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People breaking COVID-19 self-isolating rules in Cape Breton concerned about monitoring

Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, with his dog Flash, while touring Cape Breton. Serrenho said he wants to warn Atlantic Canadians although he did self-isolate for 14-days in Cape Breton, he didn’t realize he had to check-in daily with Public Health so didn’t for six-days yet no one called, emailed or came to check on him. CONTRIBUTED
Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, with his dog Flash, while touring Cape Breton. Serrenho said he wants to warn Atlantic Canadians although he did self-isolate for 14-days in Cape Breton, he didn’t realize he had to check-in daily with Public Health so didn’t for six-days yet no one called, emailed or came to check on him. CONTRIBUTED
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Some people admitting to breaking the Nova Scotia Public Health directives related to COVID-19 in Nova Scotia say it’s not being monitored as it should be.

“I didn’t realize I was supposed to check-in online every day when I was self-isolating in Cape Breton,” said Nuno Serrenho of Toronto. “No one called, I didn’t receive any emails asking why I wasn’t checking in and no one showed up at my door."

Serrenho was actually shocked to discover he was supposed to be checking-in every day with the province and then why no one had come looking for him or asked why he wasn’t. He wants to warn residents that it's happening.

“As an Atlantic Canadian resident I would find that concerning,” he said. “You guys are keeping the numbers low but it seems whether someone is self-isolating is up to the person coming in as no one is enforcing it.”

Nuno Serrenho's dog Flash while recently touring the Cabot Trail with him in his cargo van converted to a camper. CONTRIBUTED
Nuno Serrenho's dog Flash while recently touring the Cabot Trail with him in his cargo van converted to a camper. CONTRIBUTED

Serrenho, who is semi-retired and self-employed for the past 10 years in information technology, sold his condo and has been touring the Atlantic bubble in his cargo van since mid-October, which he has converted to a camper on the inside. He’s accompanied by his 16-year old dog Flash he got in Portugal at only a few months old.

“This whole thing – the adventures of Nuno and Flash —was planned for her retirement,” he said, adding he’s working part-time. “I’m doing this so I could spend as much time with her as possible while I still can.”

Serrenho crossed the New Brunswick/Quebec border into Nova Scotia Oct. 9 and arrived in Cape Breton just after midnight Oct. 10. 

“It seemed pretty organized as when I crossed the border into Nova Scotia, they were expecting me,“ he said. “They knew my name.”

At that point he was told he had to drive the 1,000 kilometres straight to his destination in Cape Breton, only stopping for essential reasons such as gas.

Shortly after midnight Oct. 10, Serrenho arrived at his self-isolation destination, a friend’s front yard in Blacketts Lake.

Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, who is touring the Atlantic bubble in his cargo van converted to a camper with his dog Flash, is shown when he first arrived in Cape Breton to self-isolate for 14-days in a friend’s front yard in Blackett’s Lake. CONTRIBUTED
Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, who is touring the Atlantic bubble in his cargo van converted to a camper with his dog Flash, is shown when he first arrived in Cape Breton to self-isolate for 14-days in a friend’s front yard in Blacketts Lake. CONTRIBUTED

Being in the IT business he gets an incredible amount of emails to check each day. 

On his fifth or sixth day isolating while checking his junk mail for an expected email not received, he saw all kinds of check-in emails. The emails were not asking why he wasn’t checking-in, simply automated ones for daily check-ins. The content had not changed, just the number of days according to what he’d be at in self-isolating.

“I was shocked,” he said. “There were all kinds of them.”

Once Serrenho realized he was supposed to be checking in he started doing so but admits he did miss a couple more days, simply forgetting.

“There were still no repercussions like a phone call asking, “Why didn’t you check-in today?’ he said. “No one ever called, ever.”

As well, he said, having a mobile phone, even if he was called, he could have been anywhere. 

“It’s all self-regulated. There didn’t seem to be any enforcement of it.”

A cargo van converted to a camper owned by Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, set up in a friend’s yard in Blackett’s Lake where he self-isolated 14-days with his dog Flash. CONTRIBUTED
A cargo van converted to a camper owned by Nuno Serrenho of Toronto, set up in a friend’s yard in Blacketts Lake where he self-isolated 14-days with his dog Flash. CONTRIBUTED

The whole thing has really surprised him. Serrenho said hearing about the Atlantic bubble before he came, he had the impression it was ‘super strict’ here. He was even aware of the issue of residents calling police when seeing Ontario license plates to ensure the person was self-isolating.

At the end of his self-isolation period, Serrenho received an email saying he had completed his 14-days and took a screenshot for proof if needed anywhere else on his travels. 

Serrenho has since visited Prince Edward Island and is currently on the mainland with plans to visit the South Shore, and plans to return to Cape Breton. 

Serrenho was planning to go home to Toronto for Christmas but said the COVID-19 numbers are showing a spike there and worries that if he leaves the Atlantic bubble by the time he comes back the border might be closed off again. 

“I think I’ll be in the East coast for some time now,” he said, adding he is loving the adventure of living in his van with Flash. 

“I wake up to a different view every morning and a different sunset," he said, adding he and Flash share their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

The Atlantic bubble reopened in Nova Scotia on July 3. 

As set out by Nova Scotia Public Health, anyone 18 years of age or older travelling into the province from outside Atlantic Canada needs to complete a Nova Scotia self-declaration before they travel to the province, unless they’re exempt from self-isolation. They need to self-isolate for 14 days and check-in online each day. 

LOCAL MAN ADMITS HE DIDN’T SELF-ISOLATE

One man, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, said he’s ashamed as he travelled home from Ontario a couple of months ago and didn’t completely self-isolate.

“I ran out for groceries and to the liquor store several times as I didn’t have anyone to do that for me,” he said.

The man feels like he let down his community for not adhering to the directives. However, he said he has never had any COVID-19 symptoms and if he had, he certainly would have gotten tested.

The man said at the New Brunswick border he was warned someone would be at his door if he didn’t check in daily. He did check-in online every day through his required self-isolation period, but no one contacted him or checked to see if he was actually there.

“I wasn’t home on numerous occasions but it seems no one cared to even check.”

He knows of others doing the same thing, as he recently saw a couple he knows who had also recently travelled out of the Atlantic bubble out in public.

“What I did was wrong, there’s no good excuse,” he said. “I’m speaking out to let people know this is happening, people are not self-isolating. You can get away with it, people know that.”

ENFORCEMENT

The Canada Border Services Agency said they cannot provide regional numbers of border crossings into specific provinces as it’s a busy time for them but do keep overall statistics.

Nova Scotia Public Health and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Police forces do not monitor those self-isolating, that falls under the Public Health Agency of Canada, but would follow up on any complaints of those not adhering to the rules. However, PHAC does ask police agencies to verify individuals who have entered Canada from another country and are required to quarantine 14 days under the Quarantine Act, are adhering. 

Desiree Magnus, spokesperson for the Cape Breton Regional Police Service, said since the start of the pandemic there have been 253 total referrals from the PHAC under the Quarantine Act and they are currently monitoring 14. As of Oct. 22, Nova Scotia RCMP received 6,405 names from the Public Health Agency of Canada and at that time 308 people were still in quarantine.

Sharon-Montgomery-Dupe is the enterprise reporter at the Cape Breton Post. 

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