New Brunswickers abroad warn against complacency in fight against COVID


As New Brunswick grapples to regain control of the coronavirus after months with low case rates, it might be easy to think our hard work and good fortune have come to an end.

With three zones now back in the orange phase of recovery, including the province’s three largest cities, New Brunswick has more active cases than at any time during the pandemic.

But while people in this province have been “doomscrolling” on social media and worrying that we’re losing our grip on the virus, New Brunswickers who live abroad look at home with a sense of envy.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson grew up in Rothesay but now lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and works as a reporter for the weekly newspaper the Clydebank Post .

“I’ve written more obituaries than New Brunswick has deaths,” he said of his pandemic experience.

Stewart-Robertson said that while Scotland has generally been thought to be doing well, “the political element consistently compares us to [British PM] Boris [Johnson].”

Stewart-Robertson, who has been working from home in Glasgow since March 23, along with new kitten Mr. Lyle. He says Scotland has seen exploding numbers of COVID-19 cases in recent months. (Submitted Tristan Stewart-Robertson)

The response to the virus in England is a big reason why the U.K. leads Europe in reported deaths, with more than 57,000 as of the end of this week.

But Stewart-Robertson said Scotland is on pace to have 5,000 deaths by the end of the year.

“That’s not a success,” he said.

He said Scotland was not well-prepared from the very beginning.

The lockdown there came on March 23, about a week after New Brunswick went into lockdown.

Nursing homes were especially hard hit.

A soldier from 2 Scots Royal Regiment of Scotland takes a test sample at a Covid-19 testing centre at Glasgow Airport on April 29, 2020. The second wave this fall has hit the country hard. (Andrew Milligan/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Stewart-Robertson said one of his first interviews after the outbreak was with an owner of a care home.

“Fifteen residents had died. By the time they got testing, they had 15 dead,” he said.

“I will not forgive anyone for those deaths.”

Stewart-Robertson said local dentists were donating personal protective equipment to care homes that didn’t have enough. 

Poor communication

He said Scotland has also suffered from poor communication of public health information.

Stewart-Robertson pointed to New Brunswick’s use of phases of recovery very early on, in April, something he found clear and easy to understand.

He said it took Scotland months to introduce its own “tier system.” It arrived in early November, and “even then, it doesn’t make sense.”

For his part, Stewart-Robertson has been working from home since the outbreak.

A Type 1 diabetic, he limits his trips out and masks up when he does go beyond his own  backyard. 

“I have illicitly hugged one friend back in the summer,” he said with a laugh.

He and his partner took the opportunity to get a kitten, named Mr. Lyle, and he said that’s been the household’s main entertainment since lockdown.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood…

Cayman Grant has also been homebound since the pandemic.

The St. Martins native lives in the Sherman Oaks neighbourhood of Los Angeles with her husband and two young children.

The city has been hit hard by the disease.

L.A. County has seen more than 380,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,500 deaths.

With that many cases, everyone knows people who have it.

“A person who worked for me died,” said Grant, who works in the film and TV industry. 

Cayman Grant is from St. Martins, N.B., but has lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade working in the film industry. (Cayman Grant)

 

“This is no joke. Everyone I know [who had COVID-19] was hospitalized.”

And for some, recovering from the disease is a long-term experience.

“I have a friend who is just learning to walk again,” Grant said.

As the second wave of the disease continues to grow, the governor has imposed a 10 p.m. curfew. Masks are mandatory and restaurants are reverting from patio dining back to takeout service.

But Thanksgiving Day on Thursday saw 5,000 new confirmed cases.

The most important thing is you have to let your kids know your job is to keep them safe.– Cayman Grant, L.A. resident

“Anyone who is cavalier about it, I want to shake them,” Grant said, “When you can see something coming, you have to believe it’s real.”

California is facing backlash from people who believe the efforts to control the disease go too far.

“People are politicizing our health,” she said, pointing to a mask-burning held on Nov. 21 in San Clemente, where hundreds gathered in the Orange County city to burn masks while simultaneously violating the curfew. 

“Masks down here have become a political thing.”

Grant said all she can do is focus on the things she can control.

Family first

So she stays home as much as possible, has essentials like groceries delivered, and concentrates on her family.

Grant’s two boys, one in kindergarten and one in Grade 3, are both doing online learning for school, and have been since the lockdown in the spring.

She admits she’s one of the lucky moms who can work from home and be there for her kids’ schooling.  Many women she knows have had to take leaves of absence or quit their jobs to be home with children.

She said online learning is tough, especially for her youngest, who has a short attention span when faced with learning through a device.

When asked how she balances the need for her children to understand what’s going on against the worry that too much information could be traumatizing, Grant is honest about her approach.

“Oh, I traumatize them,” she said with a laugh. “Look, the most important thing is you have to let your kids know your job is to keep them safe.”

But she still makes sure they can be kids, too, as evidenced by their Thanksgiving fun, playing in a mountain of soapy foam in the family’s backyard.

St. Martins native Cayman Grant, with husband Terry City and children Myles, left, and Grant. They celebrated Thanksgiving with a backyard soap-foam party at their home in Los Angeles. (submitted Cayman Grant)

Grant still has family on the East Coast and has been watching what has been going on in New Brunswick.

Her advice to New Brunswickers from someone who has seen the worst of COVID-19 is simple.

“Stay home. Go out only for essential items. Do not expose your family.”

And, she sees hope in a forthcoming vaccine.

“We have three months left [before a vaccine]. Let’s use this time to have some fun and be with and be grateful for our family.”

‘You’ve done the right thing’

In Glasgow, Stewart-Robertson is preparing for a Christmas in his home. No visits with in-laws, no travelling home to Canada.

But governments in the U.K. are proposing allowing some family bubbles over the Christmas period, as the number of daily cases in Scotland are seeing some decline overall since late October.

It’s an idea Stewart-Robertson calls “madness,” given Scotland introduced stricter lockdown rules just last week, and deaths on Tuesday of this week in the U.K.topped 600, the most since May.

“Put it in the context of the people who are without children or parents because of this,” he said, “I don’t want any more COVID obits.”

His parents still live in New Brunswick, and he’s happy for that.

“New Brunswick has done very well. I know they are able to keep safe,” Stewart-Robertson said, “You’ve done the right things.”



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