Returning families isolate on Salt Spring

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Several Salt Springers who were recently in Italy have now made it home and are observing the 14-day quarantine period as recommended by Canadian health authorities.

Heidi Crouse, who arrived on Salt Spring with her son on Friday, and Robert Birch, who returned home Thursday with his partner Mark Stevens, are now partway through their first week of isolation. As of Monday, neither pair had reported any symptoms of illness but both were happy to stay isolated as a preventative measure.

Crouse and her 17-year-old son Seth had to cut short their month-long trip to Europe, and were lucky to fly out of Florence to Paris and then to Vancouver after two previous flights were cancelled.

“I’m over the massive disappointment,” Crouse said Monday. “Yesterday I just felt so sad that it’s coming here too.”

Birch and Stevens were in South Africa for a conference on community adaptation to crisis with a LGTBQ focus. They had layovers in Rome scheduled for both legs of the trip, and had spent four days in northern Italy before the outbreak spiked on the way to the conference. The difference to their return layover was stark.

“Going back everything started to move very quickly. Literally, things were shutting down as we stepped out the door,” Birch said.

Having seen the empty streets and local travel limitations enforced by police and armed guards, Crouse and Birch were impressed by the seriousness of the situation when the virus has overwhelmed the health care system’s capacity to respond. Both were therefore surprised to find the Vancouver airport failingto reflect the serious possibilities with suitable prevention or tracking measures.

Birch and Stevens had transferred planes in Montreal, and were two of just 43 passengers on a 747 jet. Birch said they passed through the gates in Vancouver without being questioned at all.

“It was the fastest experience of going through checkpoints ever,” he said.

Borders were closed to most people who are not Canadian citizens, residents of Canada or U.S. citizens as of Monday. The Canada Border Services Agency also announced that it was increasing staffing, educational materials and screening measures at airports and other entry points. Incoming travellers are being asked if they have any symptoms of illness, and to acknowledge they have been told to self-isolate for 14 days if travelling from anywhere outside Canada.

Crouse found there were some precautions being taken in international arrivals last week, but not much. Travellers from a few countries, including Italy and Iran, were asked to go into a separate line and then to check a box on a form and include their flight and seat number. Since this was voluntary, Crouse felt some travellers wouldn’t bother. She and her son received a leaflet with information about COVID-19 and were given masks to wear, but were not told they should self-isolate.

One of the issues coming off the plane was how to get back to Salt Spring, but a couple from Chilliwack who they met on the plane offered to drive the Crouses to the ferry terminal. They took extreme precautions to make sure they didn’t pass anything on from there.

“We didn’t touch anything,” said Crouse, who ensured she and her son stayed seated in just one area, and informed staff they might want to pay extra attention to cleaning there even though they weren’t sick. They are now staying at home along with husband/dad Dean Crouse for the two-week period and are monitoring their temperatures several times a day.

“We’re lucky we live on a huge farm,” Crouse said. “And I’m cooking up a storm, so we’ve been having fun. We’ve been recreating meals like we’d been having in Italy.”

Birch and Stevens arrived on Salt Spring with friends having made preparations on their behalf, including delivering their car to the Fulford ferry terminal and stocking their fridge with food.

On Monday, Birch and Stevens were on their fifth day back and had not developed any symptoms of illness but were committed to staying put for the full 14 days. Avoiding social interactions in general and being prepared with three weeks’ supplies in case of any emergency is a good idea, Birch said, recommending a policy of “preparation not panic.”

“This won’t be the last crisis, obviously, we deal with as a community. This is the opportunity to support each other as a community to have a better outcome,” Birch said.

Birch’s community health research suggests that sharing reliable information in digestible amounts is one way to help people get through challenging times. Making sure the most vulnerable people in the community are supported is important, and so is doing frequent check-ins with your social groups. Birch said this could be done with online platforms such as Skype or Zoom.

“Anxiety and depression have a huge impact on our personal and collective immune system. The more we can reassure each other that we have each other’s backs, the better our response will be. Reassurance is critical,” Birch said.

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