Shannon Wong has been working long shifts at a Vancouver hospital throughout the pandemic. She hasn’t seen her mother since September, when one of her children went back to school and the other returned to daycare.
It’s been a long year. To end it on a positive note, she plans on quarantining with her family so that they can spend the holidays with her mom, who lives alone in Surrey, B.C.
“Christmas is about family being together,” says Ms. Wong, a pediatric nurse. She believes pulling her kids out of school and daycare early to quarantine is the best way to make that happen.
“My mom would be sitting there by herself, and that’s absolutely wrong.”
Many families across Canada who celebrate Christmas are considering doing the same. The holidays are too important, and the thought of parents or grandparents spending them alone too disheartening, they say. But the more people we see over the holidays the greater the potential health risks are, and maintaining a proper quarantine is difficult, says Craig Jenne, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of Calgary.
“People dramatically underestimate how hard it is to maintain a quarantine,” he says. “If you’re relying on this as a bullet-proof strategy to see your 85-year-old grandparents with underlying health conditions, I would not strongly promote it.”
In a true quarantine, a person would have zero additional contacts above the family members or others they are at home with. Even just one person going to the store exposes their entire cohort to whatever that person might have come in contact with.
“If you’re quarantining, somebody should be delivering groceries, leaving them on the porch, ringing the bell and then running away,” Dr. Jenne says.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to each family’s tolerance for risk, he says.
For example, a couple quarantining with their children to see a parent who is in their early 60s and in good health poses less potential risk than several families promising to quarantine to visit parents who are in their 80s and have underlying health conditions, Dr. Jenne explains.
As well as the possible health risks, families should also consider the potential drama involved, says Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-based therapist. Larger families who agree to quarantine may see some members distrusting just how strictly everyone is going about it. Others who are unable to may feel bitter about the rest of the family getting together without them.
“The more family you have, the more chance there is for conflict,” Dr. Sharma says.
Karla Gibson and her husband are considering quarantining at their Calgary home before Christmas in order to visit his parents in Medicine Hat, but only if his siblings are on board.
“I trust people to be honest,” says Ms. Gibson, who was laid off from her job earlier this year.
But she worries about the chances of her family exposing themselves to the virus while travelling. “I’d hate to catch something on the way there and then give it to his parents.”
Jennifer Borno shares those concerns, but is worried about her grandparents’ mental health.
“I’ve really noticed even in myself it has been difficult,” says Ms. Borno, a Calgary mother of two who was working as a project manager in the oil and gas industry until her contract expired last year. “If I’m feeling that way, and I have a lot of skills to cope with that, I can’t imagine how they’re feeling.”
Ms. Gibson, her husband and their two daughters, 5 and 3, plan on quarantining two weeks prior to Christmas to spend the holidays with grandparents who live in Edmonton, but only if she is completely confident it won’t risk the elder family members’ health.
“I want them to have an enjoyable Christmas and I want to have an enjoyable Christmas, and if it’s in the back of my mind it’s not going to be,” she says.
As for Ms. Wong, she says she is sure she and her family can maintain enough of a quarantine.
“I know I can do this right,” she says. “No one is having any playdates. No one is doing anything.”
The family will hunker down at home, keeping busy playing board games and baking. Ms. Wong will be the only one to leave the house, and only then to work her two shifts, she says.
She’ll do whatever it takes; she can’t bear the thought of leaving her mother alone on Christmas. It’s been a long year. They all need a hopeful, happy few days together, Ms. Wong says.
“It’s almost the end of the worst year ever. We just need to pretend for a couple of weeks that there is nothing going on in the outside world and we can be happy in our little bubble.”
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