'It's like wartime:' Family forced to live apart due to COVID-19

Taryn McQuillan is pregnant and diabetic. Her husband, Andrew Pilgrim, is returning to work, which may put her and their two-year-old son in danger.

'These are desperate times and you've got to do what works for you'

Taryn McQuillan and Andrew Pilgrim say they are going to live in different homes over fears Pilgrim may contract COVID-19 from work or being out in public and bring the virus home. (Submitted by Taryn McQuillan and Andrew Pilgrim)

When most couples choose to live apart, it's because they've fallen out of love, but Andrew Pilgrim and Taryn McQuillan are doing it because they love each other.

Pilgrim, 25, is a power engineer at ArcelorMittal Dofasco and after some time off from work, he's set to return — but Pilgrim worries the next time he returns home to Smithville from his first shift next Monday, he may bring COVID-19 with him.

It would be devastating for his pregnant, diabetic wife and their two-year-old son.

"It's not a risk we can take," McQuillan said.

Now, Pilgrim will live with his parents, neither of whom who have weaker immune systems like his wife.

'These are desperate times'

The family doesn't qualify for any kind of aid which forces him to work.

He'll spend most of his time in a control room.

"It's sort of closed … you're in contact with more people and people are touching things you're touching," he said.

While Pilgrim said the company is taking precautions, there's only so much they can do.

"When people are leaving work, they stop and do groceries, stop and do this and that and come into work the next day. You don't really know what people are going to be bringing in and out," he said.

Andrew Pilgrim and his two-year-old son, Jaxson will be separated as Pilgrim returns to work and, out of precaution, lives in a different house to make sure Jaxson doesn't get sick. (Submitted by Taryn McQuillan and Andrew Pilgrim)

After Pilgrim moves in with his parents, he will likely drop groceries off to McQuillan or they will have supplies delivered. 

It will likely be the longest time the couple have been separated for years.

"It's like wartime," he said. "These are desperate times and you've got to do what works for you."

Pilgrim added coworkers worry they may have to start shifts that require staff to stay on-site for two weeks at a time — whatever the situation is, Pilgrim understands workers like him have to work to keep the rest of the city functioning.

'What you do can affect anybody'

But it's worrying for McQuillan.

"Andrew does a lot around the house and helps out a lot, it's going to be a huge change and being pregnant and emotional already, it's going to be really hard I think" she said.

Right now, experts believe pregnancy doesn't make you more susceptible to infection or more severe symptoms, but the information surrounding the virus is constantly changing as more data comes in.

"We've made so many phone calls to Public Health, Occupational Health, our family doctor and the only answer we really get is 'we don't know what to do,' " McQuillan said.

Taryn McQuillan and Andrew Pilgrim don't know for how long they'll be separated, but hope others practice physical distancing to avoid spreading COVID-19. (Submitted by Taryn McQuillan and Andrew Pilgrim)

Though McQuillan and Pilgrim say they are at the mercy of others and hope people can take physical distancing seriously.

"A lot of other people's health depends on people being vigilant and not being selfish about the coronavirus," McQuillan said. 

"What you do can affect anybody."

About the Author

Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.