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Q&A: What’s It Like Further Along The Coronavirus Curve?

We spoke to people from Canada in some of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19.
Debbie Lu on a balcony in Wuhan, China.
Debbie Lu
Debbie Lu on a balcony in Wuhan, China.

What’s it like further along the COVID-19 curve?

It’s a question on many Canadians’ minds as social distancing becomes more prevalent, businesses close and self-isolation becomes the norm during the global pandemic.

Canada recorded its first case of COVID-19 in mid-February. Since then nearly 500 people have tested positive and nine have died nationwide, as of March 17.

But there are other places around the world further along the curve than us. Countries like Italy and the United States are struggling to contain massive outbreaks, while China — where the virus originated — might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Q & A

We spoke to three people from Canada who are currently living or working abroad in areas hit hard by COVID-19.

Thomas Gough is a 33-year-old writer from Toronto who arrived in Rome in early February, and has remained in quarantine ever since. Italy has been devastated by the virus, recording over 31,000 cases and 2,500 deaths as of March 17.

Debbie Lu is a 28-year-old account director at a marketing agency who has lived in Toronto for the past 10 years. She went back to Wuhan, China in January to celebrate the Lunar New Year with family and got trapped by the fallout from the initial outbreak of the virus. She’s been under quarantine with her family since early February.

Rachel Malone is 27-year-old research engineer who went to school in Calgary and is living in Seattle, the epicentre of the outbreak in the United States. King County was the first place to record deaths in North America and has since led the charge in escalating closures and regulations around containing the virus.

Canadian Thomas Gough watches the sun set from his terrace in Rome.
Thomas Gough
Canadian Thomas Gough watches the sun set from his terrace in Rome.

What is it like there?

Thomas Gough, Rome: When I first arrived in early February the streets in Rome close to where I’m staying were bustling with people. Now it is a ghost town. The streets are eerily silent. The only noises you hear are the sirens of ambulances driving by and birds chirping.

The one nice thing that happens, which is the highlight of my days here, is that at around 6 p.m. everyone goes onto their terraces and balconies for a few minutes and sings aloud to each other. Last night, they were singing “Hey Jude” by the Beatles.

Debbie Lu, Wuhan: It’s super quiet here honestly. We’ve been told to stay in the gated community to protect vulnerable populations, and the ban still hasn’t been lifted yet. So right now we’re all staying home, we’ve been doing so since Jan. 23 ever since the quarantine started. We get groceries delivered every week.

At the beginning, I thought it was temporary. And then to be stuck in this place and unable to go out your own door, it’s shocking and a big change. At the beginning I was very angry and very anxious. I was scrolling through the news every single day waiting for that one piece of information saying all the quarantines were lifted, you can now travel outside. But a week later, nothing, and then a month later, nothing, and now it’s over two months and I still haven’t heard any information regarding the quarantine being lifted.

I think after the initial two, three weeks of anger and frustration, I just accepted the fact that there’s nothing I can do and I guess I can’t control the situation, but I can control my attitude.

I’ve just been staying hopeful and positive, you know, stuck around with my family. Taking advantage of quality time to do home-cooked meals together, and I probably haven’t done that with them for 10 years because I left home 10 years ago to go to Canada. So that was meaningful to me.

Rachel Malone, Seattle: There’s definitely a lot of concern. The traffic is is a lot quieter everywhere but like I think a lot of people are staying home and trying to sort of do that social distancing and isolation. I work at a small company so we haven’t implemented any telecommuting because I don’t think they’re recommending it unless your office was like bigger than 10 people in our offices like just under 10 people. But a lot of my friends who work at Microsoft or Amazon or my girlfriend’s grad school — that’s all been switched to completely telecommuting and doing everything online.

The roads are a lot quieter, the buses are basically empty at this point. I take a bus in to work in the morning and normally the bus gets to like standing room only and now there was maybe 10 people total on it.

We were supposed to go to a live podcast taping in late March, they cancelled that and now the governor here is implemented a ban on all large events. There’s a lot of uncertainty.

I’ve mostly just been trying to make sure I’m washing my hands and trying to like do the whole, not touching my face thing.

What advice do you have for Canadians?

Thomas: Take the coronavirus seriously! I see so much misinformation being posted on social media from people back home downplaying the severity of the situation. People still going out for meals, going to the gym or going on trips for March break. It’s completely irresponsible. That’s how people were acting here for the first few weeks and look where we are now.

“Staying home and being in self-isolation is very important right now.”

- Debbie Lu

Debbie: It’s not that scary. Initially we were worried about running out of food, but that was quickly resolved by community managers.

So as long as people can get support from the government, in that sense. They need to know that the government can make it easier for people to stay home and be calm, like they don’t need to rush into the grocery store to fight for toilet paper. And people can feel more at ease. Staying home and being in self-isolation is very important right now.

What do you think comes next?

Thomas: My immediate concern is that I hope I will be able to make it home in late April/early May. I’m praying by then things will die down and a sense of normalcy returns and the airlines start flying internationally again.

I’m also very concerned for my friends and family back in the United States. At least in Canada we have a proper universal health-care system where everyone can get tested and treated. In the U.S., people that are getting sick that don’t have insurance can’t even afford to get tested, let alone treated. It’s going to be a lot worse in the U.S. than it is in countries with universal health care and will most likely last much longer.

Debbie: I’m definitely not worried [about myself anymore]. I was before but I’m not now. I think I’m not worried because I know the information and I feel more in control. When I felt worried and scared at the beginning was because of the loss of information — it’s like the fear of the unknown. And I didn’t feel like I was in control of the situation. But now, especially with China, they have been dealing with virus all along.

We’ve got enough information that we know how to keep ourselves protected, we know exactly what to do. If we have to go outside, what methods we need to take to protect ourselves. It’s not that scary like, I think, the more you know about the virus and its patterns, and how, like, what type of virus cannot stay alive. It’s not that hard to protect yourself.

Rush hour traffic is light during the morning commute heading in and out of Seattle on March 15, 2020.
Karen Ducey via Getty Images
Rush hour traffic is light during the morning commute heading in and out of Seattle on March 15, 2020.

Rachel: I’m worried for like, my fellow people, because I think that there are a lot of people who are immunocompromised that are gonna get hit especially hard by this

I think for the most part I’m, I have a lot of faith in our public health officials in King County. I think that they have a good head on their shoulders and I think that they’ll make the right decisions. I want to trust them to make the right decisions. Personally for my own health I’m lucky enough that I’m not super worried about it because I’m not in an impacted group or anything like that but I want to try and make sure that I’m not putting others who might be at risk.

Basically kind of worried short term but I think long term locally at least I think we’ll go through this all right. In terms like nationally I am a little worried about how If it’s not managed well, it could definitely be not good. But I’m hoping that local governments are able to manage it effectively.

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