British Columbia

Multigenerational households face challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Eight per cent of seniors in British Columbia live in multigenerational households, according to B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie. Rules around safety during the pandemic has led to new routines for many of these families.

Keeping social interactions tight and following public health guidelines is critical say officials

According to B.C.'s Senior Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, eight per cent of B.C.'s seniors live in multigenerational households, which is higher than the national average. (India Picture/Shutterstock)

Rei Ge's grandmother used to greet her with a big hug whenever she came home from school, but the two of them have a new routine these days.

"I'll usually put my book bag down and I'll wash my hands really quickly and I'll make sure to take off my mask and maybe change my clothes. My grandma will usually stay in her room until that's sorted out and then she'll come out and then she'll ask me how my day has been," Ge, a Grade 11 student in Victoria told host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West. 

Ge's grandmother makes up the eight per cent of seniors in British Columbia who live in multigenerational households, according to Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.'s Senior Advocate.

"We're a little above the national average in B.C.  ... and we have an older population here than many parts of the country," she said. "So, yeah, we've got to think about this."

Mackenzie said for members of these multigenerational households, considerations need to be made for the most high-risk member in the household around daily interactions. 

"The highest probability of contracting it, we now know, is in that close personal contact where the droplets are transmitting directly to you," she said. 

"So if you're living with elderly people, you want to think about keeping your contacts small."

Isobel Mackenzie is the seniors' advocate for British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

As COVID-19 cases in British Columbia continue to increase, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked for residents to tighten their social circles once again, especially with the school year now underway and more people back at workplaces.

For multigenerational households, that means preventing the spread of the virus between generations, especially to those who are elderly or have other medical conditions.

Health guidelines recommend frequent hand-washing, separating people in the household who are sick and limiting visits to or from the home.

Mackenzie says it's about finding a balance and a way of living with the virus.

"For these people who have grandparents living in the home and the kids [who] have to go to school, we've got to figure this out," she said.

Ge's grandmother has her own separate room and bathroom, and the family is careful about not sharing cutlery and other utensils. And Rei has also changed the way she spends time with her school friends in order to protect her grandmother. 

"Now whenever I want to talk with my friends, I usually do it either over the phone or I text them. Sometimes, we'll have an online meeting using Zoom," she said. 

Her mantra to get through the pandemic aligns fairly closely with Dr. Henry's.

"I do say, 'stay strong, be calm, be kind, and this isn't going to last forever.'"

Listen to the segment on CBC's All Points West:

With files from All Points West