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

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal celebrated the opening of operations on April 12 in a virtual online ceremony with President and CEO Mick Dilger and Manager of Communications and Media Affair Tasha Cadotte commemorating the ribbon-cutting. (Photo: Supplied)
Pembina celebrates opening of operations in Prince Rupert

A virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorates LPG export facility on Watson Island

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal shipped its first vessel full of liquefied petroleum gas on April 9, just less than three years after breaking ground at the re-purposed pulp mill site on Watson Island.
Pembina ships first vessel of LPG out of Prince Rupert

More than $12 million spent to repurpose Watson Island for the LPG export facility

Seventy-two cases of COVID-19 are reported for the week of March 28 to April 3 on the map of Graphic Distribution by Local Health Area of Case Residence for Epi-week 13. (image: BCCDC)
Cases increase to 5 in Acropolis Manor’s 2nd outbreak

Prince Rupert Regional Hospital Patient Care unit outbreak is now 4 and includes a staff member

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue attend an apartment fire on the morning of April 11 in a building at 521 Fulton Str. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Sunday morning fire rouses tenants

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue attended an apartment fire at 521 Fulton St.

Kristi Farrell owner of Opa Sushi said on April 8 she has some employees under the Foreign Worker program but some of the COVID-19 challenges may jeopardize employers’ future hirings under the system.
Prince Rupert restaurant owner says hands are tied with COVID-19 layoffs

Foreign Worker Program restrictions limiting choices for employers

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Most Read