The Canadian and American flags are seen on top of the Peace Arch is at the Canada/USA border in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Canadian and American flags are seen on top of the Peace Arch is at the Canada/USA border in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Caught in U.S. COVID-19 surge, Canadian ex-pats hunker down, spare a thought for home

Some say being stuck in the U.S. right now is ‘nerve-wracking’

With COVID-19 cases surging in the United States, Canadians living in the country are hunkering down and find themselves thinking a bit more about home these days.

Some who spoke with The Canadian Press from the hardest-hit areas said they were surprised by the speed at which their respective states reopened, while others said the situation was overblown.

All are trying to maintain physical distancing and wear masks when they do go out.

“All we can do is the best we can to stay as safe as possible, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking,” said Houston resident and Toronto native Grace Gonzalez.

Texas surpassed 5,000 hospitalizations last week as the second-biggest state scaled back its aggressive opening strategy, ordering bars closed indefinitely and restaurants to reduce capacity.

In Houston, where Gonzalez has lived for eight years, the public threat level was raised to its highest level on Friday.

“I was in shock when they decided to open up Texas, I felt it was way too early,” Gonzalez said. “We never saw a dip at all … there wasn’t any of that flattening of the curve before they decided to reopen.”

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. border closure to be extended until July 21

Gonzalez said masks weren’t prevalent in recent weeks and many went about their lives as if everything was back to normal. But she stayed at home most of the time, while making limited trips to stores.

“I feel like a lot of mentality (here) is if you feel sick or if you’re in one of those groups that are immunocompromised, you should stay home, but if I’m healthy, why should I have to stay home?” Gonzalez said.

That question of individual-versus-collective good is something Ontario-born Cheryl Applebaum noted in Florida, where more and more younger people have been infected. The state set a record Saturday with more than 9,500 cases.

Officials moved to shutter beaches and discouraged bar gatherings in a state that has more than 3,300 registered COVID-19 deaths.

“It really just increased our anxiety level,” said Applebaum, who lives in the Tampa area.

Applebaum was born in Windsor, Ont., raised in Toronto and his lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years with her Canadian husband.

“Both my husband and myself are in the more vulnerable age group, we’re both seniors and we have been very conscientious about social distancing, wearing face coverings, proper hygiene when we go out and come in,” said Applebaum. “And to see some of the people in the grocery stores relax those things has been very disconcerting.”

Applebaum acknowledges the situation has her thinking about Canada a lot these days.

“To be honest, this (COVID-19) in conjunction with the political climate down here has made us seriously think about moving back,” Applebaum said.

However, not all Canadians living in the U.S. are overly worried.

Ken Moon, who lives in a town just north of Dallas, feels the situation is overblown on both sides of the border.

“Others may chose to say you must hide away forever and never do anything again, but that’s not how we live our lives,” said Moon, a southeastern Ontario native who found out through serological testing that he’d had COVID-19 in February, with milder symptoms, despite having other health issues.

Moon said he believes the bigger numbers in recent days are more a result of increased testing. He says the only real change in his day-to-day life is wearing a mask.

“It is what it is, the biggest thing is keeping those that are infected away from the seniors’ care facilities,” Moon said.

Moon said he wasn’t opposed to the Texas reopening plan, noting some acquaintances in Canada haven’t left home in months.

“I have no idea where this idea of complete quarantine came from but that’s what they’re doing, and it’s kind of like ‘Why are you doing that?”’ Moon said.

VIDEO: Families separated by B.C. border restrictions are again meeting ‘in the ditch’

Like in Canada, the COVID-19 circumstances vary across the country.

The situation in Florida was worrisome enough for Ontario-born Laurie Turley-Michel that she headed back to her summer residence in Ohio early, with the impression that people in the Sunshine State were in denial about COVID-19.

“I was personally afraid to go out at all,” said Turley-Michel, who has been in the U.S. for 15 years. “It wasn’t until right before we decided to come back to Ohio that they implemented a stay-at-home order, but it didn’t last long. Florida was one of the first to start reopening.”

She works at a law firm where employees are mostly working remotely and clients are obliged to wear a mask for meetings. Turley-Michel has largely stayed home. other than going for groceries or essential purchases. She always wears a mask in public.

“We haven’t had family over here, we live in a rural area so it’s easier to stay social distanced,” Turley-Michel said.

Amy Williams, who lives in a small town near the Arizona-Mexico border where cases have been low, said she was optimistic when the lockdowns in March in her home state and her home province of Ontario happened almost in lockstep.

“Ontario and Arizona issued lockdown orders within two or three days of each other and then I felt in terms of cases, we were on the same trajectory as Ontario and then our governor decided to open things up,” said Williams, a native of Mississauga who will have to put off an annual summer trip home due to obligatory quarantine measures.

On Sunday, Arziona had 3,858 new cases of COVID-19. Ontario, with almost double the population, had 178.

Williams, a mother of two who works as a psychologist in the local school system, said her primary concern is how schools will reopen during the earlier August return in that state amid the spike.

“I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to not only physically prepare for the reopening, but mentally,” Williams said.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”

— with files from Associated Press.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaCoronavirusUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Kelowna firefighters practice swiftwater rescue techniques in the Shuswap River in Cherryville April 20. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
West Kelowna firefighters make a splash in North Okanagan

Swift water rescue training brings team to Cherryville’s Shuswap River

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019. (Facebook photo)
Meth, excessive speed found as factors in Osoyoos boat crash deaths

Nick Trask, 36, and Ryan Ellison, 35, died in a boat collision on Osoyoos Lake in 2019

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

The automated external defibrillator, like the one pictured here, was stolen from the Skaha Lake Boathouse for the second time in a year. (File)
Life-saving device stolen from Penticton paddler community for second time

It’s hoped that a new boathouse will be able to better protect the device

Penticton Secondary School grade 12 student and organizer of Wednesday’s (April 21) Earth Day clean-up Rachel Jung cleans up Okanagan Beach with grade 9 students Easton Souch, Ethan Gordon, Sylas Denninger and Aydan Young. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton High School students spend the day cleaning up town

‘The Okanagan is such a beautiful place… it’s really sad to see litter everywhere,’ said organizer

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)
Virtual meetings leave North Okanagan politicians out of touch

More than a year of Zoom has led to a disconnect between officials, according to local mayors

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
‘I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants the Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Using panels kept cold by water circulating within them, B.C. researchers compared thermal comfort in 60 of the world’s most populous cities, including Toronto. (Lea Ruefenacht)
B.C. researchers use air conditioning to combat spread of COVID particles

Dr. Adam Rysanek and his team have proven a new worthwhile system – a mixture of cooling panels and natural ventilation

Police road checks are coming for people travelling between regions while COVID-19 travel restrictions are in place. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. clarifies COVID-19 travel restrictions, Lower Mainland a single zone

Vehicle checks on highways, at ferry terminals to start Friday

Most Read