tells me that they are at Niveau Mauve and here in Newfoundland most of us are still at good old Phase Just Stays In B’ye.
Seriously though, why is Quebec’s middle level called “Alert” and coloured orange while in the Yukon their middle level (which they actually call a “phase”) is purple and titled “Recover”? And though the Yukon has coloured their least restrictive phase a welcoming teal, next door in the Northwest Territories the very same teal is the colour applied to their most restrictive level (which at is at least also called a “phase”). Seven of our provinces and territories have created systems made up of five distinct levels (or steps or phases), three of them utilize four levels, while Prince Edward Island and Nunavut both manage to get by with just three.
Wondering when gyms might reopen? Well, if you’re in BC or Alberta that would be Phase 2 and Step 2 respectively, but in Saskatchewan it happens during Phase 3. In Quebec, Manitoba, and PEI gyms are allowed to open when the codes are yellow while in New Brunswick they can open when things turn orange. You may not be able to compare apples to oranges, but in this case yellow and orange are one-in-the-same.
The Yukon and the Northwest Territories are the only places in Canada that offer purple levels while Nunavut’s red/yellow/green system mimics a traffic light (ironic given there are no traffic lights in the entire territory). Ontario is the sole province to employ the shade of grey amongst their alert levels. This is possibly an homage to Hamilton’s skyline.
As far as I can tell Nova Scotia doesn’t have any alert levels at all. So when it comes to Covid-19 restrictions Nova Scotians exist in their own moment, adapting to a constantly shifting reality that requires no definition. It’s very Zen, but not very helpful.
Both red and green offer a tantalizing touch of consistency. Basically, green is always good and red is always bad, though one must remember the “rose by any other name…” mantra, as both colours work under several aliases. While the areas that have included green as part of their system have unanimously placed the calming hue at or near the end of their respective tunnels, these provinces have given green a frustrating variety of monikers: “Limited Risk”, “Prevent,” “New Normal”, and “Vigilance”. Clearly it’s not easy naming green. Red also takes on several onomatopoeic pseudonyms, with the provinces applying such sinister names as: “Control”, “Critical Level”, “Restricted”, and “Maximum Alert”.
As semi-useful as this hint of normality may be, by it’s very nature it is a solid argument that perhaps the 2,600,000 Canadians who suffer from colour blindness should be considered at high risk of infection and therefore should all be eligible for early vaccination?
Now, in the unpredictable, upside-down world that Covid-19 has thrust upon us wouldn’t it be nice if we could come together as a nation and follow a commonly shared alert system? The way things are now it’s like we all use our own currency and every time I talk to someone in another province I have to convert their alert level to mine in order to understand it.
Possibly the most frustrating element of this dissonance is the clear and obvious ease by which the problem could be solved. Implementing a country-wide alert system would take up the time of exactly zero scientists and epidemiologists, it would not overwhelm an already taxed healthcare system, and it would in no way impede the rollout of precious vaccines. And yet this could be a way to unite us in the fight of our lives! Remember, we’re a country that switched to the metric system, pretty much just like that. We can do this! We are 38 million-strong, and each one of us could be as familiar with what Stage 4 means as we are with converting miles to kilometres (or getting pretty close at least)! Across this great land of ours room temperature is a consistent 22°C; none of this 72°F malarky for us Canadians, so why can’t it be the same when it comes to Code Teal? This great coming together could be our global Covid-19 superpower (since we missed the boat on the whole create-a-vaccine thing), creating yet another reason for the world to look upon Canada with envy.
That said, is it okay if we go with a five-tiered number system? That’s what we’ve been using out here in Newfoundland and I’m pretty much used to it by now.
(Stay in. Wear a mask. Make sure it covers your nose. Wash your hands.)