When we were asked to leave campus due to COVID over a year ago, I was excited to go home to Toronto, Canada. This excitement was slightly dampened by the stress of packing my entire dorm room into cardboard boxes, as well as the sadness of leaving friends who I was beginning to feel close to. Still, I was excited to go home. I missed my parents, my younger brother, my high-school friends, my house, and the city of Toronto.
I remember loading up the car in the rain with my mother and frantically driving across the border. We were both relieved that our family was together in the same country. By then, in early March, there were only about 20 confirmed cases of COVID in the city. Most of my friends were still in school at their Canadian universities and relatively unbothered. It was comforting to be back in what felt like a stable place while panic began to rise in the US.
Everything turned out differently than expected. The night we arrived in Toronto, we received notice that my brother’s S.A.T. test had been cancelled and his spring break had been extended. Toronto proceeded to go into lockdown. On March 17th, 2020, a state of emergency was declared across the province of Ontario, and two days later, Toronto residents were ordered to remain in their homes. Throughout the initial quarantine, or what my family referred to as deep quarantine, the experience of lockdown in Toronto for us felt like the same experience as what we were hearing about from friends and family in major US cities.
Despite this, we were thankful to be in Canada. I remember my parent’s friends saying how glad they were that I had come home to Canada, where all the reasonable people live. Everyone would laugh and talk about how quickly Canada was going to see the end of the pandemic. According to them no anti-maskers live in Canada or at least not in our wonderfully diverse and progressive city of Toronto—it’s just so different in the US.
Our friends progressively developed a sort of superiority complex with regard to the US. This superiority complex was infectious. Throughout the pandemic, even when Canada has had higher rates of infection than the U.S., the death toll per number of people infected has consistently remained lower. Justin Trudeau’s daily coronavirus updates stood in stark contrast with Trump’s significantly more chaotic and controversial press conferences in which he would publicly challenge Anthony Fauci the head of the NIAID. Looking at my country in comparison with the US made me feel so lucky. My whole family was proud of what seemed to be a demonstration of strong centralized leadership coming from the Canadian government while the Americans had much less to show for themselves. Our Premier, Doug Ford, a Conservative, rose to the occasion, and announced that he would “stick with health and science” alleviating fears of increased deaths due to poor leadership. There seemed to be a belief, at least amongst those my family interacts with, that based on this perceived difference between Canada and the US, that Canada would be at least on par with the US in handling the pandemic, if not more effective.
Despite this optimistic belief that Canada would remain at least in the same place as the US, if not better off, as well as an initial decline in cases over the summer, by late November when I’d returned home for winter break, Toronto was back in lockdown. Then, after another painfully slow process of re-opening, after which cases began to rise again, the province of Ontario went into another lockdown. Even now, my family is staying cloistered away in our downtown house because of a lockdown that started at the beginning of May due to another surge in cases.
As it turned out, people were equally irresponsible in Canada. The rate of compliance with wearing masks has actually been lower in Canada than in the US. Unfortunately, Canada does not have the same resources at its disposal as Americans to compensate for this kind of negligence. This is painstakingly evidenced by slow vaccine rollout and the lockdown that is expected to last until the end of the month.
Even as Toronto itself is being sent a large shipment of vaccines as one of the biggest hot spots in the country, general vaccine roll-out in the rest of the country is still far behind that of the US. This has primarily been caused by not an issue in planning for vaccine distribution, but rather from a supply shortage. The backloading of almost 400 million doses as well as the lack of domestic vaccine production came as a surprise to many Canadians who generally trust the national healthcare system.
This surprise mirrors the surprise that has just set in for me. I find it so difficult to believe that I’m about to leave Vermont, where it feels like everyone is vaccinated and is moving past COVID to go to a city that is still under lockdown. I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the fact that Canada and the US are two different countries that ultimately have had different responses to the COVID pandemic.
As someone who feels very at home in both Canada and the US, this is one of the first times that I’ve really felt how small Canada is next to its large southern neighbor. As I prepare to return home at the end of the semester, I feel the effect of going home not only to another city but another country. Another country that although is well-developed and economically advanced compared to many countries in the world, is simply not as far along in getting over the pandemic as the US.
(Cover Image: Adam Maida, the Atlantic)