By Steve Hubrecht
As the self-isolation and social distancing in the Columbia Valley associated with the COVID-19 pandemic nears the two month mark, the strain it brings is becoming more pronounced for at least a few residents.
But if you think this is tough, things can easily be more difficult: just ask Kayla Kay, who spent two weeks in outright quarantine (as opposed to the normal social distancing and self-isolation) at the start of the pandemic. The Invermere resident spent those two weeks utterly alone: no trips to the grocery store, her roommate left the house for two weeks, and — most difficult for her — she couldn’t see her then-three-year-old son Connor.
Kay works for the Lady Alliance and was travelling for work in the U.S. in mid-March, hosting a Women’s Empowerment tour in partnership with Arc’teryx, when the pandemic escalated rapidly there.
“We had travelled from Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to San Francisco, then to Denver. I was scheduled to head to Boulder, New York, Montreal, and Kelowna but this current global pandemic had other plans for all of us,” said Kay. “Mandatory quarantine for anybody travelling outside of Canada was just being implemented when I returned home. I saw the severity of the pandemic escalating in the U.S. and wanted to ensure I followed the proper protocol to protect our mountain village and my family.”
Her quarantine effectively began at the Calgary Airport, as soon as she got off her plane home from Denver, on March 14. With nobody to shop for her in Calgary, she promptly donned masks and gloves and headed to a nearby grocery store to stock up on two weeks’ worth of food before heading home. She was not in the store long before she noticed that people in Canada (where the pandemic was just beginning to unfold) seemed a bit more relaxed about COVID-19 compared with in the U.S. (where it was exploding).
“I was met with odd glances and even had a lady scoff at me while I was wearing my preventative gear. There was such a different atmosphere in Canada. I felt like I was coming back from the zombie apocalypse and met with a casual awareness of COVID here, partly due to the fact that we had not been hit with the number of cases as seen in some of the bigger metropolis areas such as Seattle and New York,” said Kay. “Honestly it was a night and day difference. The U.S. was dealing with a far bigger impact and more widespread cases and people were reacting accordingly. For the most part tensions were high and President Trump was discussing closing the borders while sports events, schools, and other major events and many city infrastructure systems were shutting down, (and authorities were) releasing COVID protocols and cancellations.”
Multiple events in Kay’s tour were cancelled virtually overnight, and with concerns over the pandemic in the U.S. soaring, it was a no-brainer for her to postpone the rest of the trip and come home immediately, although with all the talk about border closures she concedes she was initially briefly concerned about not being able to make it back across the 49th parallel.
Kay’s roommate left their house in Invermere, staying elsewhere for the two-week quarantine, before Kay drove back from Calgary, setting the stage for some serious solitude once Kay finally made it home.
“It was a roller coaster of mixed emotions. Some days I embraced my time alone, other days I struggled to accept the new norms and missed social interactions. I have a wonderful support system and I had a few friends drop groceries, dog food, wine, and other goodies off for me,” she said. “They were integral in keeping me sane. Even just a hello from the kitchen window made the world of a difference. I was able to stay connected and find time to reach out to old friends and re-connect. I was very grateful for modern technology and the ability to video call friends and family.”
But the biggest challenge? Kay, a single mom, couldn’t see Connor, not even to say a quick hello before beginning the quarantine. Since Kay had been out of country for a week before starting quarantine, she spent a total of three weeks straight not being able to talk to her son face to face. Connor stayed in the valley with his dad, who Kay said is wonderful. It was an immense help, she added, knowing her son was in great hands. Still three weeks without seeing your kid can be an eternity.
“We FaceTimed a lot. It was the oddest feeling knowing that he was a 10-minute drive away and I could not go see him or hold him. That was the biggest struggle,” she said. “We tried our best to explain it to him and he understood the ‘germs’ concept and that mommy could make him sick and had to stay away from others for a while, though it was hard for him. He was missing me and frustrated that we couldn’t see one another in person.”
Kay also found it odd to come to terms with the need to call people anytime she ran out of eggs, needed more dog food or any other of life’s daily little chores that suddenly she could no longer do. Having to constantly ask for help and rely on others left her feeling a bit guilty, she conceded.
“Luckily I was able to dive into work. As COVID progressed, the project I was working on was re-structuring quickly to change with the times to provide online events for people during self-isolation. So having something to work on and creating fun activities for others at home really helped lift my spirits and made me feel connected in my state of solidarity,” she said.
Getting into nature by running and walking outdoors — always taking care to stick to wide open spaces and to stay at least two metres away from anybody else — was another sanity-keeping saving grace for Kay.
“I also took time to embrace the quiet and stillness. All too often we are running through our work days and personally, as a single mom and entrepreneur, my ‘to-do’ lists were never-ending. Finding that balance each day was liberating. I was able to meditate, meal-prep, walk my dog, and nap,” she said.
Work, quiet time, FaceTiming with Connor, walking and running outside, waving through the kitchen window to friends dropping off groceries — eventually the fourteen days were done. But the end of Kay’s quarantine came with mixed feelings, because just as her personal situation brightened, the pandemic was hitting full stride across Canada, with schools and businesses closing left, right and centre, and ‘normal’ life evaporated throughout the country. It was as though Kay had left behind the ‘zombie apocalypse’ scenario of tension and empty streets she described in the U.S., and come home to somewhere safer, ensconcing herself in quarantine for weeks, only to emerge and find the ‘zombie apocalypse’ had followed her to Invermere. Her quarantine was over, but as she put it: “we are all sort of quarantined right now and I couldn’t go hug a friend or spend quality time with others outside of my immediate circle.”
But that didn’t dampen her joy at being able to see Conner again, not one little bit.
“I was ecstatic,” she said. A few weeks after her quarantine was done, Connor celebrated his fourth birthday in top-notch social distancing style: a Captain America costume, cake, presents and a parade of cars full of friends and well-wishers driving by his home honking enthusiastically.
Kay has some advice for any valley residents who find themselves going through full-on quarantine:
“Be present and take it day by day. Re-kindle old hobbies, learn a new skill, take a new course, practice stillness, embrace nature — being conscious of regulations and any public closures. Reach out to your community or utilize help lines or any other resource you can find. There are so many online offerings to help people. We are all in this together and we can help each other as a community and a society together in solidarity,” she said. “Times are unprecedented right now. There are a lot of uncertainties but there are also so many great things to hold on to. Find the silver-lining where you can and just take it day by day. Stay educated with credible sources and take a look out the window or stroll through the trees and feel gratitude for the beautiful place we live in during these uncertain times.”