"I felt like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory": Baden couple cut short Florida trip, return to Canada early and self-isolate

Foxboro Green resident Susan Sutherland holding a government coronavirus advice flyer she was given at the Canadian border. Her partner, Ken McGrath, is not in the photo as the couple are keeping two metres apart while self-quarantining. - Photo: Ken McGrath

Like many Canadians, a pair of Foxboro Green residents had to cut their winter plans short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Susan Sutherland and her partner, Ken McGrath, both residents of the retirement community in Baden, left Canada in early November. They planned on returning home from Venice, Florida by mid-April. However, due to COVID-19, McGrath and Sutherland returned home on March 17.

As of March 19, there are almost 400 confirmed positive cases of the virus in Florida while eight people have died. Currently, there are 12 positive cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo region. 

While they were away, they followed news from Canadian sources online.

“We were aware what was starting to happen in Europe, especially Italy. We have many friends who take winter cruises, so we were starting to wonder how they would cope if the virus was detected on their ship,” said Sutherland.

Sutherland and McGrath had travel insurance for their trip, which they carefully reviewed, but couldn’t find anything to cause them to worry.

“Both of us are in the mid-senior stage of life, so we were concerned, but not overly so, until toward the end of January when a case appeared in the U.S.," explained Sutherland. "I started to follow what was happening in Canada more diligently, mainly through The Record and Facebook. We had started to social distance ourselves in Venice around March 7 when we heard there was a case in Sarasota.”

Sarasota is about 20 minutes north of where the couple was staying.

On March 13, Justin Trudeau recommended that all Canadians abroad should return home as soon as possible, and a friend told Sutherland they had 10 days to make their way back.

At that time, her insurance company issued a statement on its website about returning home, but the government’s website didn’t mention the U.S. yet.

“There was a bit of confusion about that, most likely on my part," she said. 

By March 15, Sutherland and McGrath realized it was time to pack up and leave. They prepared by cancelling their U.S. utilities, restarting services in Canada, and making sure they had enough food to eat on the three-day drive home.

“We knew we weren’t eating in restaurants, and we needed to have supplies at the ready to clean our hands, the gas nozzle at the pumps, and so on.”

 The trip home was stressful because of worrying about being in contact with other people they might encounter.

“I felt like Sheldon on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ as we were spraying everything that we might touch with disinfectant before actually moving our stuff into the hotel rooms,” said Sutherland.

At the crossover into Canada, both Sutherland and McGrath confirmed to the border guard that they felt in good health.

“We were given a two-sided sheet of paper that explained that we were to self-isolate for 14 days, and what to do if we started to have symptoms,” she said.

The border guard told them that he expected he would probably get the disease himself.

“I said I hoped not, but if he did, I hoped it would be a mild case,” Sutherland said. “He smiled and thanked me. That’s the first time we’ve had an actual social interaction with a person at the border. Maybe this crisis will bring more humanity out in all of us.”

The couple are feeling a mixture of relief and stress now that they’re home and self-isolating.

“Our stress levels continue to go up and down, as I’m sure is the case for most Canadians right now."

Their neighbours in the Foxboro Green have been supporting them by making sure they had groceries in the house before they returned.

“Yesterday, a friend brought over beef stew for dinner. This community is known for caring of each other, and that came through big time,” said Sutherland.

“A friend is picking up our mail at the now closed recreation centre mailroom and leaving it on the front step. We have lots to keep us busy, we have FaceTime, Skype and the telephone, so we are hunkering down. We are trying to remember to keep cleaning our hands and surfaces in our own home frequently. Whatever we can do to prevent this virus from spreading is worth doing.”