My dad has had his first dose of the vaccine, and my mum is on the list. As you know, bears need no vaccine because we are already petri dishes of jockeying germs, and COVID wouldn’t make a difference to us.
My dad got the shot shortly after having actual COVID, which kicked his ass for a good three weeks. Just as he was starting to recover, BAM! Pfizer kicked his ass with three bonus days of fever and sweats. All good now, though.
Perhaps needless to say, my dad wasn’t much of a party animal as we headed into spring. Where once I could rely on him to pour (and share) a beer or whiskey in the evening, COVID-infected Dad was no fun at all.
(To recap why I depend on my parents to open the bar, I have no thumbs.)
So now my mum’s about to get her jab, and she’s talking about abstaining from alcohol to maximize her immune response.
I immediately went to Google to find some evidence against this sort of extremist action.
The idea that alcohol could mess with immunity first surfaced in Russia, where a health official recommended abstaining two weeks before the vaccine and 42 days afterward. Russians were incensed by this of course.
There is no evidence for this recommendation. No COVID/alcohol studies have been conducted. All we have to go on is the evidence from past studies on animals to see whether alcohol affected their immune responses after vaccination. Where do I sign up for one of those animal studies? (It helps to be a rat or a monkey.)
What evidence is there?
Subjects with alcohol use disorder have increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Moderate alcohol use is associated with an enhanced immune response.
Monkeys who were given all-access drinking privileges for seven months and whose blood/alcohol levels regularly exceeded 80 mg/ml had a lowered immune response. But monkeys who drank moderately had higher levels of antiviral cytokines.
So, Mum, moderate is the way to go. And moderate is okay. To be honest, I don’t need to see my you or Dad bust out these days—it would be embarrassing for everybody. Just pour yourself 1.5 oz. of something nice, and be ready to share it with this would-be experimental bear.
I promised to tell you about my dad’s tangle with COVID, and here it is.
It was not as fun as I thought it would be. Turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about COVID.
It wasn’t a holiday.
I figured if my parents got COVID, it would be an instant two-week holiday. Our liquor cabinet is stocked. Even by my standards it can cover two weeks of all-out hedonism. But I didn’t account for how shitty COVID makes you feel. My fellow inebriates, my dad went dry while he was sick. He didn’t have so much as a beer.
So why did my dad bother getting COVID if it his quarantine wasn’t going to be a big party?
Turns out my dad didn’t mean to get COVID. In fact, he thought he was being super-careful. He wore a mask everywhere, including at work, except while sitting down at his desk. If he got up to grab a coffee or use the photocopier, he’d mask up again. He was in a large space with high ceilings and no one worked close by. When my mum asked, “Shouldn’t you wear a mask all day?” he’d pull out a piece of paper and draw her a little diagram of where everybody sat and how safe it all was.
To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this. Bears are teeming with microbes and viruses that could probably shit-kick the coronavirus to kingdom come. I wasn’t worried about my dad because he was so sure things were safe at work. But he had forgotten to mention colleagues who were in the habit of making mask-less visits to his desk.
Who was patient zero?
Before I knew about those people, I would have put money on Miss V. After months of online learning, she had returned to in-person school and was trying to sort out whether she hated it as much or more than virtual instruction. COVID-19 notices had started coming home on a weekly basis, but we hadn’t yet been warned of an in-class exposure. But it seemed inevitable.
But V actually liked keeping her mask on 100% of the day. As soon as the recess bell rang, she would beat it outside and read a book in whatever human-free zone she could find. (She got called out on this once—one of the higher-ranking admin types actually accosted her and told her to stop reading and play dodgeball instead. More on this in another post.)
Anyway, my bet was on school as the scene of transmission, not my dad’s work. So it was a big surprise when nearly everyone there got ill.
Helping the sick
My first impulse was to offer Dad a glass of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. His throat was in pain and I reckoned it would help. Stout Edition is finished in Irish craft beer barrels, which adds to Jameson’s already lovely oaky, orchard-fruit complexity and long caramel finish. I was willing to drink from the same glass with him—it would be medicinal for both of us, Dad with his spike proteins and me with my raging bear germs. But he declined.
His sore throat was accompanied by a slamming headache and drenching fever that persisted for more than 14 days. When he finally called the doctor, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. We didn’t think he was going to die, but he sure looked like hell. He didn’t just abstain from booze; he stopped eating and lost almost 20 pounds.
Meanwhile, the other humans at LBHQ got themselves tested, several times. On the second try, J (formerly Miss P) scored a positive. Fortunately for her teenage self, COVID didn’t alter J’s life or behaviour in any respect. Clearly J had got COVID from hanging out with Dad.
Mum and V began to make a habit of doing drive-through COVID tests, each time negative. Because they didn’t have COVID, the entire family’s isolation period was extended to encompass not just the time Dad and J were sick, but also the window of infectious potential for Mum and V.
We were grateful for the kindness of family and neighbours. Mum’s sister and brother-in-law drove out from Vancouver and braved Langley Superstore to do a big shop. My friend Scarybear was impressed with this, as he had been wondering how we would get more Miss Vickie’s chips. But I was even more impressed by our friends, who dropped off a bag of groceries and a cooler full of random beers. That’s how quarantine should be!
Final thoughts on COVID
COVID seems to come in as many flavours as there are people. You don’t know which one you’re going to get. My dad had a shit time with it, but ultimately he was lucky.
Public health people continue to insist there is no transmission in schools, but V’s school has been sending home exposure alerts almost every single day.
Bonnie Henry, please be more emphatic in telling people not to socialize. Don’t ask them to use their own judgment. That’s like asking someone how much income tax they want to pay. Make them isolate so this so-called circuit break actually stands a chance of working.
People, wear a mask. Masks are far more comfortable in April than they are in July. If we get our vaccines and keep to ourselves just a little bit longer, maybe we won’t have to wear them in July.
Get a test as soon as you feel symptoms. COVID starts with the tiniest little throat tickle. It’s so minor that many of my dad’s workmates didn’t bother going for a test—despite discussing the tickle. Then one person went for a test and set off a cascade as they realized the whole office was infected.
Finally, don’t drink hand sanitizer. (Sorry, that one was for me—sometimes I need a reminder.)
Since the pandemic struck, we have been drinking almost every day. This puts us among the 18% of Canadians who report they’ve been indulging more often.
COVID-19 seems like a great reason to drink more. We’re not going anywhere (no driving). Alcohol has been declared essential by the BC government (yes!). So, come about 8:00 pm each evening, my parents and I will unwind with a glass of whisk(e)y. As we sip and work our way through reruns of Battlestar Galactica, and I’ve started to associate Canadian Club Classic 12 with Cylons.
In the before-times, we probably would have abstained on a weekday and then busted out on Friday/Saturday (not one glass but several). But we no longer socialize—meaning Friday/Saturday are just like regular days.
Effectively, we’ve spread the half a dozen drinks that would formerly have been consumed between Friday and Saturday over a seven-day stretch.
I wondered if this was the case for other Canadians. Are they drinking more often, but in lower quantities?
Not according to Statistics Canada. In pre-pandemic times, 11% of Canadians reported consuming five or more drinks at a time on the days they consumed alcohol. During COVID, it’s 18%.
I figured my mum would be a candidate for this kind of behaviour. Pre-COVID, she’d be up for consuming an entire bottle of wine in an evening. But now… a wee dram, Cylons, then bedtime.
I’m conflicted about this. Over the years I’ve been a huge proponent of binge drinking. [Insert disclaimers: I’m a bear, bears are stupid, we don’t even have opposable thumbs, etc.] But I kind of like this daily sipping behaviour too. I feel like I’m calming down a bit about drinking. I don’t have to wait till Friday to have a drink. I’m sometimes sad that no one comes over and a party never breaks out, but hey, those weekend parties sometimes led to douchebaggery of the kind my parents should have aged out of long ago.
So, what do other Canadians say about their drinking?
They’re bored. Over 60% are casting about for things to do, so why not have a drink?
They’re stressed. Over 57% have extra anxiety thanks to COVID. We know what that’s like. The kids are home climbing the walls. My parents’ work has increased, not decreased. They’re doing Zoom calls all day, freaking out about deadlines while coping with guilt at their failure with home schooling. Plus, my dad actually had COVID! I’ll tell you all about that in a later post.
Alcohol is convenient. In fact, there’s some on the kitchen counter right now. About 52% of Canadians are finding themselves in close proximity to alcohol. There it is, and they have nowhere they need to drive. No reason not to put some Bailey’s in the morning coffee and then hit that Zoom meeting.
Loneliness. You’d think you couldn’t get lonely, stuffed into a house together for over a year. But at LBHQ we’re lucky to have each other. Many Canadians live at home and are missing human contact. Almost 37% say loneliness makes them reach for the bottle.
Insomnia. This one is huge at our house. In the before-times, 5:00 am was gym time. Now there’s no gym (at least, no thank you to the gym, where people are panting away without a mask on the cardio machines). We get up later. We go to bed later. And there was no exhausting commute to tire us out. We may even have slacked off work a bit. No wonder we’re wide awake at 11:00 pm.
According to Nanos Research, lack of a regular schedule is a big factor. Another reason is cooking at home. And some people report they are just lucky to have a lotof alcohol in the house.
What about Canadians who’ve decreased their drinking?
Nanos says 61% of Canadians now lack opportunities to gather and socialize. Considering we’re supposed to be in a flat-out fucking lock-down, this number should be more like 100%, but it makes sense the fact that all we have to do is look out the window and see 10 neighbours partying on their front lawn. The next biggest reason Nanos gives for decreased drinking is a desire to maintain good health lest the virus attacks (36%). Other reasons include running out of alcohol, caring for dependents, and being too busy.
It’s one thing to read surveys and self-reports about alcohol consumption during COVID. But what do the liquor sales statistics tell us?
For one thing, it wasn’t just toilet paper we were panicking over. Check out the spikes in liquor sales at both private and government liquor stores last year.
Here’s a comparison of retail sales of beer, wine and liquor in Canada.
COVID kiboshed our annual Gin Shoot-Out last year. Instead of buying half a dozen bottles for guests to sample, we bought one big bottle of Gordon’s, and there’s still a third of it left.
Wine has a social association for us. No guests = no wine, except on holidays, and even then we’ve been moderate. In a couple of cases, my parents didn’t even finish a bottle they opened; they ended up cooking with it (criminal).
Liqueurs mean Christmas and a house full of people. That didn’t happen this year, hence no liqueurs. A small bottle of Bailey’s is languishing in the fridge. (I think it keeps forever?)
Dad’s beer consumption is moderate, and Mum stopped drinking it altogether.
Stratospherically up. Rye and Irish whiskey have become the wee dram of choice around here.
If you’re not exhausted by this round-up of statistics and the personal drinking habits of my boring parents, you may want to know a bit about Canadian Club Classic 12.
For starters, it’s $27.49 and often goes on sale (for instance, it’s $26.09, so we should probably gallop to the liquor store). You know how I and Don Draper feel about Canadian Club proper (10:00 am siren call), but Classic 12 is different. It’s more substantial, with a superior mouthfeel and longer finish. Notes are firm and heady—lots of caramel with some mellow fruit and a hint of spice and a wood finish. If you’ve been drinking Canadian Club and then switch to Classic 12, it’ll feel like you’re being clobbered over the head, but in a nice way. It’s an affordable bottle for anyone hunkering down during COVID, and fully suitable for a Battlestar Galactica binge. (Have you noticed how much they drink on that show?)