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Covid-19 Pandemic Signage and Information

Covid-19 Pandemic Signage and Information

Unlike most of the items collected within the MoE, the items collected that pertain to the Covid-19 pandemic are particularly ephemeral, in that they relate to a once in a lifetime event. To my mind, they comprise a special category of ephemera that pertain to an event of historical significance. Labels, ticket stubs, matchbooks, change over time only their reflection of aesthetic values, but the ephemera associated with the pandemic will disappear entirely once the pandemic is over. Official histories and statistical/scientific data will tell part of the story of the pandemic—the number of people infected, the number of deaths, hospitalizations, economic losses etc… but the unofficial history includes the ways in which people re-shaped their behaviour and ways of doing ordinary things during the pandemic in order to minimize their risk of infection.

Of particular note is the way in which many jurisdictions were reluctant to impose strict stay at home orders, instead opting for measures that, effective or not, tried to mitigate risk while causing as little disruption as possible to ordinary activity. Many of the signs contained within this collection reflect the lengths to which people, businesses, governments and health experts went to find ways to prevent infection while attempting to carry on more or less as usual.

I imagine that the signage and information will vanish, once the testing, distancing, and isolation protocols are removed. They form a record of the way in which we had to re-organize our most basic activities in response to the pandemic. They reflect the ways in which we tried to make doing things safer; some are effective, some are not. This record is a testament to the amount of effort that was required during this time period to try to contain the virus.

As during other epidemics, the material culture of the Covid-19 Pandemic will reflect the values and actions of how certain places attempted to cope with the outbreaks. It is possible that these signs and paraphernalia will reflect changes, some of which may become more or less permanent, to the way in which we organize and carry out activities. These objects can provide insight into the social life and the language used to discuss the pandemic. Many of the artifacts contained here give insight into the slogans and vernacular adopted to educate the public and contain the pandemic.

For example, in writing about the bubonic plague from 1348- 1358, Cooper observes that the disease “caused havoc in society by altering funeral rites, relationships between the church and people, and social behavior to name a few” (Cooper 1). Indeed it will be interesting to see which practices return to the way we did them before Covid-19, and which continue upon a different trajectory  as a result of altered ways of doing things.  Among the many aspects of daily life impacted by Coivd-19 restrictions include social distancing, mask wearing, a ban on indoor gatherings, including for funerals and weddings, birthday parties, and other such celebrations. Restaurants, although often allowed to continue providing service for take out orders, at various times throughout the pandemic were closed to indoor dining. Other closures that may permanently impact the way things work in the future include the closure of cinemas, live theatre, musical and dance performances and the cancellation of  festivals. Sports, too were impacted at both the professional and amateur/youth level with various levels of limitations on practicing and playing games. Furthermore, education from Kindergarten to grade 12 and college and university studies were also affected, driving students at various times to learn online, or switch back and forth with the rise and fall of case counts in various areas. In any case, many people might be re-thinking the way in which education is most effectively carried out, given that students learned, more or less successfully, in alternate ways. Additionally, routine religious practices such as gathering in churches, mosques and temples were affected in that they were either forced to close for a period of time, and when allowed to be open, they had to limit the number of people allowed to attend, had mandatory mask wearing, and banned singing. Some faith communities moved their services online for the duration of the pandemic, not wishing to put anyone in their congregations at risk, while others opened for limited attendance. Still, others continued to operate in defiance of the health orders.  How will the disruption of this global pandemic cause these activities to change permanently in the future, especially given that technology currently supports reduced in-person interactions? Will people ever  gather again in large groups for social or othering reasons?

The material culture from this time period reflects many of the day to day goals, anxieties and behaviours that defined the time period. Some of the information contained in this collection pertains to changes in hospital protocols, and were obtained from hospital staff, behind the scenes of public view, and give insight into how health care workers had to adopt some of the most demanding changes in their own safety protocols. It will be interesting to see how knowledge gained during the pandemic will modify hospital protocols in the future, even once the pandemic is over.

Less prominent, but present, are signage and information that display the denial of Covid, or resistance to protocols such as masking, social distancing, vaccinations, testing, and isolation requirements. This too is interesting for the sake of posterity. It might be assumed that people unquestioningly followed the health orders and medical advice, but as we have learned in relation to the 1918 Influenza pandemic, and are witnessing now, there is always a contingent that defies the health orders and refuse to take the vaccinations for various reasons.

This collection in the museum is the most time sensitive and I welcome your submissions of signage and information you have observed during the pandemic.