‘We can’t afford to put ourselves out there’: Some Nova Scotians not ready for closer contact

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While Nova Scotia has begun easing restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, 63-year-old Deborah Demeter says she and her husband still don’t feel safe getting together with others.

Demeter, a breast cancer survivor and Type 2 diabetic, is at higher risk, and worries about contracting the virus.

“We feel that we have to look after ourselves because we both are diabetics and are vulnerable,” said Demeter, who lives with her husband in New Waterford, N.S.

“Anything I can do that will restrict me from being around other people, I will do.”

Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada have begun easing restrictions, but those with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems may continue to be cautious.

On Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that the province was loosening gathering restrictions, allowing people to get together in groups of 10 without physical distancing, and ending the need for household bubbles.

“We can’t afford to put ourselves out there,” Demeter said. “So no matter what the province says as far as numbers go, there will not be 10 people in my house.”

'We can't afford to put ourselves out there': Some Nova Scotians not ready for closer contact
Deborah Demeter, 63, and husband Joseph Demeter, 69, are both immunocompromised. Even though gathering restrictions have been loosened in Nova Scotia, Deborah says they don’t feel safe just yet. (Deborah Demeter)

Michelle Donaldson, communications manager for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, said people with lung issues will likely remain cautious when it comes to going out into public spaces.

“I would definitely say that the anxiety has been running high over the course of this pandemic,” she said.

“People with lung-health issues, they’re already conscious of their inability to breathe. Anything that could worsen that for them, they would definitely take extra precautions in order to try to protect the lung health that they have.”

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Wearing masks

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says Canadians should wear a mask as an “added layer of protection” whenever physical distancing is not possible.

But Donaldson said that’s not always easy — or even possible — for people with breathing issues, especially if they require an oxygen mask.

I think the more important thing is the people that don’t have lung-health issues, to ensure that those people are following the recommendations and the protocols to wearing the masks so that we’re protecting people who are immunocompromised.”

'We can't afford to put ourselves out there': Some Nova Scotians not ready for closer contact
Michelle Donaldson is a spokesperson for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Kelly Cull, regional director of public issues for the Canadian Cancer Society in Halifax, said the need to protect more vulnerable communities hasn’t changed with the reopening of the province.

“It really goes back to that, ‘This is not necessarily all about you,’ sort of messaging,” Cull said.

She said they’ve experienced a huge increase in calls to their cancer information helpline and their online peer support chat since the pandemic started.

But Cull also said the loosening of restrictions is also a great relief, especially for those who are newly diagnosed.

“When you’re experiencing such a threatening and life-changing illness, that extra layer of social isolation has been so, so challenging for people,” she said.

Even though things are easing up, Demeter said she hopes people will keep wearing masks and staying two metres apart when out in public places like the grocery store.

“I know the masks aren’t foolproof, but it’s a barrier — and you need that barrier.”

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