As COVID-19 created growing alarm across the country over the past week, Nunavut students studying in the south were faced with the choice of hunkering down or rushing home.
Alassua Hanson, who’s enrolled in the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program in Ottawa, returned to Iqaluit on a flight last Thursday.
She admitted that it was scary hearing about the increasing number of people in Ottawa who contracted the coronavirus — there were 27 confirmed cases in Canada’s capital on Tuesday afternoon. Although she felt relatively safe as long as she stayed inside, there’s no substitute for having the comfort of loved ones in the midst of a pandemic.
“It was a decision me and my family made,” Hanson said of coming home.
She entered her fifth day of self-isolation on Tuesday to ensure she doesn’t spread the virus, if she was exposed to it.
“It’s been weird staying inside but I know it’s for the safety of my community,” she said. “I hope other people coming into the territory follow on this self-isolation.”
Hanson continues to take her post-secondary courses online. She will be completing her classes by mid-April, but planned exchange trips with Indigenous people in Costa Rica and Hawaii have been abandoned.
She’s a little concerned about how the internet holds up over the coming weeks so she can finish her lessons but “so far, so good,” Hanson said on Monday.
Manu Kunuk said he paid his own way out of Ontario once he realized that Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students (FANS) refused to cover flights for those heading home immediately.
“At that time I just wanted to be around my friends and family… I mean, it was kind of scary knowing that I came from places with COVID-19,” he said of his decision to fly to Arviat, where he’s been in self-isolation at his girlfriend’s home for a little over a week.
He made it back before Wednesday when, by order of Nunavut’s chief public health officer, post-secondary students coming back to the territory must self-isolate in either Ottawa or Winnipeg for 14 days and then take a charter flight directly to their home community.
Kunuk acknowledged that he’s concerned about getting his Nunavut Sivuniksavut classes done online.
“There’s times when it freezes,” he said of the local internet.
Kassidy Koaha-Laube landed in Cambridge Bay on Monday after wrestling with torment over what to do as the pandemic continued to affect more and more people across the country.
“It’s definitely very stressful and to be honest. I’ve been struggling mentally for the last couple of days just being self-isolated at home, alone,” Koaha-Laube wrote last week from Edmonton, where she’s taking the business administration for accounting degree program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. “I’m also stressing with unanswered questions about how long will this last, how long will it be until I can go home, when will I be able to spend time with my family before starting my internship in Iqaluit in May.”
She ultimately chose to pack up and return to Nunavut. She then went into self-isolation, she said.
She’s about four weeks away from her final exams, and starting online classes at this late juncture “isn’t all that easy,” according to Koaha-Laube.
Arviat’s Shelton Nipisar remains in Ottawa, where he said Nunavut Sivuniksavut staff are providing support to students by making food, soap and toilet paper available. That helps, but he’s still feeling uneasy, he admitted.
“I am worried about this virus in a place like this but I am more worried about being a potential carrier without knowing in an isolated place back home,” Nipisar said, adding that Ottawa has a broader range of health services to offer than Nunavut. “As long as I follow and listen to certain rules, it will be less stressful.”
He said he and his college roommate have been cleaning their room and limiting their time in public to picking up needed items, such as cleaning supplies.
“I also have been in touch with my friends and family back home to distract myself about this crisis,” said Nipisar.
Since all in-person classes are cancelled, adjusting to online learning was initially “difficult,” he admitted.
“But it is getting better day by day. This is something new to me but I am slowly getting used to it,” he said. “Last week was a little tough because… I had no motivation to get out of bed, sometimes it is still hard to get out of bed but I try to schedule things out to get out of bed.”
Ottawa is where student Lilly Parr remains by choice, and she’s counting her blessings despite the uncertainty that COVID-19 has wrought.
“I would rather stay where I am as of right now. I am thankful and fortunate to have a roof over my head, my own space, clean running water and food to eat,” she said. “Not many people all over the world have these basic necessities, especially at times like this global pandemic.”
She said she’s not as worried as she was previously because she’s resolved to follow the advice of health professionals and government officials.
She remains determined to graduate from her second year of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program despite the widespread disarray from the coronavirus.
“It’s a new world for everyone, definitely not an easy situation to be in, especially being away from home, family and friends,” said Parr. “However, I am grateful to be in a supportive environment to continue my studies and finish up the year.”