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How families are managing being 2 metres away from grandparents

How families are managing being separated from grandparents
WATCH ABOVE: With seniors at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they're infected with COVID-19, health officials are advising Canadians to keep their distance. Laurel Gregory has more on what this means for grandparents.

Typically, Joan Thomas and her husband Doug Sinnett see their grandchildren three to four times a week. But that was before the novel coronavirus hit Canada.

The family routine fell by the wayside on March 16, the day after the family gathered to celebrate Joan’s 59th birthday and the day schools closed and social distancing was ushered in to slow the spread of the pandemic.

“It’s terrifying and it’s very hurtful, because you’re used to seeing them whenever you want to… [being able to] hug them and kiss them, [having them] dropping in anytime,” Thomas said.
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“Then not being able to see them is like a massive withdrawal. You can find other ways but you still can’t have that physical hug from them, right?”

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The couple’s grandchildren — Maddy, 11, Carter, 9, Hudson, 5, and Jack, 2 — are finding creative ways to connect. They have virtual visits every day and recently decorated the seniors’ driveway with chalk messages and pictures.

While the whole family has been forced to adjust to new physical restrictions, the decision to distance was a simple one for mom Deanna Nielsen.

“We decided to limit time because I have asthma, so I’m a considered a little bit higher risk, and because my parents are older,” she said. “My mom just turned 59 and my stepdad is almost 70. My mom had a major heart attack last June so she’s considered to be high-risk as well.

“I just wanted to keep everybody safe.”

Various Canadian health officials and researchers have advised families to maintain a two-metre distance from grandparents, or to simply visit virtually for now.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Social distancing isn’t an option, but our duty to each other

Dawn Bowdish, the Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity, has restricted her own visits with her father to brief food dropoffs.

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“We decided we needed to be the people who brought him the groceries, so we’re trying to keep our bubble intact,” Bowdish said. “Nobody comes in and out and the only transportation is between him, to bring him the food and stuff he needs.

“I felt that was the safest decision to keep everyone protected, but it’s hard.”

In order to protect her father, who has health issues, Bowdish said her children stay two metres away from him and they wipe down the grocery bag before handing it off.

“I think everyone has got to make the right decision for their family, and I think if it’s possible to have that two metres of separation and just stay away from the grandparents, that’s low-risk.”

As Canadian families find their own temporary solutions to the COVID-19 restrictions, both Nielsen and her mother don’t want to look beyond today. It’s too upsetting to imagine carrying on without visiting closeup for a few more months.

“I don’t want to think about it because it’s hard. It’s been super hard,” Nielsen said with a sigh. “Grandparents are so crucial in kids’ lives.

“It’s very hard not having that village helping out.”