Volunteers support Edmonton residents through coronavirus self-isolation

Feb 14 2020, 2:52 pm

A group of volunteers in Edmonton are helping people who’ve just returned from China and want to self-isolate to make sure they’re not sick with the coronavirus.

Isolation 4 Love arranges transportation home from the Edmonton International Airport and grocery delivery for anyone who reaches out. So far, they’re helping more than 40 people through the 14-day isolation period suggested by public health officials.

“They should be proud of choosing to [self-isolate], instead of feeling shame,” said Michelle Zhang, one of the volunteers.

Cindy Xinjie Cui, another volunteer, added it’s a “noble” decision to sacrifice your freedom, and your income if you’re missing work, to protect your family and the larger community.

“We’re isolating the virus, but not people,” Cui said, adding she hopes donations of homemade meals help those in self-imposed isolation “feel the love and support.”

The effort is to contain the spread of COVID-19, the name the World Health Organization gave to the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 that’s so far infected more than 49,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,380.

Canadian health officials have asked people who have recently travelled to China’s Hubei province, or been in close contact with someone who has, to self-isolate for 14 days to make sure they’re not sick.

The people arriving in Edmonton are not coming from Hubei but from other regions in China, and none are showing symptoms, Cui said. But many are choosing to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.

Isolation 4 Love volunteers help people coming home to Edmonton by picking up their car and driving it to the airport, so the resident can drive home without having direct contact with anyone in the community. Sometimes volunteers will use their own cars to transport arrivals, and Zhang said they wipe down the interiors with alcohol afterwards to be safe.

Some arrivals head home, but some choose to rent a hotel room or other accommodation for the two-week period to avoid potential spread to their families, Cui explained. It can be a financial burden, especially if the person’s employer doesn’t let them work remotely.

From there, Isolation 4 Love volunteers help by doing grocery runs for people, and dropping off anything else they need — including children’s toys. Some Edmonton businesses have joined the effort by donating fresh food to those in isolation.

“Many people are single. They’re students,” Zhang said. “Who’s going to help them?”

The volunteers have been doing this since February 1, and they organize themselves through Twitter and WeChat, a Chinese social media and messaging app. To connect on WeChat, search for the account wlhappyca.

More help and donations are always welcome, Cui said. Right now, they’re looking for help finding free or low-cost basement suites for people to stay in during their self-isolation.

The group has also raised money to buy supplies like goggles and masks for medical workers in Wuhan, where the virus has had the greatest impact.

In Canada, there are eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 — five in BC and three in Ontario. No cases have been reported in Alberta thus far.

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