British Columbia

Conflicting quarantine rules cause confusion for some British Columbians

Some British Columbians say the province's quarantine rules are confusing and even conflicting, with provincial and federal rules that contradict each other, leaving some people in isolation unclear on what they can and can't do.

Coquitlam woman's question about walking the dog took her down the rabbit hole

A woman relaxes on her patio in North Vancouver on Sept. 22, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When Natalie Macklin's husband tested positive for COVID-19 last month and they both had to quarantine, she realized she had a lot of questions about it.

Can we walk the dog? Can we take the garbage out? If so, can we use the building elevator?

Macklin and her husband, Terry, live on the third floor of a condo building in Coquitlam. They were committed to abiding by quarantine protocols, but couldn't find the answers to their questions from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control or anywhere else they looked online.

"It's like, for God's sakes, there's got to be lots of people that have contracted COVID that have a dog and live in a condo," she said.

"I was quite flabbergasted."

She got answers from a Fraser Health contact tracer who called to check in on her husband, and the answers surprised her. 

The contact tracer confirmed either of them could walk the dog, take out the garbage, and use the elevator so long as they wore masks, sanitized their hands and stayed away from others, Macklin said. 

These are the kinds of specific questions about daily life in quarantine that many of the more than 72,000 British Columbians who have contracted coronavirus, and their close contacts, have likely wondered over the past year.

The rules around quarantine and self-isolation are not always clear. It can be challenging to get a clear answer to questions like: Can I go for a walk? Can I take out the garbage? (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But the information about quarantine on the BCCDC's website can be conflicting depending on which page you're reading, and some of it even appears to contradict federal quarantine rules for travellers. 

Anyone ordered to self-isolate must stay home for a period of between 10 and 14 days. This means you cannot go to school, work, the grocery store, restaurants, gyms, or any other indoor place where people may gather.

One page on the BCCDC's website specifies the only reason someone should leave home is for medical care or COVID-19 testing.

Grocery and pharmacy delivery services are widely available in urban areas of the province. But as Macklin pointed out, individuals in isolation, especially those who are caring for someone sick or who live alone, might need to leave their apartment or condo unit for non-medical reasons, like to take out garbage.

When asked where someone in isolation can find answers to questions similar to Macklin's, the Minstry of Health directed CBC to a series of links. 

Conflicting information

A "common questions" page on the BCCDC website covers facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and how to prevent transmission, but does not answer questions like Macklin's.

One BCCDC handout says those who are in isolation but who do not have COVID-19 symptoms can continue to exercise outside, including running, biking, rollerblading or snowshoeing while staying two metres away from others — even though a snowboarder was fined for breaking quarantine in December. 

However, the Government of Canada's website says those who must quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19, but who have no symptoms, can go outside onto a balcony, deck or yard, but it does not explicitly say whether someone can go for a walk beyond their property. 

When asked whether walks are permitted during quarantine, a Provincial Health Serivces Authority spokeswoman said individuals should follow the advice provided by public health, and referred back to the BCCDC website. 

On Friday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she thinks the rules are clear, but said there are some exceptions.

"It depends a little bit if you're somebody who's sick with the virus or somebody who's a contact and not sick. Yes, there are some things we allow people to do," she said.

Going to the backyard is fine, Henry said. Although she has previously said the risk of catching COVID-19 from passing someone outdoors is "infinitesimally small," she did not clarify whether walks are OK for people in quarantine. 

Macklin says her husband is now recovered from COVID-19 but has some lingering symptoms, including a lack of smell and taste. She never got sick.

She said she wishes there was an easier way to get clear and factual information on common questions about quarantine, instead of typing them into Google and hoping for the best. 

"People are saying quarantine is quarantining, you don't leave your house," Macklin said.

"But it was a contact tracer that negated all of that information."


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