People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

On Jan. 25, 2020, Canadians were still living their lives like they always had: commuting to the office, visiting friends, dining out, hugging loved ones, vacationing. But the announcement that day of Canada’s first COVID-19 case set in motion a chain of events that would soon change everything.

By March, with cases climbing, health officials began implementing a series of measures that would fundamentally alter how many Canadians live. Lockdowns and calls for physical distancing led to companies shifting to work from home, travel restrictions, mask-wearing rules, cancellation of major events, and video meetings replacing in-person interactions as people were asked to avoid seeing anyone, even loved ones.

Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association for Canadian Studies, says the biggest change to Canadians’ daily lives has been the isolation from friends, family and co-workers.

“I think at the root of a lot of that change is these limits on our mobility, which take different forms, whether it’s interacting with family and friends, or seeing people that we’re accustomed to seeing in our daily lives in person as opposed to on screens,” he said.

Cambridge Elementary School, which was ordered closed for two weeks by Fraser Health due to a COVID-19 outbreak, is seen in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Cambridge Elementary School, which was ordered closed for two weeks by Fraser Health due to a COVID-19 outbreak, is seen in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

An online survey conducted for Jedwab’s group in September found that over 90 per cent of the 1,500 people polled said COVID-19 had changed their lives, with most citing the inability to see family and friends as the biggest factors.

While few Canadians have been untouched by the pandemic, Jedwab says women, newcomers to Canada and people who were already economically and socially vulnerable appear to have been among the most deeply affected, particularly by job losses.

Here’s a look at how COVID-19 has changed daily life for some Canadians of different groups:

Seniors

For Bill VanGorder, a retired 78-year-old from Halifax, the pandemic put a temporary halt on his active social life and his favourite pastimes of volunteering in the local theatre and music scenes.

“Theatre people, as you may know, are people who love to hug, and not being able to hug in these times probably has been one of the most difficult things,” he said in a phone interview.

He considers himself lucky, because at least he and his wife Esther have each other, unlike many of his single friends who are completely isolated. Many older people, who are more at risk of severe complications from COVID-19, are struggling to stay connected with family or finding people to help them with household tasks.

VanGorder, who works with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, also believes unclear government messaging, particularly on when older adults will get access to the vaccine, is “creating huge anxiety and mistrust in the system,” among already-nervous seniors.

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. A recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association found most doctors who responded have not seen an improvement in the supply of personal protective equipment in the last month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. A recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association found most doctors who responded have not seen an improvement in the supply of personal protective equipment in the last month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

But while the pandemic has been hard, he says there have also been silver linings. He and many of his friends have been learning to use platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime, which help seniors stay in touch with relatives and connect with their communities.

“We think the positive thing is that, of course, this knowledge will continue after COVID and will be a real step forward, so that older adults can feel more involved in everything that’s going on around them,” he said.

The first thing he’ll do when things get back to normal is to hug his grandchildren and theatre friends, he said.

University students

As classes have moved online, many students have had to adapt to living and studying in small spaces and being isolated from friends and campus life at a stage when forging lifelong friendships and social networks can be crucial.

Small living quarters, the inability to travel home, financial fears and uncertainties about the job market have contributed to a “greater sense of isolation” for many students, according to Bryn de Chastelain, an Ontario resident studying at St. Mary’s University in Halifax and the chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

While he believes schools have done their best to support students, de Chastelain says many students have seen their mental health suffer.

“A number of students are really struggling with having to learn from home and learn online, and I think that a number of strategies that students are used to taking up are very difficult to replicate in the online environment,” he said.

Parents

Schools across the country were shut down for several months in the spring, ushering in a challenging time for parents who were suddenly forced to juggle full-time child care, work and keeping their families safe.

The reopening of schools in the fall brought different challenges depending on each province’s COVID-19 situation and approach. In Ontario, some parents opted for full-time online learning, while others were forced into it when Premier Doug Ford chose to extend the winter break. In Quebec, which doesn’t allow a remote option for most students, some reluctant parents had no choice but to send their children back to class.

“I think uncertainty, not only for kids but for everything — work, life relationships and everything — that has certainly been the theme of COVID,” said Doug Liberman, a Montreal-area father of two.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said half of the deaths in Canada from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care homes, in an April 14, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said half of the deaths in Canada from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care homes, in an April 14, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberman said the biggest challenge has been trying to balance the health and safety of his family with keeping his food manufacturing business going and maintaining a sense of normalcy for his two girls, ages 10 and 12.

For his family, that has meant trying to spend time outside but also accepting more screen time, and ultimately, taking things day-by-day.

“I certainly think that we certainly don’t have the answer, and I think we’ve done as best as we could, like everybody else has,” he said.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Nelson's Diana Morita Cole is the keynote speaker of the KDocsFF film festival. Photo: Submitted
Nelson author Diana Morita Cole to speak at film festival

She will share a virtual stage with actor George Takei

Nelson City Council heard a presentation on Nelson real estate prices from a representative of BC Assessment on Feb. 26. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
BC Assessment: High demand, low supply will continue in Nelson real estate

Nelson council heard local stats from the Crown corporation at a recent meeting

Some of the folks behind Angel Flight East Kootenay: Todd Weselake is a director, partner and pilot while Brent Bidston is the president and lead pilot of the not-for-profit. Pictured here with their older plane, they hope to get an upgrade for thanks to RDEK funding. (Image courtesy of Angel Flight East Kootenay)
Angel Flight secures RDEK funding for next five years

$100,000 will go to the not-for-profit each year, with the funds to be used to acquire a larger plane

Ryan Bavin of Bavin Glassworks in Invermere. Photo: Submitted
Call for entries for Columbia Basin Culture Tour

Deadline for registration for artists and venues is April 15

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shiromali Krishnaraj arrives from India and receives a mandatory COVID-19 test at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. B.C.’s approved rapid tests also use a nasal swab, with a machine to scan for COVID-19 antibodies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results

Tests deployed for exposures in schools, outbreaks in care homes, jails

BC Emergency Health Services confirmed that a call was received just before 10 a.m. Ground paramedics, as well as an air ambulance, are on the way to the area. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BREAKING: Helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

The Nanaimo bar display at the Nanaimo Museum. (City of Nanaimo Instagram)
City of Nanaimo points to correct recipe after New York Times botches batch of bars

City addresses ‘controversy’ around dessert square’s layers

A man holds a picture of Chantel Moore during a healing gathering at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on June 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. First Nation demands transparency in probe into second fatal RCMP shooting

‘Police have killed more Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members than COVID’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of dead B.C. Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife, secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

Most Read