How living in a US hotspot changed my view of COVID-19

Urging Kingston students to take the virus seriously

Chloe compares her experience with the pandemic in Connecticut with being back at Queen’s.

Two days after St. Patty’s weekend, I got an unexpected call from my dad in the States. “I’m coming to get you tomorrow,” he said.

After Queen’s decided to suspend in-person classes last spring, I intended to wait out the rest of the abruptly online semester in Kingston.

But I soon discovered I couldn’t wait to return home to the United States: Canada was closing its borders to all unnecessary travel. Although my dad and I are both Canadian citizens and picking up your daughter from the foreign country she’s stuck in definitely constitutes necessary travel, my parents were worried that if I didn’t come home soon, I wouldn’t be able to come home at all.

So, with sudden frantic anxiety blooming in my chest, I managed to pack up my things that night. The next morning, my dad made the seven-hour trek from Connecticut to Kingston, promptly picked me up, turned around, and drove me home.

Classes had been suspended, but COVID-19 still didn’t feel ‘real’ to me yet. It felt like something that would blow over more quickly than we expected, something that couldn’t possibly last until the next fall.

But driving through New York—where COVID-19 cases were soaring—felt like being dropped into an apocalypse movie.

“STAY HOME,” highway signs flashed in big, yellow letters. “FLATTEN THE CURVE.”

There were few other cars on the road, and the rest stops we entered were sparse. It was an entirely different scene from the one I’d just left, where, only a few days before, Queen’s students had spent St. Patty’s partying in the streets.

In Kingston, COVID-19 felt like a farfetched dream. In New York, it was an unsettling reality.

I managed to let out my breath when we arrived in Bethel, Connecticut: my small hometown. It felt good to be home, surrounded by the family I hadn’t seen since New Year’s.

But my relief was short-lived, replaced by a growing fear that I’d unwittingly brought COVID-19 home with me.

The possibility of having picked it up in Kingston—or at one of the countless rest stops we’d visited on the drive home—plagued my thoughts. My dad is a reformed smoker with the weak lungs to prove it. If he contracted the virus, there was a good chance he’d die.

My brother is young, and my mom is healthy with no underlying health conditions, but after consuming news story after news story about COVID-19 it became clear that these factors only mattered to a certain extent. Even young, healthy people could die from the virus.

Two weeks came and went, leaving me relieved that, with no symptoms, I was likely COVID-free. But as the case numbers in Connecticut continued to climb, my anxiety became a living thing of its own, tainting my thoughts with constant paranoid fears.

Now quarantined, the only time my family and I left the house was to take walks down the street. Not wanting to brave grocery stores, my mom used a delivery service. After our groceries were dropped off in front of the house, my whole family would congregate in the kitchen, each of us running Lysol wipes over the products’ packaging.

When my mom was called back to work in May, we held our breaths. Each day she’d come home and immediately change her clothes, wiping down her shoes and washing her hands.

In June, she was laid off.

My dad eventually returned to his architecture office in Port Chester, just outside of New York City. As a small business owner, he’d suffered those few months without income. When he tried to apply for a government loan, he was rejected only to discover that big corporations had already sucked up the money intended for small businesses.

Over time, businesses in my small town began to close one-by-one: the independent movie theatre, a popular ice cream shop, a pub restaurant I’d never been to but had always wanted to try.

Later, a GoFundMe page for a family two towns over popped up on my Facebook feed. The husband—a young, healthy man—was in the hospital with COVID-19. Weeks later, he died.

Now back at work, my dad called up one of his clients. A woman answered and informed him his client had died in April from coronavirus. The man had been in his fifties.

It began to dawn on me just how close to home the pandemic truly was. I’m lucky enough that my family—both immediate and extended—are healthy. But seeing people die unexpectedly from the virus was a harsh reminder that it could’ve been me and my own family.

Because of swift measures taken by Governor Lamont, Connecticut has its COVID-19 numbers under control now. But that doesn’t make its effects any less impactful. Now that my mom is unemployed, she’ll have to go job-hunting at a time when millions of other Americans are too. If she doesn’t find a job with full benefits by December—which is a lot easier said than done—my family will lose our health insurance.

Fortunately, we can afford to purchase our own healthcare, but the benefits will be lacking. That means no dental coverage, no vision, and for me, no more covered birth control.

Even still, I’m lucky. After completing a mandated two-week quarantine, I’m back in Kingston with my friends. As a dual American-Canadian citizen, I’m eligible for OHIP, so I won’t have to worry about health insurance until I return home. The number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario as a whole is also significantly lower than in the US.

So, while I can’t help but feel like I’m out of the worst of it, memories of the way COVID-19 ravaged my home state haven’t gone away. Seeing students make light of social distancing protocols and mask mandates makes me sick to my stomach; that frantic anxiety I had at the end of March returns full force.

With my parents at home in Connecticut, I don’t have to worry about passing them the virus. But that doesn’t stop me from worrying about other peoples’ families here in Kingston and the way an outbreak would affect their lives.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m one of only a few here in Kingston who learned this summer that COVID-19 is very real, deadly, and not to be trifled with. Students partying right now are playing Russian Roulette with a virus they shouldn’t wish on anyone, yet no one seems to care.

I know Canada isn’t the States. I know that Donald Trump, thankfully, isn’t in charge here, and Trudeau is doing more than Trump ever could to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. With only a handful of active cases, Kingston seems like a safe haven.

But that can change at a moment’s notice. Connecticut was fine—and then suddenly, it wasn’t.

Fortunately I’m fine too, but the knowledge that I could catch COVID-19 here of all places—after months spent avoiding it in the States—is always at the forefront of my mind.

I’ve already lived through one apocalyptic summer. I don’t need to experience another.

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