Nova Scotia

Why this Nova Scotia doctor moved out of his house for COVID-19

Dr. Wayne Pickett moved out of his family home last month as COVID-19 arrived in Nova Scotia out of concern he could unwittingly transmit the virus to his family.

Dr. Wayne Pickett has joined a global trend of health-care workers moving away from their families

Emergency room physician Dr. Wayne Pickett is living apart from his family to protect them from the coronavirus, but he still visits them. In this photo, he sits outside the family home, two metres apart from his wife. (Submitted by Dr. Wayne Pickett)

It's called "the bunker."

Not because it's accessed through a hole in the ground — it's just a nickname because the rental is built into a hill — but Dr. Wayne Pickett said the moniker is fitting, since his temporary home in the Annapolis Valley is providing refuge for him and, in a roundabout way, his loved ones.

Pickett is an emergency physician in Nova Scotia and he decided to move away from his family last month to protect them from COVID-19. Pickett, like all health-care workers, risks exposure to the coronavirus every time he goes to work. But if he doesn't go home, he doesn't have to risk spreading it there.

The move goes beyond public health recommendations, but Pickett's choice is part of a trend that has followed the coronavirus around the globe.

Health-care workers have been temporarily moving into basements, garages, camper vans, apartments or hotels, or watching as their families have packed up and moved away. Whatever the chosen arrangement, it's all to the same end: ensuring the essential workers don't unwittingly infect their family members with COVID-19.

"It's hard because, you know, you miss your family quite a bit," he said.

Pickett hasn't gone far from home. He still visits his wife, mother-in-law and four children, but he stays outside, and stays at least two metres away from them.

"I bring a lawn chair, my wife brings a chair and we sit down and we chat. My kids come out on the deck and say, 'Hi, Dad.'"

Motivation for the move

Pickett laughed at the novelty of the setup. But he takes the necessity of it seriously.

He moved out of his family home when his 85-year-old mother-in-law moved in. She was living in an assisted living facility, but he and his wife were worried about her becoming severely ill because of factors including the communal interaction at the facility and its central eating place.

"It was concerning that if she would be out with all these other people that potentially..." Pickett said as his voice trailed off. "So we moved her over to our place."

A doctor examines a patient at a hospital in Bordeaux, France, on March 9, 2020. (Georges Govet/AFP via Getty Images)

Pickett said he's prepared to live apart from his family for at least the next couple of months.

Pickett's rental is owned by a friend, who rents it out through Airbnb. With the downturn in tourism because of the coronavirus, there are potentially many other empty rooms, apartments and houses that could be used by other front-line workers like Pickett.

Both the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre said they would consider subsidizing a move like Pickett's in extenuating circumstances. But in general, because it's a personal choice and not a public health requirement, the expense is on the individual.

As of Tuesday, there are 517 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

Discounts to help front-line workers

Tim Moore, chairman of the Halifax-based short-term rental company Moore Suites, said about half of his company's furnished apartments were sitting empty last week when he decided to offer them to workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Moore said he feels he's doing his civic duty by offering the units at a discount of more than 50 per cent until the middle of June.

Airbnb has launched a similar program, advertising it will waive its fees for up to 100,000 bookings by health-care workers and first responders during COVID-19.

On its website, Airbnb says the program is meant to give those workers "places to stay that allow them to be close to their patients—and safely distanced from their own families."