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During the past five months Peterborough-Nogojiwanong, along with many cities across the globe, has experienced drastic changes in order to adjust to a life under a pandemic. This pandemic has been the first of its kind, spreading rapidly and placing everyone into isolation and a fear of the unknown. As months of isolation, quarantine and physical distancing have passed, closures and restrictions have reduced allowing many individuals access to outdoor spaces and small gatherings. The re-opening of cities has resulted in a mixture of feelings with some experiencing a sense of relief and others feeling anxious and unnerved.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Shortly after this announcement, a wide range of closures and restrictions came into effect in an effort to decrease and limit the spread of the virus. The closures included borders, all theatres and movie cinemas, child care centres, public libraries, indoor recreational programs and all establishments that held large gatherings.
Ontario’s action plan for a COVID-19 recovery consisted of three phases. Phase 1 included taking action to protect and support individuals. Phase 2 was “the restart” which brought forward a gradual and staged approach towards recovery. Phase 2 consists of three stages. We experienced stage 1 once physical distancing measures were put in place earlier in May, and stage 2 once parks and patios started reopening on June 12th. We are now entering stage 3 which was announced on July 17 for the city of Peterborough. As exciting and relieving as this may seem to some, it also brings a great deal of stress and worry to others. Of course all feelings about reopening are valid to all individuals and their experiences.
In an effort to hear from the community on their experiences during COVID-19 in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong, Arthur conducted a series of interviews that ranged from working professionals who have been working through the pandemic, working professionals who have been working from home, local students and residents. Throughout these interviews, many shared the positive and negative effects that the pandemic has had on their mental health, their experiences with isolation, physical distancing, and school and working (both from home and in person).
Universities were among the establishments that experienced closures. This led to the transition from in-person classes to online classes towards the end of the winter semester. Two students that were interviewed shared their experiences.
“I personally found isolating to be the hardest as I live alone. After spending the first three weeks alone in my apartment trying to finish school, dealing with the stress of exams and the stress of everything COVID-19 related, it was too overwhelming to be alone. I had to move in with my partner and their parents for two months to be able to navigate isolating and social distancing in a head better space. I also live with anxiety so the unknowns about how long this would go on and the general lack of being able to plan made isolation and the emotions of such even harder on my mental health.”- Alex, Student
“I found the transition to be difficult, and stressful. I was worried about schoolwork and finishing my classes. I was also worried about how I would pay to live in my apartment if I couldn’t find a job in Peterborough again this summer, and if I would have to move back home and lose my apartment right before my last semester/year at Trent University. Thankfully, my Professors were all very accommodating, and the school year ended well! The CESB has also been very helpful while searching for a job. But it did kinda feel ‘end of the world-ish’ for a bit! I did not particularly find isolation difficult, as I am quite introverted. It actually felt really safe to be home, and it was nice to be in my comforting home environment when finishing off the semester. I like being at home, so I was not affected by most things closing, except grocery shopping was a lot more difficult.”- Raine, Student
“I think not being able to see friends or family was really difficult for me, especially since I was finishing up the last assignments of my degree. I was also working 30 hours a week in a nursing home because of COVID-19, and I wasn’t able to have the same social support. There was also the fear of the unknown at the time, so I think all of that took a heavy toll on my mental health. Luckily, I live with a partner who is very supportive and patient.”- Devon, Student
Overall, the beginning of the pandemic brought about many new experiences, and many new ways of adjusting. Folks that were interviewed found that spending time with friends, partners and themselves (for those who enjoy alone time) eased their worries and aided in their coping. While some enjoyed the time alone during the initial phase of isolation, others were not able to cope with not being able to see friends and families as often and they had been prior to the pandemic.
When interviewing two community members who worked from home, different perspectives were shared. Kelly who has continued to work as a social worker by phone during the pandemic brought up the effects the pandemic has had on her work and family life.
“I’ve continued working by phone as a social worker. I’m around my colleagues, so I haven’t felt very isolated. We have friends in the neighbourhood, so we've been able to see them easily with physical distance. I think that’s been essential for us. We have two young children, so I think it’s been harder on them and my partner. He’s usually home with the kids, so that’s not been a big change, but not having any activities or friends to play with was an adjustment.”- Kelly, Social Worker
“…as someone who is working in the community, people coming in and not respecting these things makes me nervous as it is putting me, those around me and themselves at risk. As things have re-opened and Peterborough has experienced days without cases, it feels as though people are forgetting that COVID-19 is still a serious health risk.”- Alex, Student
Being an essential worker throughout the pandemic, is an experience of its own that needs recognition. When interviewing Hannah, an essential worker who has been working throughout the pandemic, she shared with me her fears of working doing this time and the sense of relief the re-opening brought to her personal life. As an essential worker, she was only able to spend time with co-workers and her partner, but given her extroverted personality she found isolation hard and was relieved once she was able to spend time with a small circle of friends once restrictions were limited.
“I didn’t really feel like there was any downtime of staying inside and staying safe. I never got that opportunity. I never really got that privilege of being able to stay indoors. Instead, I had to always leave the house every single day and had to interact with the public every single day no matter what.”- Hannah, Essential Worker
Following the questions, everyone interviewed was asked to reflect on their experiences about the Peterborough re-opening, how they feel about it and how they have been adjusting. Many shared that the re-opening and moving through stages has brought them a sense of relief as it’s given them the opportunity to spend time with small groups of family members and friends, while with others it has brought worrisome feelings surrounding the safety of themselves, their co-workers, and the public.
“I had this excitement, but I also had this anxiety because I was like - I don’t know if I can handle it. I think the fear of going out was instilled in everyone…. I was overwhelmed. The first couple of weeks did feel really like, am I allowed to be doing this, am I going to be in trouble”- Hannah, Essential Worker
“I haven’t been to any retail businesses downtown, but I am happy that small businesses are able to operate again. I also believe that a lot of businesses are able to operate in a safe way at this time.”- Devon, Student
“I thought it was exciting! I love the local shops and businesses downtown, so I was happy to know that they would be getting business again. I feel like the local artisans and small businesses are a significant aspect of the Peterborough community, and they care for the community as well.”- Raine, Student
Many shared that they are happy with the measures the city has put into ensuring the safety of others during a re-opening. Some of these measures including the use of outdoor patios, with recognition that most have been found to be inaccessible, the use of masks when entering closed public spaces, curbside pick-up and delivery being an option given by most businesses to their customers and limiting the amount of individuals that are able to enter buildings at a time.
“I am thankful for those who are taking it seriously and the City of Peterborough for doing a good job and I hope to see more people understanding the importance of preventive measures in order to avoid a second wave.”- Alex, Student
COVID-19 has been an overwhelming, new experience for most of the population. As things re-open please and we continue moving into Phase 3, remember to take care of yourself, spend time outdoors while following restrictions and being mindful of others and the possibility of a second wave.