Hands up, everybody who thought the humble scarf would become a star-powered symbol of Toronto’s fight against a deadly global pandemic.
But here we are, in a strange new world where it’s illegal to gather in groups of more than five and an accessory last fashionable in the 1970s is being used to teach public-health lessons and potentially save lives.
Scarves have gone, well, viral.
Neck coverings’ ties to the fight against COVID-19 began when people watching weekday news conferences by Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, noticed she always wore a scarf — and never the same scarf twice.
Somebody started a Twitter account called “Dr. de Villa’s scarf” to applaud and chronicle her collection — floral, striped, owls and more — as she calmly detailed the growing spread of the dangerous virus and efforts to help contain it.
Concluding a news conference at the end of a long week of often-grim news, Global News’s Matthew Bingley asked de Villa how many scarves she owns.
Smiling, the respected physician answered: “I’m not sure. Many? But I’m happy to take any suggestions if you have particular patterns that you’d like to recommend.”
Cult fame broke mainstream thanks to Toronto Raptors’ playful seven-foot centre Serge Ibaka, who has made his “art” neck drapes a key part of his winning wardrobe. He was watching the city’s COVID-19 efforts.
“Serge wanted to check in with, and say thank you to, the people working so hard to look after us, so we reached out to public health to see if their staff were up for a chat. They were! It was great,” says Raptors’ spokesperson Jennifer Quinn.
Ibaka did a FaceTime chat with de Villa and her team. Her second-in-command, Dr. Vinita Dubey, praised him for staying home and noted people who need to seek help from medical professionals, and don’t own a mask, can pull up a scarf to cover their face.
Ibaka, wrapping his colourful scarf around his face, agreed: “This (scarf use) is more than art because health is always important.”
The NBA star then heaped praise on the efforts of Toronto public health and emergency operations staff. “Stay home and wear your scarf,” de Villa replied in the video that, by Sunday afternoon, had been viewed almost 185,000 times.
While the message for Torontonians to stay at least two metres apart to reduce COVID-19 infections is deadly serious, scarves’ public role in the fight has helped buoy the many people working behind the scenes.
“We have all been working very hard on the local response, and (Ibaka’s) call provided a welcomed gesture of kindness that certainly brightened our day,” said Toronto Public Health’s Lenore Bromley.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, head of the emergency operations centre fighting the virus spread, tweeted that if Ibaka hooks him up with a “snazzy” scarf he will wear it at COVID-19 news conferences and, after the virus is beaten, auction it for charity.
Mayor John Tory, who made his Raptors jacket part of the NBA champions’ playoff story, got in on the action and Ibaka tweeted back: “We have a deal ... Scarves are on their way.”
Tory told the Star the city must be careful not to make light of the pandemic. But scarves can help spread the word to stay home, social distance and more.
“Anything we can do to draw attention, to use the celebrity of Serge Ibaka, and the celebrity now of Dr. de Villa’s scarves, is a step forward,” Tory said.
“We’re not still getting the kind of 100-per-cent co-operation with the measures ordered so far, we have to keep working at it.”
With Ibaka’s scarves on the way, COVID-19 news conferences about to get more colourful. For now, that’s a wrap.