'Stop making memes, it’s not a joke': B.C. woman who saw COVID-19 outbreak in Spain pleads with Canadians

Ahmar Khan
Vancouver Island woman, Claire Patterson is using her experience of living in the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic
Vancouver Island woman, Claire Patterson is using her experience of living in the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic

A Vancouver Island woman who was living abroad in Igualada, Spain as the COVID-19 outbreak started to take its toll on the country is hoping Canadians will learn from other countries' mistakes.

“We have the choice now to make a difference, to self-isolate... to work from home, to flatten the curve,” said Claire Patterson in an Instagram video.

Patterson’s impassioned plea for people to follow the government’s recommendation of physical distancing has been seen by nearly 200,000 people.

After flying back to Canada from Spain and trying to explain to friends that she was going to go into self-isolation, and seeing people making light of the situation, Patterson knew she had to speak up.

“I wanted to use a personal story in hopes that it would fill the gaps between news coverage and statistics and foster a sense of empathy,” she said. “It’s like people weren’t understanding the bigger picture.”

Patterson saw photos of Canadians still going to beaches, parties and continuing social life as per the norm, but knew they weren’t aware of what could happen if the pandemic was taken lightly.

“It just felt exactly like where Spain was at a week before the pandemic... seeing how fast things escalated in that one week gave me a lot of fear for Canada,” she said.

In her video, Patterson details the two worlds she witnessed and how juxtaposed they were.

“The hospital [in Igualada] is devastated and people in Vancouver can’t even resist going to a party,” she said. “Nobody understands what’s happening.”

Up until early March, Patterson was living with a homestay family while teaching English as part of a culture exchange program through her university in Igualada, a town of nearly 40,000 people living within eight square miles.

According to Patterson, officials in the small town announced they had at least five positive cases of COVID-19, but had no plans to close schools, which she feared may lead to increased spread.

“It was obvious that the kids were already sick... I vividly remember a 12-year-old coughing so much that tears were streaming down her face,” Patterson said in the video.

But, life resumed and classes carried on for at least two more days, until they officially decided to close all schools.

“There were rumours starting to go around that there were 20 cases and there was a death already,” she said.

‘Stop making memes, it’s not a joke...’

After consulting with her colleagues, Patterson booked a flight to Amsterdam for later in the week hoping to wait out the pandemic there. But, then U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was going to ban all flights from Europe coming to the United States.

At this point, Patterson felt that when she landed in Amsterdam, she could take a flight home to Canada. Before she could even get on her flight, she received a text the next morning of a rumour indicating public transit in town would be shutting down.

“I packed as fast as I could, didn’t say goodbye to anyone who supported me from living there, and drove to Barcelona that night,” said Patterson.

Shortly after Patterson had hurriedly left Igualada, the regional government placed residents of the town under quarantine.

After being in Barcelona, Patterson booked a flight home and has been in self-isolation since returning.

To date, Spain has been one of the hardest hit countries where a total of 3,647 people have died. Since March 23 the country has reported a daily death total of at least 500 people.

Given the alarming number of COVID-19 related deaths in other countries, Patterson is hoping to see preventative action from fellow Canadians.

“Stop making memes, it’s not a joke, start making choices to protect people you love around you,” she said.

In the past two weeks, she’s noticed a change in Canadians and believes the constant messaging from the government, and the prime minister’s daily speeches have helped ease minds and answer questions.

“I’m really grateful he’s been taking questions everyday and appearing to speak to people, because it’s shifted the consciousness quite a bit,” she said.

Patterson said she intends to stay self-isolated past the recommended 14 days until the government announces Canadians should resume their regular habits.